Two years ago, I wrote about Airline web sites and their use of JavaScript/Ajax toolkits. A lot has changed since then, so here’s an update. Two years ago, Southwest and JetBlue were the clear leaders in web site quality, ease of use, and also use of Ajax toolkits. Below is a quick, non-definitive review of airline web sites today. Note that I have reviewed the USA version of international airline web sites.

First Class

  • British Airways: Recent introduction of jQuery improves upon a site that for the most part just works as expected. Now, about those international first class prices…
  • Frontier: A good use of jQuery and jQuery UI to make common tasks easy and efficient. I’d suggest speeding up the animation/transition speeds of the date pickers a bit, but otherwise they’ve done a solid job with their new user experience.
  • JetBlue: Still a great web site, though the competition is closing in on them a bit. They make use of minimized versions of Prototype and YUI. I’m a bit at a loss for why they have 17 separate JavaScript requests at the top of their home page… I recommend their team grab the YSlow plug-in and a copy of High Performance Web Sites and reduce the number of HTTP connections.
  • Northwest: They have switched from YUI to jQuery + jQuery UI. The site looks great and works well, but they don’t seem to auto-complete city names or airport codes, instead requiring the use of a somewhat odd second window. This site is likely to go away once they are fully integrated with Delta.
  • Virgin America: They have the luxury of being a new airline with relatively few cities to serve. Their use of Prototype is decent, but their use of Flash for where they fly is annoying.
  • Virgin Blue: Great web site, makes use of Prototype and jQuery. Arguably the best airline web site, though I haven’t used it enough to put it to the full test.

Business Class

  • Air Canada: A lot of custom code and far too many HTTP requests, but the site looks decent and works effectively.
  • Air France: see Air Canada
  • American: Once the leader of all airline web sites, American has made subtle but useful improvements over the past couple of years, including the use of Prototype and DWR. The visual design of their site feels stuck in time.
  • bmi: I’ve rated them this high because they have made a lot of effort to experiment. They are using jQuery, but there is some serious lag with their animations and transitions, and their design feels inconsistent in places.
  • Delta: No major toolkit usage from what I can tell. A decent web site with no glaring flaws.
  • Emirates: Custom code, site is efficient and easy to use.
  • Japan Airlines: Comparable to Air Canada.
  • KLM: Northwest or Delta, without the Ajax toolkit.
  • Lufthasna: Efficient use of Dojo and Dijit. User experience could use some work, and you can’t select a seat assignment between the time you book and check-in time. Some weird encoding bugs when downloading some of their seat maps within Firefox.
  • SAS: Far too many HTTP requests for JavaScript and CSS, but a reasonable user experience overall.
  • Singapore Air: Their use of the venerable dyn-web was surprising, and their site is relatively basic, but everything works well. Their A380 Suite Class and Business Class in general makes it difficult to complain about their web site, but they really need a first class site to match their on-board experience.
  • Swiss Air: Comparable to Air Canada.
  • United: Their site looks ok and uses jQuery, but the process of picking a flight and seeing what seats are available in terribly inefficient. Just show me the prices and availability for all 3 classes when I want to pick a flight please. And while you’re at it, your entire upgrade process is over the top complex… take a lesson from US Airways on this one.
  • Virgin Atlantic: Some use of jQuery, but a notch below Virgin America’s web site.


  • Alaska: Use of some JavaScript that appears to be tightly coupled to their use of Asp.NET. Interaction and visual design are in need of a refresh.
  • Alitalia: Custom code, slow to load, but I was expecting worse.
  • All Nippon: Dreamweaver-generated JavaScript code and page layout. Nothing stands out as great or terrible.
  • Asiana: Use of Prototype is decent. They need to hire someone from the US to read the content and clean-up the translations. A number of nested pages return 404s for me.
  • Cathay Pacific: Custom code, and a very basic site with an outdated design.
  • China Air: Slightly better than Cathay Pacific, and far superior to Air China.
  • Continental Airlines: The worst of the US-based web sites that I’ve reviewed in this article.
  • easyJet: No toolkits, and not great code, but the site works better than expected.
  • Qantas: They use jQuery in small doses, but for example, their tab-like user interface is really a set of links to go to other pages on the site. Flash is used all over the site for advertising their deals: 6 flash objects alone on the page to book a flight.
  • US Airways: [Disclosure: I’m in the US Airways Chairman’s Club for people that fly way way way too much, so I use this web site more than all of the others reviewed combined]. Today’s site is an antiquated Asp.NET mess with frequent down time and a subpar design. They also have other problems related to experience: for example, if you buy a ticket anywhere else, it doesn’t show up in you upcoming itineraries when logged in, though it does show up when you enter your name and confirmation code. This is true even when your frequent flyer number is entered as part of your reservation on the third party site such as Expedia; otherwise they wouldn’t be able to upgrade you. So what keeps this site rated where it is? US Airways has the best domestic first class (well, really it is business class called first class) upgrade program in the industry, period. It’s simple, automatic, and rewards people that fly the most.


  • Aer Lingus: Bloody ugly and old school.
  • Air China: A dreadful user experience for their USA-facing web site. I just don’t understand the site at all.
  • Air New Zealand: Looks great, but horribly broken for me on Firefox 3. Their booking page was blank, and deals page showed a bunch of code making think I ran into issues during testing.
  • RyanAir: Makes my eyes bleed, just like the experience when flying them.


Airline web sites have improved significantly in the past two years, but have a long way to go. jQuery has replaced Prototype as the toolkit of choice for airlines, though I still believe Dojo would be a great choice for these sites. If you are an airline and want to get assistance with creating a great user experience, contact us at SitePen.

I make use of a number of other web sites including old stalwarts like Expedia, and four of my favorites: Kayak, TripIt, SeatGuru, and Trip Advisor, making life a lot easier for the frequent flyer.

2 Responses to “Airline Web Sites Reviewed, Two Years Later”

  1. on 14 Feb 2009 at 17:09ben hockey

    i like seatguru (not so much the website but the service) i have an inverter and i’m always looking for the seat with the power outlet so i can run my laptop or charge my phone. not all of us get first class upgrades 😉

  2. on 15 Feb 2009 at 6:01Dylan

    @Ben: I definitely agree… Seat Guru works great but looks terrible!

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