12/03/2010

The airport web site has failed the snow test!

The heavy snow, and resulting closure of the airport, has again proved that the Geneva airport web site is not fit for purpose. Unfortunately, it seems that the management there is in denial!


This is not the first time that I have stated that the Geneva airport web site is not fit for purpose. However, this time I can relate the actual experience of trying unsuccessfully to use it to get information.

A friend of mine, here from London on business, was due to fly back there on Wednesday. When this became impossible, his airline (British Airways, BA) rebooked him on a flight on Thursday afternoon, whilst I happily accepted to have him stay the Wednesday night (it was a good night for a raclette!).

At 5am on Thursday morning he was awoken by an incoming SMS from BA to say that this Thursday flight had been cancelled. Although better early than never,this SMS might make him turn off the sound on his iPhone at night in future!

So Thursday morning we tried to open the Geneva airport web site to see what was happening! However, after waiting what seemed to be an eternity, we left the web browser to try, while we went for breakfast. When we got back we had the pleasure of seeing a message to the effect that there had been an unexpected error, for which there was an apology. It makes me wonder whether there is such a thing as an expected error!

So, instead, we went to the site of BA, which was responding. Whilst the site was not permitting any on-line change of bookings, it did give the freephone number in Switzerland from which to get information. My friend duly phoned, explained the situation and asked whether it might be better to take a train to Zurich and then fly from there. After a positive response, he was rebooked on a late afternoon flight, then enjoyed a very scenic rail journey there. I don't think that he saw any of the English delegation to FIFA, but probably they were drowning their sorrows.

Later, I did manage to open the airport web site, only to be told that due to heavy demand, only parts of it were available. I did not bother to try to find out which parts!

It is true that other web sites, including both those of the Swiss railway and the Geneva public transport, have been criticised, mainly for their lack of proper and accurate information. To that I can only repeat what I have often said, that in times of crisis the first reaction should be to inform the public.

Today the airport web site is back up, with a post-mortem style of review of the human and material consequences of the great snow. The last item in this review is one sentence about the web site, which states that it received just under 90000 hits, a factor of (only!) 10 times more than usual.

Le site Internet a reçu 89'533 visites pour 310'070 pages vues (contre une moyenne journalière de 10'364 visiteurs et 42'555 pages vues).

As an informatics specialist, I find it extraordinary that these figures, which would represent not much more than one visit per second, should have caused the site to go into something approaching the meltdown of a DoS (Denial of Service) attack. Real DoS attacks, such as those recently aimed against the sites of some Swiss political parties, entail robot processes on compromised computers contacting a site hundreds of times a second. To have almost these effects on the airport web site simply because a lot of real people want real information at more or less the same time, is unacceptable.

What is worse, however, is the implication, behind the self-congratulory tone typical of all airport press releases, that the airport management either does not know what problems there were for us, the real public, or does not want even to admit to them, never mind apologise.

Either way, they stand condemned!

15:07 Posted in Special days and notable incidents | Permalink | Comments (0) | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

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