Wednesday, 19 January 2011

109. Rant du Jour: Booking an iDTGV ticket - aaagghh!

19th January 2011. In April, we're off to Andalusia with Madame's former colleagues from her old school. The trip starts from Paris and there was no way that we could easily arrange to join them in Spain by independent means. We decided that we'd travel up to Paris instead and meet up with everyone there. After looking at the options - drive, fly or train - we settled on the train. Last night we booked the trip online.. SNCF has launched an online-only TGV booking service known as iDTGV. I wish I'd read this link before we booked as I quote:
Wagons (they mean carriages - I hope!) are separated into two zones: iDZen for customers wishing a quiet trip, where mobile phones and loud conversations are banned, and iDZap for customers looking for entertainment, where more noise is tolerated and games, shows, etc are sometimes given.
I've just checked our tickets and we're booked into an iDZap zone for the Bayonne-Paris outbound leg... aagghh! 

I don't normally criticise web sites here but - a cautionary warning - for poor functionality, user unfriendliness and sheer uselessness, the iDTGV site has to be one of the worst e-commerce sites I've ever used.

After typing in our responses to the standard questions such as - from/to, date & time of travel, no. of passengers, age etc.., it also asked if we were flexible on dates. I replied no. After hitting 'Continue', it provided a range of suitable train times and prices. Despite saying that I wasn't flexible on dates, it provided a bracket of 3 days around the date I'd requested. However, no date appeared next to any offered service except a small graphic next to some of the suggested times that said J-1 or J+1. After a while, I realised that this referred to the day prior to or the day following the day we actually wanted (Jour minus 1 - Jour plus 1). Why not just show the date? (remember the KISS principle..? Keep It Simple, Stupid..)

After changing our selections a few times, we decided on our choice of trains. The site then told us we'd booked 4 duplicate journeys.. I deleted everything and started again. Finally, after allowing me to select a valid outward and return journey - which, I have to say, was astonishingly cheap* (especially when compared to the UK) - I entered my credit card details and pressed 'continue'.. At this point a window popped up that said something like "for technical reasons we cannot continue this transaction and you should contact an online customer help service".. which we did. This then promptly failed. We were left tearing our hair out! An online booking that turns pear-shaped on you in mid-transaction (after you think you've paid as well) is so frustrating because you can't lean across the counter and grab someone (the person who wrote the software preferably) by the throat.. as maybe you'd like to do sometimes in real life! 
I shut down my PC and we jumped in the car to drive the 5 minutes to Bayonne SNCF station to try our luck with the ticket office there. Luckily it was still open and we ran in wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth (well, almost!) and asked the question - are we booked on the train that we'd just paid for or not? The girl replied that she couldn't help us with iDTGV enquiries as it's an online service only - yet another knuckle clenching moment! We said OK - can you quote us the standard SNCF price for the trip Bayonne/Paris & return for the dates in question..? She came back with a figure that was twice the price as she wasn't allowed to access iDTGV. I can recognise when I'm defeated as much as the next man.

We returned home and I fired up my PC again.. Finally, we were able to make the reservation we wanted and the system accepted it. Then we had to print off the tickets.. That episode triggered another 15 minutes of head-scratching until I figured out the obscure method of doing so. How difficult can it be to design a web site that's intuitive and works..?

Looking at the iDTGV web site again in the cold light of day, I can see there is a small French flag graphic with a stylised arrow next to it - and yes, that leads to other languages.. But why not display the range of flags to start with..? (which is the standard convention) This site truly needs re-working from top to bottom. It is a dismal front door to what is undeniably a great low-cost TGV service..
Now breathe deeply and relax..
* For 2 return TGV tickets Bayonne-Paris (550 miles), the cost is 131€ (~£110), including cancellation insurance.

1 comment:

Funny Rant site said...

It is a good post. It includes more information regarding the benefits of the TGV service and their issues.