Seth Godin’s Rant

We’re not usually in the business of re-posting from other people’s blog, but Seth Godin, the Permission Marketing guru talked about an experience he had with an airline site that is an important lesson to learn for anyone who has anything more than a simple ‘brochure’ site. (This post appeared originally here)

JetBlue is ordinarily smart with their web site, which is why their broken system is particularly useful to take a look at. I’m guessing that at some point, management said, “it’s good enough,” and moved on to more pressing issues. And then, of course, it stays good enough, frozen in time, ignored, and annoying.

The problem with letting your web forms become annoying is that in terms of time spent interacting with your brand, they’re way up on the list. If someone is spending a minute or two or three or four cursing you out from their desk, it’s not going to be easily fixed with some clever advertising.

Here’s an illustrated guide to things to avoid, JetBlue style:


First interaction wasn’t so great. If you even bother to build a “please wait” page, be sure it says something useful, or perhaps interesting, as opposed to confusing. Should I press continue?

Throughout the form, JetBlue frequently asks for dates (of birth, say, or issuance). Everywhere else on their site (and in the country they’re based) the format for dates is July 10, 1960. But here, just this one time, the format is 10, July 1960. And you can’t just type in the date, which is fast, you need to wrestle with pull down menus, menus too dumb to list all twelve months of the year at once, but instead requiring you to scroll if any date is after April…


Alert readers know that pull down menus with more than thirty total choices are a petty annoyance for me, and this one is particularly vexing. There a more than a hundred and fifty countries here, including a few I have never heard of. The United States, home to 90% of JetBlue’s customers, is listed near the bottom, but not at it (hint: if you insist on this sort of error in form design, list the popular choices at the top, at the bottom and in alpha… no penalty for multiple listings). (A far better alternative is the auto-completion guessing trick Google now uses in search).

Worse, if you try to type the country (U…n…i) it takes you to… TUNISIA!

Four passengers; 8 times I had to scroll down all the way, then slowly scroll up and then click…

It gets more annoying. For each passenger, I had to choose, “Travel document type”. But of course, there’s only one travel document permitted, “Passport” which hardly requires a pull down choice I think. Rule of thumb: when in doubt about a question, don’t bother asking.

They also wanted to know the nationality of traveler, which is fine, but then two items later, they wanted to know, “Issuing country.” While I’m confident that there are a few travelers who have a nationality in one country and an issuing country in another, my guess is that it would be considered a nice gesture if the form remembered your answer from three seconds ago and automatically entered it for you, no?

After painstakingly filling out the form, I was presented with these two buttons at the bottom of the page… hmmmmm.


Doesn’t really matter which one I pressed, though, because lady and the tiger style, I got this:



And I had to start the entire form over again, from the beginning, with no fields remembered.

I know, I know, this is a rant. But it’s a rant with a point:

Fill in your own forms. Make your executives do it. Watch customers do it. See what your competitors are using. Improve the form. Don’t use pull down menus for more than 12 choices unless there really is no choice.

“Good enough” is a hard call, but I think we can agree that most online forms, aren’t.