I am working on an Airline site refactor, and I realized that the abandonment after searching and selecting a flight is very high.

I think for returning visitors it would be nice having a way to continue with the search/booking journey. I am thinking of something like a shopping basket on top right corner, so when you come back to the page, an expandable menu shows you your last started flight booking or so...

The problem is that I couldn't see any airline site with this interaction, and I wonder whether I am missing something.


  • what kind of site? not an airline site but something like skyscanner
    – colmcq
    May 4 '16 at 15:40
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    Many travel sites (Hipmunk for example) do save your last search and default to it when you come back. This is the best you can realistically do given the fluctuations dan1111 mentions that make saving your tickets in a shopping cart pointless. May 4 '16 at 22:54
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    Expedia puts recent searches into a "Scratchpad' that you can revisit on a later visit - you can re-execute the search with a single click to get current prices.
    – Johnny
    May 5 '16 at 0:14

There is no basket because the tickets and prices you find now are only available for immediate purchase; they can't be saved for later.

Airline ticket prices are constantly fluctuating, sometimes changing multiple times per day. If you search and find a ticket at a given price, this price is only available at that moment; also, the "product" (a certain underlying seat class that results in this price) may not be available later, even if seats are still available on the flight later.

A "basket" concept doesn't make sense, because the user has to either book the flight immediately or come back and check the prices later. Checking later often involves starting over and looking at different days, airlines, perhaps even different airports for the best price.

Note that this is also a reason for a high rate of "abandonment after searching and selecting a flight". This isn't necessarily evidence of a bad site design; users are just repeatedly making the same searches to see what prices they get.

Update: to various commenters, I agree that saving previous searches is useful. A user is quite likely to come back and search for a similar itinerary later. However, I view the question as specifically about saving the state once a flight has been selected and the booking process has started. I don't think this is useful, for the reasons stated.

  • Hi Dan! Thanks for your answer. I absolute agree with most of your comments. I had thought about prices, that's why on the current exploration I am making, I didn't add prices. The same for departed flights and so... they just don't appear there anymore. I was thinking of it as something in between a basket and a "last search" functionality.
    – David C.
    May 4 '16 at 15:23
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    It is still useful to remember the last thing the user did for next time. This supports the UX principle of anticipate the users intentions. There is a high chance the user will want to continue from where they left off.
    – SteveD
    May 4 '16 at 15:26
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    @Splatz, for flight searches yes, but as I understand it, this question is about the booking process. I don't think users typically want to "continue where they left off" in a partially completed booking that was abandoned, and indeed it is frequently not possible to do so.
    – user31143
    May 4 '16 at 15:29
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    Just wanted to add that sites such as PC part picker also have to handle fluctuating prices and handle it very well. It'll track 30 day prices for an item, and update when things go on sale across multiple sellers. Its definitely doable.
    – Bob
    May 4 '16 at 21:08
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    @Bob, I don't think PC part picker has to work with anything near the level of insanity of airline ticket prices. It is not just that they change, but that many deals have complex conditions and very limited numbers, so they get sold out quickly. And showing past prices is out of question because the deals often depend on things like date of return, connecting flights, number of people travelling together and such. The system often does not have slightest idea what the same search would have turned out yesterday if it didn't try it then.
    – Jan Hudec
    May 6 '16 at 6:07

Several airlines do use copy such as basket (e.g. Ryanair.com) for their check out process. It's also the place where additional services such as insurance or extra baggage allowance are purchased.

Ryanair's Basket

Though flights that are selected are indeed (almost) never saved in that checkout. It can be assumed that this is due to their temporary pre-reservation status. Airline tickets change continuously due to advanced yield management algorithms.

When your goal is to have users continue with the search journey when they revisit the airline website, two approaches could be useful:

1. Update ticket prices in basket

In this approach the tickets would remain in the basket, along with the other items. The price on the tickets would expire after a while but the user would be able to update the prices.

This might seem convenient but with prices changing, the flights in the basket might not be the best option anymore. Therefore a second approach:

2. Remember the search

This would not focus on remembering the content of the basket, but on the initial search that the user performed. This approach is being used by many travel websites.

Airbnb: Airbnb recent searches

Booking.com: Booking recent searches

  • I only saw Dan's answer after I submitted. Obviously, I agree :) May 4 '16 at 16:02
  • I like the AirBnb solution. Extending the search further than the place (using a suggested list of results for the "Where to go?" field plus other fields). I think this is the best approach! Thanks!
    – David C.
    May 5 '16 at 13:36

The shopping basket concept is generally held to mean that the customer can buy multiple items in one go at a checkout.

However, most IATA-member airlines either do not permit or strongly discourage their agents from selling multiple, unrelated tickets in a single transaction. In some cases it is also not allowed by local law to sell certain itineraries.

This means that if you had a "basket" for several flights, when the customer took the basket to the checkout, it would have to be made clear to the customer that each ticket in the basket comprised a discrete and separate contract with the airline(s) involved, and that the fact that the flights were sold together in one sale did not mean they comprised a continuous itinerary.

Further the ticketing systems used by the airlines will expect a one-to-one match between the card transaction and the ticket, so you would possibly have to split out the credit card transactions to one per PNR.

In some cases it would violate local laws to offer certain itineraries that are physically possible to fly but are not allowed to be sold [for instance, on an otherwise domestic itinerary, flying between two points in the US via a stop in Canada, or flying Miami-Mexico City-Havana on a single ticket without approval from the State Department].

Separate to the legal issues, when a single transaction is done for multiple flights, it is understood that the flights are "on one ticket", which has numerous specific consequences. For instance if the first flight is late, the forwarding airline remains responsible for getting the customer to his final destination. In Europe, the forwarding airline is also liable for accommodating him overnight and providing food, even if the delay is not the fault of the airline. The luggage allowance of the passenger is determined by specific IATA or US DoT rules, rather than by the individual airlines' rules. For these reasons, airlines stipulate how their fares may be combined together to create a single ticket, and violating the airline's rules is usually technically difficult or at worse financially ruinous for the agent.

Therefore both consumers and the airlines expect it to be clear when flights are on one ticket and when they are not; the easiest way is to sell tickets separately [except to very sophisticated customers]. This makes having a single "basket" of flights a proposition that does not work out very well.

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    Wow. It always amazes me when something seemingly simple gets festooned with such a proliferation of considerations. It must have taken a whole confederacy of consultants to come up with that.
    – user67695
    May 5 '16 at 18:57
  • @nocomprende Air ticketing has a lot of legacy left over from the 1960s when this was formalized; indeed e-tickets are designed to be an electronic implementation of paper tickets with all the associated restrictions that paper tickets had [for instance an e-ticket cannot be edited [usually], a change requires that the ticket be exchanged for a new one]. Fare rules are written in English and potentially thousands of fares must be parsed by a natural language parser when finding a price for an itinerary. This is just a hint of the complexity that underlies air ticketing.
    – Calchas
    May 6 '16 at 8:13
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    From strictly UI point of view: if the most typical purchase is 1 item, then the basket is just an unnecessary step that annoys customer.
    – Agent_L
    May 6 '16 at 8:45

dan1111's answer is spot on. Just to add to it.

Another consideration is that basket metaphor tries to leverage the real-world concept to help users understand what's happening online. This plays well with sites like Amazon (a giant mall). But it doesn't play well with flight booking. You don't walk into an airport with a basket.

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    The basket metaphor is used for things you wouldn't put in a basket in real life. For example, I don't walk around a pizzeria putting pizzas in a basket. Yet that is how you build up an order online on the Dominos website. Users can apply the metaphor to a different situation. The key is that it has to match the basket paradigm (selecting multiple items for purchase and then checking out at the end).
    – user31143
    May 4 '16 at 15:47
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    So, how DO people think of getting plane tickets and other reservations? Is there a metaphor / paradigm at all ?
    – user67695
    May 4 '16 at 19:00
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    @nocomprende: To me the best metaphor is buying a ticket. You just go to the booth, buy tickets and that's it. There's not "building" of your order like at McDonalds or shopping for grocery for which the basket metaphor works well. It's more like - select your options, buy. That's it. A lot of cinema sites also work on the basketless metaphor. The basketless metaphor is basically an analog to your interaction of buying movie tickets at the counter in real life.
    – slebetman
    May 5 '16 at 3:52
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    A basket would be understandable for purchasing airline tickets (and actually is used occasionally--see Jan's answer), but it doesn't really add anything when the typical purchase is only one of something. It's just an extra step.
    – user31143
    May 5 '16 at 8:21
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    So, if you have successfully selected One of something, but not paid yet, where is it? What if you want to select another, and possibly another, and then pay? Where are those? There has to be an analog for "standing at the movie counter". But, because a browser is not a physical presence, they don't know when you "walked away" or if you are "coming right back", or ever coming back. They do not know. Where is the "counter" and how does it keep track of what you are buying? What does it look like in the user's mind? What should it be called? Maybe basket is a recognizable term? Or... what?
    – user67695
    May 5 '16 at 16:50

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