This Ridiculous Video for United Airlines 'Explains' the New Boarding Process

Some explanations are better left to a simple card or even a text message.

A new video on YouTube, created by United Airlines, tries to explain the new boarding process, which went into effect this week.

Sadly, it makes it seem like an intricate maze.

Before we get into the video and what makes it so confusing, know this: There’s hope. United Airlines did simplify how it all works to board a plane now, trimming the lines down to just two options, green or blue. At first glance, you might wonder if things would be far simpler if there was one lane, but that might also be an indication that you have only flown with really polite people. One lane means way more crowding. People bud in line. Multiple lanes beyond two means more confusion. So I do understand why this two lane approach is much easier.

Then, there’s the video. Here it is:

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That’s right. Text pops up in the video in a chaotic fashion, a guy gives you all of the boarding pass advice, a cheesy music tracks plays in the background, and there are blue and green colors flashing at you like crazy. By about halfway in or maybe two-thirds, it starts to feel like someone went overboard with the two primary colors. It’s not a terrible video, but it also doesn’t help explain a simple process. And it probably shouldn’t exist.

The problem with visual communication, of course, is that it can go way too far. The video is two minutes and 21 seconds long when it should have been about 30 seconds. A voiceover saying “there are now only two lanes, and you’ll split into two groups depending on which zone you’re in” would have been just about right. Text me that, then snap–done.

There’s something to be said for “you’ll figure it out” after giving a teaser or a hint of what’s going to happen when you board. A sign is sometimes better than a video.

It would be like trying to explain the airport kiosks. You know, they are super simple. Insert your ID or a credit card, punch a few buttons, grab your boarding pass.

If a video tried to explain things like multiple layovers, what to do if your ID doesn’t work, or just about any other scenario that would make it seem complicated would…make it seem complicated. Very few people get confused by kiosks. It’s actually better to skip a video altogether. I always notice someone hovering around the kiosks anyway. And, if you don’t watch the United Airlines video explaining the new process, you’ll figure it out. It speaks for itself. And there are screens everywhere. And gate agents are readily available.

It’s a bit ironic, actually.

By making an explainer video, it makes passengers more stressed instead of less stressed. The video itself tells you ot to be stressed, which is a sure sign that you might want to be stressed. What would be far less stressful? No video at all.

And, this is where things get interesting, by the way. For anyone trying to communicate about a slightly complex topic, the first question to ask is: Should this even be a video? Or is it better to include a few directional indicators at the point where someone needs to know a new process? Think about something as simple as placing an order for products and services. Sometimes, not explaining something makes it all seem easier.

My best example of this has to do with McDonald’s kiosks.

They are not as common in the U.S., but I started using them on a trip to Austria recently. I can’t imagine how anyone could improve them. They have huge icons, you click things to order. That’s it. Making the process itself easier–which United Airlines has done–is the big win. Trying to explain why something is easier–which is the mistake United Airlines made in the video–is a sure way to create even more confusion.

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Paul Rosen