orbitz-logoA lot of online behavior is habitual.  My e-mail client is Eudora, for example — an orphaned program that hasn’t been updated since 2006.  People keep telling me to switch to this or that but I like Eudora and have 17 years of mail stored in it, though I sense an end coming there.  I also use Orbitz, primarily, for my travel planning.  And it isn’t that Orbitz is particularly better (though not particularly worse since I use Kayak from time to time to compare) but that it holds already in its digital innards a whole succession of my credit cards as well as my five frequent flier numbers.  Or it did.

You see Orbitz has lost my numbers.

Last week I took a flight to Dallas and they were right there on the screen in my user profile — a bunch of credit card numbers dating back to the late 1990s and my frequent flier numbers for American, United, US Airways, Delta, and Northwest.  I know those last two have merged but I’m not sure my frequent flier numbers yet reflect that.  Frankly I don’t KNOW any of those numbers, relying instead on Orbitz to keep track of them.  But then today I went to book a flight to LAX and while the web site knew who I was from the cookie I was carrying, it suddenly had no idea how I paid for tickets or what affinity programs I was with. I only hope it guessed that I prefer windows to aisles — I’ll have to check on that.

Remember last week we discussed in this space how you’d manage personal data following the demise of a photo-sharing or social networking site? Well here’s an analogous problem — how do you manage YOUR data in ANY e-commerce site?  And what does it mean if THEY do a lousy job of managing it for you, as Orbitz has done with me?

So I called customer support.  When I eventually got through a guy named “Richard” told me my numbers were hosed, though he claimed never to have seen the effect before.  Somehow I doubt that.  And from his accent I doubted that he was born “Richard,” either.  Still he tried to be helpful.

By this point I was down to two questions: 1) How the heck did this happen?, and; 2) will my numbers reappear during some restore or is it up to me to find and reenter them?

“Richard” had no idea how it happened and, sadly, it’s up to me to do the dirty work of restoring the data.

I hope he’s wrong on that last part.  I hope that the Orbitz technology is robust enough to correct such a problem, especially after it has been brought to their attention.  But the somber finality with which”Richard” gave me the bad news suggested that you can’t go home again. Or at least I can’t.

If so, think what this means.  Even if cosmic rays somehow nuked my and ONLY my profile information from among millions of registered users (my new and old reservations were intact) the idea that the information couldn’t be restored was disturbing.  What kind of an outfit is this, anyway?  And if the problem extended beyond me and thousands or millions of Orbitz users were inconvenienced, well then my loyalty is at an end.  Because a company that can erase my information can also lose it, and I don’t need that data floating around.

If you are an Orbitz customer please check YOUR profile information and see if your frequent flier numbers and credit cards data are intact.

Get back to me on that, okay?