RTFM Education – Virtualization, VMware, Citrix

Mar 26 2012   8:04AM GMT

United Airlines – Mileage Awards – A Strange and Terrible Saga…

Michelle Laverick Michelle Laverick Profile: Michelle Laverick

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a bit of run in with United Airlines over the redeeming of Airmiles as part of their membership of the Star Alliance. This blogpost could quite easily turn into those “venting” posts where a member of the public uses some internet presence to under load a truckload of bile and venom. Enjoyable and fun that might be – it wouldn’t be very constructive. So being ever the constructive kind of guy I am – I’m going to use the blogpost as launch pad for why cloud-computing will inevitably fail IF… existing business processes and attitudes are addressed with the same passion as folks have installing software and hardware… Plus it gave me an opportunity in the title to name-check one of my favourite US novelists – Hunter S. Thompson… 


I’ll keep it brief. If you fly on any “Star Alliance” flight you are meant to be able to redeem your mileage points back to which ever airline you prefer to fly with. My preference is for United, and this year I took a flight to Toronto with Air Canada – to speak at the VMUG. Prior to redeeming your miles you have to wait 72 hours to expire before making an application. I was able to redeem my miles for the outbound portion of the journey without a problem. However, when I came back to United’s mileage programme page I noticed a change had been made. Under the new regime of posting through email+scanning or you can snail-mail your boarding pass and original travel documents is now the “system” of how to claim your miles. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad if I lived in the US, but I live in the UK, and it seems extraordinary that in this day in age we are required to use a system developed in the 19th century to get a job done in the 21st. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe all things that digital, leads naturally to a world where all things are good. Get me talking about how e-readers won’t kill the printed book, and you find out what I mean. Anyway, I digress.

I decide to raise this issue with customer services first, and then later I googled Jeff Smisek’s email address. In case you don’t know, Jim is the CEO of United, and he steered the merge of Continental and UA in the last year or two. You will see him on nearly every international flight, thanking you for your business. I outlined why I thought the new “system” wouldn’t scale, and added that a cynical person would think that this change was deliberate way of discouraging folks claiming the mileage points they so richly deserved. They offered to treat my situation as special case, and would allow a one-off processing of my application – so long as the documents past tested. Sadly, that’s where we hit the buffers. No matter what I scanned (jpg, tif, pdf) nothing I seemed to scan seemed to be readable by the Customer Services staff. At this point I was ready to give up.

   TIF in a PDF

Note: Above are some of the scans that UA Customer Services couldn’t open or read. Dunno about you, but they seem more than legible to me… Each one is gradually larger – as you know a good high-res scan results in better quality and larger files. All of which needs to be sent through email… My last attempt (3 of 3) was to scan as TIF, and then print to a .PDF file in the hope the folks at UA would have Acrobat Reader. I never did hear back if they could open and read the file… If you click on them they will expand to full screen view. I don’t think there’s anything personal on a boarding pass that shouldn’t be in the public domain – so I haven’t redacted the images at all. So since this attempt to get this sorted, UA now offers the ability to scan & send documents to their email address. Sadly, though its weakest link is the technology of email, scanners and image formats…




But you know, giving up isn’t really the Mike Laverick style. So as I write this I’m printing a letter, and putting in with my boarding pass, and original travel documents. I’m going to get these points if its the last thing I do. And at this rate – it may well be last thing I do..!!!

OK. That’s the strange and terrible saga dealt with. Now to the important bit. Cloud. It’s my firm belief that cloud is not a product. Indeed even last week on the Chinwag Podcast – we were joking about how we should create a new acronym ”Cloud-Repackaged-as-a-Product” (or CraaP for short). For me cloud is as much as business and IT processes being re-examined in the light of the new business challenges we face.  People want to do EVEN more, with EVEN less than we did in the previous decade. You just not going to get those efficiencies by installing yet another product, that adds yet another layer of abstraction on top of the abstraction you already enjoy with virtualization. Vendors who promise you that you can stand-up your cloud infrastructure on Tuesday of next week – are just responding to customer demand in the classic way. Got a problem? Here’s the product to fix your problem. In other words just selling more CraaP. So where does my anecdote/vent about UA fit into this?

Well, here’s how. If I was the CTO of UA I would want to know what kind of business rationale was involved? What thinking was involved when UA decided to replace its perfectly serviceable but drab web-service for redeeming airmiles, with totally unservicable, lacking scalability email+scan or postal-service? Would adding a cloud layer improve the above service in any redeemable (forgive the pun!) way? Answer NO. That’s because their service does not scale to the requirements of globalised world. That’s some ironic given that for decades, its being UA’s job to physically connect the disperate parts of the globe using jet airliners.

Now I do hope at some stage, UA CTO reads this. (Hello, Mr CTO thanks for reading my humble little bit of cyberspace) because this is important. There are plenty of very good initiatives within UA to bring new services and products to its customers. These involve innovation which I’m sure many a frequent flyer like me would welcome such as in-flight wifi and the ability to redeem your miles for products, and would say that despite the occasional snafu UA does have internal processes pretty much sorted. However, I think this case of replacing an online system with an email/scan system or even a postal system makes me (and I assume other customers) wonder how an earth were supposed to get to the cloud – if this is the way a global mileage program is managed?

The message for your business is stop doing Stupid IT. You know we all have dysfunctional processes that have not been called out – for fear of drawing attention to that dysfunction and the loss of personal prestige that it might risk. You need to stamp out these dysfunctional processes, because if you deploy private cloud – you will have the same dysfunction, but residing in CraaP at the same time….

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