Tuesday, December 28, 2010

air france - cost of software glitch

Our problems with Air France started with a strange bug in their reservation system, which seems to discriminate against or deny the existence of infants between the age of 1 and 2 years. The screen shot below is from Air France on-line reservation web site. If you notice (as i did to my astonishment) there is no way to enter a 18 month old traveller.

Now I thought this might be just user inteface glitch limited to the online portal. I was sadly mistaken. The web support personnel who tried to help me in getting my daughter booked on that flight also met with stiff resistance from the software system. It was not just the user interface but someone had, quite cunningly, designed the system in a way that it could not accept birth-dates for 1-2 year olds. It took 2 full days of backroom negotiations to override the deeply embedded digital conspiracy. It was then that i realized the true cost of a software bug

A back of the envelope calculation would be to multiply the number of 1-2 year olds traveling per year with customer support cost of 4-16 hours per traveling infant. Now Air France KLM together carry close to 70 million passengers per year. If we take ages of the passengers to have a uniform distribution we are talking close to a million 1-2 year olds each year. If we take average hourly wage of customer support staff at $20 per hour then we are looking $80-$320 per child. This translates to $80-$320M in customer support cost for Air France each year. Not something to sneeze at !!

Now arguably, there are many factors that may cause this to be lower amount like there may be just 0.25 million 1-2 yr olds flying each year as the age based distribution of the airline may not be uniform (say normal distribution with low standard deviation).

Some would also argue that this only applies to internet based booking but as I had pointed out earlier the glitch ran deep into the other software being accessed by other people like airline staff and hence arguably will effect every mode of booking at some stage requiring costly intervention.

It has been more than a month since this glitch has been there and hasn't been fixed yet.