User Experience is important: Reason #65398

I have a last-minute trip to New York this week. Because this is the season, apparently, of $750 hotel rooms when you book them late, I decided instead to save some money and make it an up-and-back trip in one day.

Which means I wanted an early train. So I searched for morning trains on the Amtrak site:

…and found that the earliest train possible got me from Baltimore to NYC by 8:44:

I thought I’d remembered earlier trains, but guessed that they may have been sold out, given that I was traveling at the last minute (UX note: See how quickly I assume I’m doing something wrong, instead of the site). But this morning, as I pondered the mad 20-block dash to get to my meeting a half-hour late, it struck me as impossibly odd. So I searched other dates into the summer, all with the same result of no trains before 6 a.m.

I downloaded the official Amtrak Northeast Corridor timetable (updated March 2011) and it confirmed my suspicions: there were earlier trains. So why weren’t they showing up on the Amtrak site when I was looking, I thought, at all morning trains?

I called to talk to a ticket agent. While I was on hold, I did what all flummoxed web users do: I clicked on random things. Finally, I hit on the secret combination: Instead of selecting “morning,” I should select a particular hour in the morning. 5 a.m., for example.

When I finally got the friendly Amtrak web support person on the phone, I asked her why the choice of “morning” did not, in fact, display all of the morning trains. She didn’t know, but her guess (and I think she’s correct) was that the site designer assumed that most people meant 6 a.m. when they said morning.

Assumed.

Most people.

Dangerous words.

Anyway, I got what  I wanted, I suppose. And now I’ll be setting the alarm for 4:30 a.m., instead of the comparatively luxurious 5:30 a.m.