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Published on January 25th, 2007 | by Rahel Bailie

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When site redesigns go wrong, badly wrong

Canada’s airline, aptly named Air Canada, has a loyalty program called Aeroplan. Here are the reasons that “loyalty” doesn’t equate in the user experience equation.

Before the site redesign, the site was usable, more or less. With a little hunt and peck, you could find what most of what you wanted. It was a little boring, but, well, it’s Canadian, and one step away from bureaucratic. It’s supposed to be on the staid side. The new site, on the other hand, is Vegas. It’s a marquee of gratuitously disappearing (and re-appearing) rows of seats, flashing words – I almost expect “Eat at Joe’s” to flash at any moment. Yes, some 18-year-old in a garage had a good time.

But wait, there are other “improvements”! Checking the “remember number” box under your Aeroplan number doesn’t work any more. Well, to be accurate, it only remembers the last bank of numbers of the trio of boxes. But seeing as you are supposed to have your Aeroplan card in your hand at all times, that shouldn’t be a problem, heh?

Another improvement is that, even when you have your password and click LOG IN, nothing happens. Well, I shouldn’t say that nothing happens. The “waiting for http://www.aeroplan.com” in the bottom corner happens for a very, very, very long time. And then you get the error message, the one that says to try logging in on the left (which you just did when you got the error message), or go to the homepage (?&!!! – I’m not sure what that is supposed to accomplish but I tried it and just went in a loop), or to call them. Now that, my friend, is a trick question. Or a trick answer. Or maybe it belongs in the trick suggestion category. Because when I phoned, I got an outdated message telling me all the dates that they would have less phone service (despite the fact that all those dates had passed), and then gave me five options, none of which answered my question, and then said that all operators were busy, and then told me to go to the website at, guess where …. wait for it … http://www.aeroplan.com, the very home page that doesn’t like my password. Hmmmm.

So what is one to do? Last resort, let me try the Password Help link. After”Loading …. Loading … Loading … for a minute or two, well maybe three, it can’t seem to find the link destination which seems to be “http://www.aeroplan.com/home.do” (but wait, that’s the home page!) and then it tells me “We’re not able to identify you online. So give us a call and we’ll make sure you get a password as soon as possible.” Where have I heard this before? Perhaps the same place I heard the next message, which expressed how they are experiencing high call volumes (do these places ever not have high call volumes?) followed by a suggestion that I phone back or hold the equivalent of forever.

I thought I’d try waiting for a while, at least the time it takes to blog this less than illustrious user experience. The experience only got worse, as I realized whatever content management system they use does not support basic topic expiry.
Oh, look, it’s January 2nd, and I can find out about “Reduced operating hours at the Aeroplan Contact Centre: During the holiday period, the Aeroplan Contact Centre will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST on December 24, 25, 26 and 31, 2006 and January 1, 2007.”
And “Rewards you want and a chance to win miles–in our new catalogue. “ Oh, but “This promotion expired on December 31, 2006 00:00 at 00:00 and it’s no longer available.” But my favourite was “Shop Smart–earn miles upon miles at our new retail store partners.” Click here returned the message: “This promotion expired on November 12, 2006 00:00 at 00:00 and it’s no longer available.”

I will give credit to their phone staff, though. They must be very familiar with the failed password routine. The obviously practiced gentleman rattled off the directions at breakneck speed about how I should click the first link in the email that I would get, and with minimums of 6 characters and 20 characters and … well, I didn’t catch the whole thing, but the short answer is that if the first link doesn’t work, use the second link within 6 hours and I’ll be up and running again.

Aeroplan, you’ve outdone yourself. I’m sure there’s an award out there somewhere for you.


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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,



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