Scoot's 'virtual flight' contest fails to take off after glitch

Making sure planes take off on time and with the right number of passengers is an everyday task for airlines.

So when a carrier decided to drum up some publicity by putting on a "virtual flight" for customers with smartphones, it might have expected the process to go without a hitch.

Instead, Scoot ended up with every airline's nightmare - technical difficulties, delays in "boarding" and a hoard of angry "passengers". In the end, it had to "take off" with 5,000 too few people.

And although no real planes were involved and the whole thing was just a competition run via a smartphone application, many customers were far from happy.

"I feel frustrated, definitely," said 33-year-old forensic scientist Kevin Chong, who was hoping to win the top prize of $20,000 cash and a year of free flights. "I encountered three issues along the way, and none of them was my fault. Scoot should probably have taken the game down, or postponed the game right from the beginning."

More than 7,000 contestants logged into the competition on Tuesday night using the special app designed by Scoot.

They were due to take part in the World's Longest Virtual Flight, an endurance contest commemorating the budget carrier's first anniversary. Competitors "boarded" a virtual plane and had to keep tapping a button on their smartphone screen every 60 seconds. The last person left tapping at the end would be declared the winner.

Scoot even organised a movie marathon during the event for 200 contestants at Golden Village City Square Mall.

But turbulence struck at 8pm, when many of those who tried to log on were denied access. Some complained that after they had "boarded", they were dropped from the flight before "take off".

After reports of technical issues, Scoot extended the boarding time to 9pm and postponed take-off from 9pm to 9.15pm. But this was not enough to allow many contestants to "board". In the end, the virtual flight took off at 9.30pm with about 2,000 people - a far cry from the estimated 7,000 who had registered earlier.

Even when the competition had begun, contestants were continually dropped due to technical glitches.

These problems led to escalating animosity towards Scoot, which received more than 1,000 comments on the issue on its Facebook page.

Many were especially disappointed as they had gone to great lengths to join, with some taking leave from work.

People at home were even more incensed when Scoot offered those who were left at the theatre event tickets to Sydney in compensation. Scoot said it had run many load tests the night before the event and uncovered no issues.

Despite the hiccups, Mr Mohammed Firdaus Ismani, 29, outlasted more than 2,000 other contenders yesterday afternoon - by tapping on the button for 18 hours - to win the grand prize of $20,000 and a year's worth of flights to any Scoot destination.

Scoot's chief executive Campbell Wilson, in a statement last night, said the problem appears to be a "server load balancing hardware failure". "Once the hardware issue is fixed, and the application thoroughly tested to ensure stability, we will e-mail all original registrants so they can take another crack at the $20,000 and a year's worth of flights," he said.

Mr Luke Lim, chief executive of brand consultancy firm A.S Louken, said: "These sorts of things happen once in a while. Maybe they just didn't test the app well enough."

Mobile games developer Kenneth Tan said: "A lot depends on Scoot's server load capacity... It also depends on whether users are in places of high or low connectivity. (They) should be considered in an app-based campaign."

knatalie@sph.com.sg

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HOE PEI SHAN


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