Here’s an interesting Labor Day example of laboring in the Web development mines. Trying to book four tickets on JetBlue.com:
After multiple retries, I called the 800-number and the automated system said to expect a 2-minute wait, but suggested going to jetblue.com/chat to resolve the issue and save $25 per person in telephone service fees. After about 20 minutes into the 2-minute wait, I decide to try it. Here’s what happens when you click to “start the conversation” in a Google Chrome browser on Windows:
(the chat window never populated with any text or UI)
Given the importance to an airline of being able to sell tickets, how can this happen? I tripped over at least three bugs in three different systems while attempting one transaction. Did Amazon hire away every programmer capable of building and maintaining a functional ecommerce site? And, if JetBlue can’t keep a competent programming staff together, what hope is there for smaller companies?
The number of people majoring in computer science is up, but is the number of people who can write a functionally correct program going up? How many of today’s fresh CS graduates will actually be working as programmers 5 years from now?
(I eventually got the tickets after a 46-minute phone call. The agent who finally picked up promised that the four of us would be together in one row, charging an extra $250 for the privilege, but booked 3A, 3B, 3C, and 4E. She insisted that 4E was an aisle seat and that it was directly across the aisle from 3ABC (contrary to SeatGuru and my lived experience on JetBlue). Even if we accept the row misalignment, that raised the obvious question “Where is seat 4D if 4E is the aisle?”, but, perhaps due to her not being a native English speaker (thick Spanish accent), I couldn’t get an explanation of her thought process. She dropped Senior Management’s known traveler number on the floor. Although I had given her my TrueBlue number, she left the required mailing address and phone number fields of the reservation blank. I spent about 15 minutes on the “Manage Flights” part of the JetBlue site correcting the known errors, leaving only the unknown errors. If we count the 15 minutes that I spent trying to get the site to work to buy a ticket, the whole process took about 75 minutes. Maybe it worked better in the good old days when U.S.-based prisoners handled the phones for airlines (NYT, 1997, whose headline is weak compared to “Booking the Penthouse From the Big House” (LA Times, 1998)).)