Last week London Luton Airport launched a version of its website optimised specifically for mobile devices. Like many websites with a mobile incarnation it will detect mobile users, redirecting them to the appropriate m.london-luton.co.uk version. This week I see how this new mobile experience shapes up, does it perform like the Eurofighter or an Airbus... Let's find out!
London Luton Airport is situated in the county of Bedfordshire some 30 miles north of Central London; it is the fourth biggest airport out of a total of six serving the London Area. In 2012 it was the fifth busiest airport in the United Kingdom. EasyJet, Monarch and Thomson Airways currently have head offices located here.
First opened in 1938, the airport was used as a Royal Air Force base during World War II before commercial flights. In the early 1970s Luton Airport was the most profitable airport in the UK, by the 1980s its fortunes had begun to decline. A major contributing factor was the rise of its north London competitor Stansted Airport. In 1998 Luton Airport saw major redevelopment and a brand new terminal housing 60 check-in desks, information systems and an extensive range of retail and catering outlets. London Luton Airport gained media fame as one of the subjects of the television series Airline, which followed the day to day activities of EasyJet employees.
The main header on the home page hosts the company logo, which is unobtrusive and situated clearly on the top left without taking up too much space. Two social media icons for Facebook and Twitter are placed on the top right, both icons are a respectable size and I had no problems accessing them. Main content is presented via four drop down menus; each of these has between 2 and 6 elements, many of which lead to further categories.
The content within the 'To and from airport' menu was hit and miss. There are many occasions where icons were included for company names. I assumed they would be interactive elements but they were just plain images that I wasted effort trying to press. For some text based links were included as well as an icon, for some there was just a plain image and in others there were just plain text. When text links were used they had often not considered making them usable for a mobile device. Links were sometimes placed line after line without spacing and were virtually impossible to select accurately on smaller devices, a prime example of this was the 'by taxi' page.
The Parking and Airport Information sections were all fairly standard, although sometimes it took a lot of interaction to get from the home page to the desired content. During my use of the website there were several times when the back button did nothing, all in exceptionally normal situations whereby you would expect this functionality. This continued to be an issue on many pages throughout my trial, forcing me to abandon navigation many times and return to the home page to continue browsing to another area.
Score for usability: 3.8/5
The page weight of London Luton Airports mobile website isn't too bad, weighing in at 679KB. The background image takes up 320KB of this alone, with the large parking advertisement at the bottom of the page taking up a further 152KB. Despite the sizeable images the number of total requests was actually quite good coming in at 18. Using the Chrome developer tools on a desktop to test the load time gave it a loading speed of 2.03 seconds on the day. Using Vodafones tariffs it would cost you a fraction over 2.7p for a single view of the mobile home page.
Score for performance: 3.4/5
The first thing that struck me was the design is very colourful, with at least five major colours competing for attention. The design also employs a large background image of an airplane which is mostly obscured by the navigation menus. Additionally for reasons beyond my knowledge the entire background image seems to jump around trying to follow wherever the users screen focus is, this is really noticeable when scrolling to the lower sections of the home page. Interestingly it will only jump so far, so occasionally the background image will be out of view. I assume the jumpiness is not intended as it is quite distracting. There are definitely some kinks that need to be worked out regarding the way the background images are used.
The design in general works fine, the variety of information is nicely categorised and the menus are intuitive. Although when comparing the mobile version to its bigger desktop cousin we can see that the design is completely different. There is little consistency between the designs, at least on the surface. The layout is very different as are the menu categories and the menu options contained within. It's actually really difficult to tell they are websites for the same brand, beyond the company logo and the same background image. Ideally learning the navigation from one version should translate efficiently when having to navigate around the corresponding version but this wasn't the case for London Luton's website.
I felt the invitation to view the desktop website is out of place. It is given too much screen space and could be much better served by being on the footer. After all if you're on a mobile device and the site works as intended then it's counter intuitive to use a large part of the screen to offer the desktop site. On a positive note the arrivals and departures sections was well laid out and felt effective in use. It was quick and easy to locate a flight or to search for one. I particularly liked how the arrivals, departures and search worked together to promote a seamless function with minimal interaction requirements. The journey planner also used this design layout with the accompanying search function sandwiched in between. This combination of utility through design could have benefited other sections of the website.
Score for design: 3.9/5
The site looks good on a variety of screen sizes, although the high use of colour is distracting on the eye and also quite demanding on battery use. There are some issues that need to be addressed before I could give it a higher score, one being the background images. They seem to be copies of the ones on the desktop site and have been implemented poorly in both terms of function, appearance and performance. Removing them would improve the page weight by almost 50% and I dare say it would look much cleaner too, currently the background images don't add much to a mobile user. A second issue that needs looking at is the inability to use the devices back button on certain pages, I didn't have time to investigate why this happens but I do know it's a serious issue that would turn off any would be user.
Some things I really liked were the design of the flight arrivals and departures, it is a much more succinct solution than the what the desktop version provides. Unfortunately the rest of the website has fallen back on the standard layout of menus within menus, ok so it does the job but with a lot of information to present it felt like I was spending all the time navigating through them rather than enjoying content. The menus are at least nicely presented and clear, using interfaces large enough to operate with the thumb and in general were organised in an effective if not efficient manner. The parking booking function was intuitive and presented nice and cleanly. In my opinion the 'tool' functions of the website came out better than the 'content' sections.
London Luton Airport lost quite a few of the potential marks on all three aspects of my review. Some may say the overall score reflects too harshly on what is actually an ok mobile experience. There are not that many problems, unfortunately the few problems that do exist are quite glaring and in at least one case is a deal breaker for me. However in the same vein there is also good news for London Luton; the issues don't need a lot of work to fix and once corrected would really improve the mobile experience of their website and gaining them a much higher score.
Score in conclusion: 3.7/5
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 51Degrees.mobi.