Booking it! Online?

I would venture to say that at some point or other, every blind and visually impaired computer user has experienced this difficulty. I’d say that it results from the varying combination of browsers and assistive technology we might use to interact with the sites, as well as the many ways a site can be designed and function when certain actions are taken.

I’m headed to Charlotte to visit my cousin this weekend, yay! We’re gonna watch the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four matchups this Saturday and probably talk a lot about any and everything.

In getting there, I’m taking the Amtrak as usual. I decided I would go ahead and finally create an account there for myself, so that I might get some Guest Rewards points since I’m likely to make at least this trip fairly often in the coming year.

I log on, and after a little of this and that, manage to enter my user information. A number is then generated for me, but I hadn’t known at the time that this wasn’t the end of the acquisition process for guest rewards membership. I sure wish I had realized it!

Next, I proceeded to attempt purchasing my roundtrip ticket between Durham and Charlotte. I like that I could add the two stations as favorites, which in theory would make future scheduling a snap. Once I managed to find the link labeled Passengers with Disabilities, which I needed in order to request assistance and get the small discount for which blind folks qualify, I made the, apparent, mistake of linking my Guest Rewards account to the trip I was attempting to book.

So here’s where I really became frustrated. I got my card info in, clicked the Purchase button, and it just sat there saying it was “Processing payment”. Paranoid about the idea that if I clicked it again I’d be charged twice, I allowed the machine to sit there for about 20 minutes before conceding and calling it a night, for it was already late.

Fortunately everything had been saved, so I relaunched the same search the next day and got the same hanging Now Processing result. I was wishing for at least an error of some kind, so that I’d know that something was wrong and perhaps what that something was.

I opted to give it a try with the iPhone app, but with that I couldn’t even get the date to enter correctly. So, I threw up my proverbial hands and called in to order the ticket as I had done on all previous occasions. I told the call center representative with whom I spoke I was doing that, throwing up my hands, and she laughed. She was nice though, and demonstrated to me that the problem was that I had not completed my enrollment in that Guest Rewards program.

I could go off on a tangent regarding my usefulness of loyalty programs, which often require you to have amassed piles of points to redeem one flight/trainride/pizza/what have you. I of course understand this logic, as the hope is that one will continue spending with said company in order to obtain the benefits, and that so doing will result in greater profit for the company. But I usually don’t see the need, and just buy the thing I want outright. I know there are some things to be gained from these associations though, which is why I was going to give it a go. Do you engage in any loyalty programs?

I do think I might sign up for Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards, as I’m slowly starting to use them more. They actually have done a good job lately of making their site a lot more accessible with a screen-reader, ad they offer great prices on nonstop flights from my local airport.

So that was a little of my trip booking fun. I guess for now I won’t actually become a Guest Rewards member, but I might feel like signing up eventually. I do have to say that the Amtrak site was usable for the most part, but just wish it could have been a bit more explanatory and that things could be more easily located.

Especially for those with visual disabilities, what have been some of your trip booking challenges and/or successes lately. I’ve also heard that Expedia isn’t exactly wrking well for screen-reader users lately either, but cannot personally attest to this as it’s been a while since I’ve completed a booking there. Weigh in.

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