Report: Too Many Airline E-Commerce Sites Stuck on the Tarmac

Fortunately for Lufthansa and JetBlue, the skills needed to keep airplanes up is very different from keeping E-Commerce sites up. Those airlines were among the 62 percent of major airline E-Commerce sites that had significantly "unreliable" uptime performances.

Airline E-Commerce sites in general enjoyed "considerably worse" reliability than most other E-Commerce sites even though their availability is crucial for customers trying to get urgent ticketing, flight status and other real-time information, according to Pingdom, which monitors site uptime.

Despite those issues, many airline sites place a much lower priority on strong uptimes because airline customers are generally much less likely to change carriers based on slow site performance. An unhappy customer visiting Barnes & Noble's site will jump to or with the least provocation, but an unhappy Continental customer is much less likely to go through the extreme hassle of switching airlines.

Pingdom rated JetBlue as having the worst uptime while KLM and United Airlines fared the best. The firm also found that airline sites have an average of more than 44 hours of downtime yearly, noting "this is considerably worse than the average Internet Web site" downtime of 35 hours annually. "The outages deny time-critical and vital information and transactions for customers, investors and other stake holders," Pingdom's report said.

The company monitored the Web sites of 42 major airlines between Nov. 19, 2008, until March 19, 2009. It found the KLM site up and available 99.99 percent of the time and the United Airlines site functional 99.98 percent of the time.

Pingdom said 26 airlines failed to reach the 99.8 percent uptime level it considers to be the "absolute minimum for a modern E-Commerce site." A 99.8 percent uptime means that a Web site can be unavailable for a total of 1 hour and 26 minutes per month (30 days) or, put another way, 17 hours and 31 minutes in a year," the Pingdom report said. "This should be enough time to cover any maintenance needs and a quick reaction time when there is a problem with the website can minimize any other downtime to acceptable limits."{C}With the airline sites at the bottom of the list, "frequent short outages were common," the report said. The worst sites were those run by EasyJet, Lufthansa SAS and JetBlue, which had an uptime percentage of 97.37.

"Overall, the websites of U.S. and Japanese airlines were more reliable than those of other countries," the report said. "Other contenders around 99.90 percent were Japan Airlines, Frontier, Virgin Blue, Open Skies, Skynet Asia, British Airways, ANA Sky, Air France, NWA, Eva Air, Southwest and American Airlines. KLM and United had the least downtime of the 42 monitored airline websites, less than half an hour during the monitored four-month period, while JetBlue had well more than three full days of downtime."

Pingdom Web Analyst Peter Alguacil said the airline site uptime figures were disappointing. "These are big companies that deliver crucial transactions over the Web to customers spread across time-zones: find your flight, book it, buy it, check in and get delay info in time. Yet many of them have hundreds, sometimes thousands of quarterly outages. It is inconceivable that these problems would not cause frustration and customer loss for companies like for example SAS or JetBlue."

Alguacil said Pingdom monitors 35,000 Web sites and servers worldwide and knows a 99.8 percent uptime "is achievable by companies with far less resources than airlines, yet 62 percent of the airlines currently fail to reach it."

The average uptime for the 42 sites was 99.49 percent, said Pingdom, adding that this equates to more than 44 hours of downtime during a year. The average for all Web sites is between 99.6 percent and 99.7 percent, said the company.

The Pingdom monitoring was done by loading the homepage for each site. A site was listed as down if it was unreachable, if the HTML part of the page did not load in 30 seconds or if the page responded with an HTTP error such as HTTP error 404 (page not found) or 500 (internal server error). Downtime had to be confirmed from two different locations for it to count, the Pingdom report said.