Apple Wallet boarding pass ergonomics


Take a squizz at these two recent boarding passes on my Apple Wallet, along with sharing in my excitement for my pending free boba at Gong Cha. See any issues? I can count at least three.

Apple Wallet showing two boarding passes. The first is a Virgin Australia with black boarding text on red, and the time 06:45PM in white. The second is Qantas with white boarding text on red, and the time 06:45

Let’s discuss what they got right first, to their credit. I grew up in Singapore and demand ISO formatting, so I was happy to see leading zeroes on both of the times. It aggravates me no end when I see Anglo-Saxons abbreviate times as 6:00. They’re significant figures, not decorations. More on that in a moment.

That’s where the good news largely stops. Apple clearly gives airlines a certain level of discretion when it comes to presenting information, but this can lead to poor formatting decisions. Qantas writes BOARDING in white, as it should be against that background. Virgin Australia uses #540d1b for BOARDING which isn’t quite black, and #e0e0e0 for the time which isn’t quite white. This results in less readable text, especially when dealing with smaller phone screens.

And then we come to time ambiguity. My global system default is for 24-hour time, because I’m a gentleman. But does that mean Qantas is respecting my preferences with 06:45, or do they mean PM? And if so, why is Virgin ignoring my preferences and printing PM, and worse, without a space between the time and PM? As long as airlines can print either 12 or 24-hour time, I’ll be second guessing each time I see one without an AM/PM descriptor. Which defeats the point of 24-hour time.

These affordances are critical. Put yourself in the shoes of a weary traveller, or think back to the last time you were trundling your bag through a terminal yourself. You might have jetlag, you may have crossed a dozen timezones. You’re not at your peak mental capacity, you’re probably bleary eyed or tired. I’ve been in transit airports when I don’t know if it’s AM or PM… looking at you, SYD to SFO. Now look at your Apple Wallet, and try to figure out what’s going on.

The entire point of this system was to be an easier, more ergonomic alternative to paper boarding passes you have to print and carry around. And I hate to say it, but it utterly fails.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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