Dear Aeroplan: your user panel sucks (a case study in poor UX)

by Tim M on June 10, 2010

Since reading Defensive Design for the Web by the Signals, I’ve become obsessed with good UI and UX; it’s something I constantly focus on at and its iPhone app, as it’s developed.

In my mind, there are NO EXCUSES for poor UI and UX from big companies like Aeroplan. None. Zero. Zilch. If you have money, and resources, an incredible User Experience and User Interface is your obligation to your users.
Read this by Dustin Curtis, who wrote a “Dear Joe” letter to American Airlines.

So I thought I’d run through an utterly frustrating experience I had on recently, when trying to simply update my email and street address.

Now, Aeroplan’s user control panel (UCP) has tabs for managing different information and preferences. As I am not a coder, I don’t know how they’ve done the tabs (Javascript or whatever), but when you make a change, and click “Update”, it seems like it does not write the value to a database record for you. It’s almost as if it saves it, and then if you go to another tab, it is still able to qualify your changes against its validation rules. To clarify: you can move between the tabs, and this action does not cause a data save. You get a prompt asking if you want to keep your changes, or discard them, however, this didn’t help for me. I tried discarding changes multiple times (to get back to the original data set, but to no avail).

This to me is stupid: if you give people the ability to move between tabs, then force the data to save. Or, don’t use tabs.

Let’s see how I got stuck in a loop.

Step 1: I changed my address, then clicked the Communications tab to change my emails Oops! Why didn’t I receive some inline validation? By the way, I am sure my address conformed to their requirements.

Error, Error!

Step 2: I changed my email, then clicked back to fix the address error. Uh-oh. Because there was an error in the first tab, the second one wouldn’t save the changes, so now it has an error and we have dirty data in the cookie/cache/whatever. Oh-noz!


Step 3: I went back to the Communications tab, and changed my email again, the clicked to the Contacts tab, and chose “No” in response to the Keep Changes prompt. I thought that this might force the browser to re-populate the email field with my old email. No joy. I then tried the same thing from the Contacts tab. No joy. I tried a new browser (Chrome instead of FF). Still no luck.


So I went around and around, until it finally worked. 30 minutes! 30 minutes to update some information that ought to have taken 5 minutes.

I was so delirious with anger, frustration and confusion that I can’t even remember how I made it work. Now, I love dogs, but this process made me want to kill labrador puppies. That’s how bad it was. This process makes Kim Jong Il look like a cuddly teddy bear.

Now, I realise I might not have followed the workflow that sits behind the website, this is why errors were thrown. However, I am just a simple user, I don’t know their rules for validation and work/process flow, so it seems to me, Aeroplan should invest some time in rehashing this interface so that it minimises errors being causes by users exhibiting logical behaviour, but more importantly, behaviour that the interface actually encourages and supports.

For an added bonus, I’ve included some screenshots of how one can attain support from Aeroplan. Oh that’s right; via email, you can’t.

I couldn’t find an email anywhere in the contacts list. No help submission form. So, what did I do? Well, I went email hunting, and managed to fund a marketing person’s email, as well as the email of the Corporate Social Responsibility team. So I just fired them an email and got them to log the help request.

How woeful is that? You force a horrible UI/UX upon your users, they desperately need help, and then you load your staff – staff who are not helpdesk staff – with random requests.

I am about to embark upon a litany of global air travel over the next 24 months, and it’s crap like this that steels my mind as to whom I fly with, and to whom I direct my frequent flyer points. This makes Qantas look like some sort of UI/UX savant.

I may be missing something, but I am fairly sure an online helpdesk link is not to be found.

No Help Here

No help here

Or here

Or here

Nor here!

Nor here!

Or here

Here’s the email I sent. Revel in the frustration. This is not how it’s supposed to be.


I did get a response, but, of course, it is a proforma apology, and I have no confidence this won’t be repeated. Over at GetHuman, they don’t have an email registered for Aeroplan help, and people rate their customer service as Poor.

As an added bonus, here is Aeroplan’s email address for help. Use with discretion: aeroplan [dot] help [at] aeroplan [dot] com.

So, how to fix this? Here’s some free advice Aeroplan.

  1. In the User Control Panel, when a user clicks a new tab from an active one, save the data. Better still, do inline validation with jquery, so that if they enter an invalid piece of information, it’s highlighted immediately.
  2. Disable the tabs, until new data in each tab is saved, and tell the user this!
  3. Bring back the email help desk! I live in Australia, I do NOT want to call you.

God, this is UI/UX Remedial 101 stuff! And I’m not even a designer!


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