|Paul Makepeace > Consumer Hell > How To Not Buy A Train Ticket
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The following is an account of my attempts to purchase a return ticket from Bristol to Manchester.
Clue to Train People: we just want to buy tickets and travel to and from places.
"I'm sorry, sir, you'll have to call Virgin Trains to book the ticket, we only provide information."
Sigh. The number is Virgin Trains, 08457 222333.
I immediately hang up and try the virgin.com/trains website which they at least helpfully suggest on the phone. That was my next mistake. A small, entertaining and highly educational pamphlet could be written on all the UI errors made in this site alone. Suffice to say after five clicks, two pop-ups, four Flash animations, and one "low-grade encryption warning" not to mention a flinch-reflex-inducing "have you registered yet?" I get to the point I think where I can search on train times/buy a ticket. Except I can't. Because it doesn't work. It alternates between hanging and reporting a cryptic out-of-service type server error.
I go back to the voice recognition system.
One automated humiliation and fifteen to twenty minutes on hold I get through to one of their reps. The VRS to its credit has picked up most of my request, the remainder confirmed by the Real Live HumanTM. Is it just me, or is it increasingly a privilege to be offered the opportunity to talk to an actual person?
But apparently I need to get the 11:08 from Bristol Parkway. Wait, I say, I was told the 11:09 from Bristol Temple Meads. I don't really mind, it's no substantial distance from where I live but it's a bit confusing and there's an addition interconnection on this route.
"I'm sorry, sir, that route isn't possible because Bristol Temple Meads won't accept fax orders.".
Wait, I don't give the remotest damn about the subtleties of train ticket supply chain management and order fulfillment, but I have to because it prevents me from getting a ticket on the journey I had wanted.
OK, I'm flexible, I can deal with a minute's difference in train journeys and heck even an extra change, so plastic in hand I try to buy that ticket.
"I'm sorry, sir, the quota's been exceeded on that route; I can only sell you a ticket for 50pounds."
Sensing that I'm about to lose it the rep pre-emptively starts railing, ha ha, against National Rail or whatever they're called now for providing me with bad information. That's all very cathartic but I don't have a ticket yet. So in my most composed manner request the phone number of which other far-flung body I must now call. Wales and Borders apparently, on 0870 9000773.
An error occured while loading http://www.thetrainline.com/Time_Table/QTT_Buy_A_Ticket.asp: Could not connect to host www.thetrainline.com
I try it again repeatedly with gentle pauses and sympathetic rests for the server to get its breath back (it is a Sunday afternoon after all) but all to no avail. A dozen clicks or so later, and one email to webmaster@ I'm forced to use the phone for the second time.
It's now past five p.m. (17:00) and the six pm deadline for an advance ticket is ever closer. However, I'm reassured by my previous conversation with National Whoever it's still a little way's off. So I call and .... they're closed. Since 16:45.
So I can't buy a ticket.
The low level of integration and plain factually correct information sharing amongst these bodies is worrying, the state of UI design appalling (especially given myriad tried & tested prior art like Expedia, Orbitz, etc), and that not one but two webservers are down horrifying. Folks, this is 2002. There is simply no excuse.
Maybe there were leaves on the fibers?