A good indication that a survey is poorly designed is when it confuses two people who create surveys for a living.Such was the case on a recent flight from Atlanta to San Diego.Beth Mulligan, a fellow analyst, was sitting next to me on the plane and she asked me to take a survey because she had problems taking it herself.The survey was on one of those fancy touch screen displays on the back of the headrests.I started by reading the first question, and once I picked my answer, I touched my selection.Nothing happened – or so it appeared.I touched my choice again.Nothing.After touching my choice about five times, I realized every time I touched the screen, the question at the top changed; I answered 5 questions the same way without realizing it.The survey was designed to go to the next question once an answer was selected – there was no prompt to move to the next question or a way to go back and change my answer.All of the answer choices were the same for each question, so there was not a visual cue that the question changed (besides the very top of the screen displaying a different question which I didn’t see during my repeated selection of my answer choice).I tried to go back and switch my responses, but there was no option to do this.

On top of filling out the survey incorrectly the first time, I tried to take the survey again, and I was able to! I could have spent the whole flight taking the survey hundreds of times, and if I didn’t have a magazine to read, I may have. I would only hope that the survey software is smart enough to know that someone at the same seat is filling it out multiple times.

I think the idea of including a survey on the headrest display has potential for discovering interesting insights into the mind of an airline passenger mid-flight.  After all, they are a true captive audience in the middle of experiencing the product or service (much better than asking them to recall their experiences later).  However, there should be several improvements on top of fixing the usability issues discussed above. First, respondents shouldn’t be able to take the survey multiple times.  Second, different surveys could be offered at different times of the flight, such as “How was your boarding experience?” or “Was the flight attendant courteous when serving the mid-flight snack?”  Finally, perhaps as an incentive for taking the survey, survey respondents could watch a movie or television on the screen for free (and avoid the annoying service charge they would normally have to pay).