My Ugly Experience with the JetBlue Kiosk


As I write this, I’m waiting for my connecting flight to New York on the way to Berkeley for the workshop on Integrating Computing into the Statistics Curricula. I’m taking JetBlue, which I normally only have good things to say about, but right now I’m very displeased with their service. Here’s why I might consider a different airline next time and the design lesson I got out of it.

Checking in at the Kiosk

Most are familiar with the cluster of kiosks that let people check in themselves via touch screen. Kiosks eliminate the need to go thru the slow person at the desk who types with his index fingers, has to look for each letter, and then look back up at the screen to see if he typed the letter correctly. Needless to say, I love the kiosk.

So naturally, I went straight to the kiosk to check-in. I bypassed the long line of thirty or so people waiting to check in with the desk lady. There were zero people at the cluster of 10 kiosks. I figured the kiosks were left unused because an initial small group of people lined up for manual checkin, and then a bunch of people followed. That tends to happen a lot, no?

When Check-in Went Awry

The kiosk did what it was supposed to do just fine. It scanned my barcode, I confirmed, and I got my boarding pass.

The kiosk then asks, “Do you have bags to check?”

“Yes, I have one.”

“Okay. After you take your boarding pass, plop your bag at the baggage drop-off.”

“Got it. Thanks, kiosk.”

This is when Jet Blue dropped the ball. I patiently walk to the side of the stupidly long line and wait for the next desk lady to free up. I walk up to her, with boarding passes in hand, and innocently ask, “Do I just drop my bags here?”

She glares at me and sneers, “You weren’t next.”

“No, but I just checked in at the kiosk,” I said while showing her my boarding passes.

“No, I don’t think you were next.” She directed her eyes and voice to the front of the line while pointing her finger at me. “Was this guy standing in front of you? Was he the next in line?”

“No, I wasn’t. I checked in at the kiosk.”

Once again, she snarled, “We don’t have bag drop off here. You have to wait in line like everyone else!”

I then rolled my eyes, thought nasty thoughts and went to the back of the line. After about 10 seconds, I decided that my face wash is not a liquid and brought my bag as a carry-on as I walked towards my gate.

The Data Viz Lesson

I suppose if I were that desk lady, and I thought I was dealing with a cutter I’d be mad too. Although, from a customer service standpoint, she didn’t have to be such a witch about it. If I were that person at the front of the line watching some guy “cut” in front of him, I would be mad at me too.

It all comes down to that kiosk. If there’s no bag drop-off, don’t offer it. Don’t show it to me or dangle it in front of my face. Be clear. Similarly, when you visualize data, pay close attention to detail, because oftentimes it’s the small things that can lead to big misunderstandings.


  • You should definitely relate this story to the airline. We endured a similar problem with personnel during a flight last year. It’s not just the kiosk info that’s off; personnel should be given better tools with which to handle such situations. When the airline goes uninformed – nothing changes. (PS – we got a free upgrade on our next trip.)

  • Marcus Booster July 14, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Eh, that seems like a fairly classic JetBlue experience. I think the problem is that most people think of the kiosk as a separate line in itself. But the way it’s implemented it’s more of a “supplement” to the main line. But that’s like any line at the airport – without the kiosks.

  • Similar problems occurred in the early days (like ca. 2000) of web commerce and customer service sites (and probably occurs today). Customer goes online, hits a snag, calls customer service number on website, and customer service person is clueless as to what customer is looking at online (in one case I know of, didn’t even know a customer COULD buy something online). In this case it seems like a staffing+security-issue problem. They really need a dedicated person to stand there and check kiosk customers’ bags, but how do you justify that when that person could be helping the regular line move more quickly?

  • or they could flip things. have more people manning the bag drop-offs and one person handling the “manual” check-ins. then people are required to go automatic and the process just goes quicker. southwest does this, although i do hate their cattle call line up at the gate.

  • Arggh Things like this are my pet peeves. I remember at the dorms there was a sign advertising pay by cash or BruinCard. I wait 20 mins in line, and the lady says “we’re not accepting BruinCard today” Then cover that up on the sign!!!!