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
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. 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.


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