Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Major Bug in Airline Booking Sites

I have been travelling a great deal recently, and have had to use the online booking sites of various airlines to pick up tickets. I kept running into a strange problem with errors when trying to book multi-sector tickets, the sort of trip where you go from one city to another, then another, rather than just point to point.

On both KLM and Sinagpore Airlines, there is a button on the booking form labeled "Multi-city". This takes you to a dialogue that lets you add flights one by one. All pretty straight forward until you try adding the third flight. The error that comes up indicates that the flight you have chosen is not available because of the departure time.

The actual bug is quite simple. A programmer has added a check to ensure that the departure time is after the arrival time of the preceding flight. EXCEPT there is an error in the calculation of the time. Where flights start on one day, and arrive the next morning (most flights from Asia to Europe), the booking system is incorrectly calculating AM flights as PM flights (12 hours are being added to the time).

Although simple to recognize, this bug has been there for months. I have sent email to the airlines involved, but without any fix to the problem. Clearly, the booking engine is shared by a number of airlines, and so they are all suffering from the same bug.

It is amazing to me that an industry that lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis can manage to have a major bug in a revenue generating system. It is simply not possible to book a multi-sector ticket online because of the problem.

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