Mark Graban's - Lean Healthcare, Lean Hospitals, Healthcare Kaizen, Lean Thinking, Lean Manufacturing, Toyota Production System

I Wish American Airlines Would Error Proof This on Their Website


As a frequent flyer on American Airlines, I often have five or six itineraries booked at a time. Unfortunately, the poor design of the American Airlines website includes the risk that I might cancel the wrong itinerary and flight. The Lean principle of mistake proofing would go a long way… and I'm sure a simple bit of programming could easily alleviate this risk.

Here's the workflow and what happened… yesterday, I had put a “hold” on an itinerary, but I had to cancel it because I wanted to book a ticket with different flight times.

So here's my list of  itineraries, booked and held (with dates and  locations hidden for privacy):

To cancel a held itinerary, I would have to click a very small “Cancel” link next to the correct date (the fifth one down). The pictured links are about the size they really are on screen. They are pretty small links without a lot of separation.

The held flight that I wanted to cancel was JUST above a long-planned vacation itinerary. I was trying to be really careful to NOT click on the wrong “Cancel” link (an error I've made before).

You might think, “What's the big worry? There's probably a confirmation screen.”

Yes, but it sucks.

Here is said “confirmation”:

It says “the selected reservation” but it doesn't display WHICH one the user selected. Exactly which itinerary am I about to cancel? It's a leap of faith that I had clicked in the correct spot on the previous screen.

How hard would it really be to say “Are you sure you want to cancel the selected reservation: [dates and locations]?”

Or even display the record locator number. Something that would be REAL confirmation.

I can only imagine how many times a day a customer mistakenly cancels the wrong flight. This can cause problems down the line if the the customer doesn't realize it right away. Even if the customer does notice it, it would lead to a panicked phone call to the airline, tying up their time and resources. Some customers might get screwed out of “non-refundable” tickets, I'd imagine.

In a world of electronic medical records, how many times a day are doctors or pharmacists clicking on the wrong spot, leading to a medication error?

If your response to a situation like this is “well, just be careful, then and don't click in the wrong place” – I'd argue you're not a Lean thinker.

UPDATE (January 2013): American Airlines made changes to their website based on this blog post!

Follow Up: American Airlines Actually Error Proofed This!


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus. He is currently writing his next book, tentatively titled Measures of Success.

  1. Mark Welch says

    Andy Rooney never really died. His spirit and consciousness were reincarnated in the form of Mark Graban. ;-)

    Seriously, yes, I sometimes encounter similar instances like this or in the same vein when ordering goods or services online and when I’m expressing my frustration verbally, usually a family member in the room is saying something to the tune of, “You just have to be careful.” Makes me wonder what kind of customer feedback or trials, if any, were done prior to release of the format.

      1. Jeff Hajek says

        I’ll be interested to see if American Airlines follows bloggers. Please let us know if they respond to your post.


  2. […] might recall my post from from July 2012 (I Wish American Airlines Would Error Proof This on Their Website) where I pointed out how easy it was for an American Airlines customer  to accidentally cancel the […]

  3. […] I Wish American Airlines Would Error Proof This on Their Website […]

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