Why Did Virgin Australia Decide To Use Flash?

Why Did Virgin Australia Decide To Use Flash?

Virgin Australia shifted its back-end systems over the weekend, migrating from Navitaire to Sabre in a shift that was always expected to cause disruption to customers. As expected, the process has experienced the occasional glitch and lots of elements of the site aren’t working right now. Those bugs will surely get ironed out over time, but there’s one element that seems messy for Virgin’s longer-term strategy — the new online check-in system defaults to using Flash.

As I write this, even accessing the site in a basic fashion remains something of a lottery, but Virgin’s own official Twitter account confirms the approach: “Flash is used by the new platform but we have a roadmap to replace it with a more user friendly platform to cater for all guests.” But Flash isn’t an absolute requirement: if you’re on an iPad or other Flash-free device, you will be offered a more basic HTML experience.

Given that the entire system needed to be rebuilt from scratch anyway, why not try for a better (and universal) HTML5 experience right from the start? The answer, I suspect, is the need to balance competing priorities. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t build a check-in system that offered less than optimum performance for a large percentage of mobile devices . However, shifting from one platform to another was always going to be a massive project. If Sabre offered an easy way to roll out the new check-in system using Flash, it’s understandable that this was done. But it still means there will be further upgrades (and changes) down the track, rather than concentrating all the pain in one well-publicised period.


      • ActionScript 3 is a dialect of ECMAScript just like Javascript.
        ECMAScript is itself a derivative of Self.
        All of which are Prototype-based languages, which is not a “true OOP type language” as it contains no classes.

        Infact, given that both ActionScript and JavaScript are merely implementations of ECMAScript, they have exactly the same language features, possibly with minor syntax differences and any minor add-ons that are not standard in ECMAScript. So, no, ActionScript is not “far ahead of JavaScript”.

        “… do you have a better reason?”

        Flash is not supported on iOS devices which has over 60% market share of mobile devices
        Flash is an extra layer which can introduce security flaws and bugs. So, not only do you have to deal with browser / javascript bugs, but on top of that you’re adding those introduced by flash

        … There’s just two.

        • Hi Jess–

          Flash is supported on iOS– It’s called AIR.
          I create iOS apps all of the time with ActionScript3 and the Flash platform.
          But, I’m sure you knew that.

          I code in both ActionScript3 and JavaScript, and there are more than a few differences between the languages.
          For one– the time it takes to code the same the AS3 application in JavaScript , is about 4 times longer in JavaScript.
          The Library support for JavaScript just isn’t as built up as AS3. That is why AS3 is relatively far ahead of JavaScript.
          I know this for a fact, because I code in both– all of the time.
          Also– JavaScript is NOT an OOP type language with strict typing and AS3 is an OOP type language with strict typing. That alone is a huge difference between the two.
          Although they are both dialects of ECMAScript– JavaScript is more akin to ActionScript2 than ActionScript3.
          Hopefully it catches up soon, because it’s torture having to go back to the 90’s in order to code.

          Also– If I was implementing Flash into HTML, why would I have to worry about JavaScript bugs.
          That’s the beauty of it.

          The Flash Player is not going away, anytime soon.

          The real point is that Flash is a useful tool and a great one at that.
          It’s not perfect for all jobs, but what is?

          The Flash Player team absolutely does a fantastic job in keeping the Flash Platform feature rich and at the top of it’s game.

          Big thanks to the Flash Player Team.


          • I can’t comment on the libraries available for ActionScript vs JavaScript, as that is a whole other area. If it is how you say, then ActionScript surely sounds the better to code in (anything to make a developer’s life easier is welcome!).

            ActionScript being strongly typed has both pros and cons. I’m a lover of C++ who now uses Lua (another Prototype-based language). C++ is strongly typed, and it just feels right having that compile time checking of types. On the other hand, Lua’s loosely typed system gives me a flexibility that I haven’t before experienced, and which I can leverage in the ‘Prototype’ methodologies to great success.

            I must take back my comment about ActionScript not being OOP – I didn’t realise AS3 introduced “a class-based inheritance system separate from the prototype-based inheritance system.” (source)

            I get the feeling you are a strong advocate of Object Oriented Programming, and haven’t yet delved into the delightfully obscure world of Prototype based programming? It’s a decent mind-shift, but once you conquer it, you’ll start to see uses for it everywhere (just like you see uses for OOP everywhere now). Combine it with your knowledge of OOP, and you’re in an awesome position of being able to use the correct paradigm for the correct job.

            Which really brings me to my final point – When developing for the web, you should use web-specific technologies. I, personally, say that Flash is no longer a web-specific technology (although that is its main use in real-world).

            It’s all about the correct tool for the job, and in this case, I think the correct tool would have been Javascript.

  • Looks like it does not “default to using Flash”. It seems to be flash only. I have flash turned off on my Mac and I only get error messages when I try to use the system.

  • The entire thing wasn’t built from scratch, it’s an existing system and quite old. Clearly this is an opinion piece and not journalism otherwise it would be reporting facts not assumptions. Tha booking frame looks to be another Sabre component from looking at the DNS.

        • Support for HTML5 is somewhat of a sliding scale as not all browsers implement all or the same areas of HTML5.

          You can see in these graphs that there is a wildly varying degree of support. The most notable omissions are IE < 9.

          When you consider that HTML5 and CSS3 gracefully degrade to HTML4 and CSS2 where the new properties are not available, then it is arguably easier to support than degrading from an entirely missing plugin. Infact, if you want to support a nicely degrading interface when flash is unavailable, then you will have to implement it in HTML/CSS anyway.

          With regards to Flash being more common: Adobe claim over 98% on desktops. I’m not sure how accurate this is (they don’t quote a source), but when compared to the top browsers being used, IE 7/8 make up the 14.6% of browsers which do not support HTML5.

          It should be noted too that 100% of browsers used in the last decade support HTML4 and CSS2, which is perfectly fine for building complete, beautiful, and functional websites today.

          • Well, as you just pointed out, Flash is very common.

            And, Dude– it’s very easy to support.

            My apologies for being a little crass up there in my comment.


  • Html5 is still developing… and so are it’s developers. Flash isn’t the boogyman on the desktop. No question the net will go to html5 but it’s not a necessity yet.

  • “Given that the entire system needed to be rebuilt from scratch anyway, why not try for a better (and universal) HTML5 experience right from the start?”

    A valid question but its not really looked at that way on a large systems implementation, that is a very UX / Web centric perspective. When an airline considers a new reservations, check in and flight management solution…no one is there going “wow this is a great opportunity to get our HTML5 experience right!”. They are more concerned about being able to issue tickets, check baggage, board flights, ensure connectivity with other airlines and Industry Partners etc.

    Changing an airline system is like changing the engine of a car while its driving down the freeway. html5 vs flash is more like whether the car is painted red or black.

    I don’t mean to discount the importance of having a well designed website. For many customers, including myself, its one of the only interactions that take place with businesses. I certainly have navigated away from full online shopping carts because the experience was too clumsy. My point is that the “skin” of the website is something thats easier to fix once the more fundamental things are out of the way.

  • It’s deliberate, there is some incentive for Australian (or the Australian branch of) companies to provide a poor view of internet competence for purchases etc etc.

  • I tried to check in online Monday morning. I was very annoyed that I got up to the download the boarding pass part, only to have my PDF reader repeatedly fail to open the document. Every time I tried, it said the file was corrupted. So I had to go stand in the heinous “problem solving” line at the service desk (which was dealing with plenty of large problems, i seems) line until final check-in was called for my flight, at which time I was able to proceed to the “flight closing” counter and actually get my boarding pass.

    Kudos to DJ/VA for the free snacks at the gate for those on delayed flights. Because our flight was so late that it required a gate change, we actually got to partake at two different gates. On offer — biscuits, muesli bars, apples and bottled water. I hope that’s a new thing that they do any time a flight is delayed, because it makes the wait a bit less annoying.

  • As of last week, Flash-based browsers had a 99% market share, while HTML5 holds 68%:


    Given that almost one-third of browsers used are old instances of IE, you can assume that they’re not going to change until the owner needs to get a new PC, which means it’ll take years for HTML5 to overtake Flash. As a short-to-medium term strategy for Virgin, I can see the logic to it.

      • I’d say 16% on those figures, but either way still less than Flash. I’m not sure how they count Safari in iOS vs Mac/PC, but even if you add all the versions together and assume none can run Flash, it’d be 12% that are non-Flash vs 14% non-HTML5.

        I’m not trying to promote Flash over HTML5. As a consumer of content, I prefer Flash a little, but when it comes to working with the back-end, I prefer HTML5 a lot. Just trying to say that Virgin’s approach is appropriate and logical if you consider Flash and HTML5 non-complimentary (I think they can co-exist, at least for the time being, but I’m not an industry expert – I just work with what I can get).

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