Air Canada pledging to improve customer service, then pull our other leg

All the company’s problems will be solved with a series of “cross-country pep talks”


The Globe reports this morning: Air Canada is becoming increasingly worried about the ascent of WestJet Airlines Ltd., assigning chief operating officer Bill Bredt to deliver cross-country pep talks urging staff to improve customer service amid competitive threats and the recession.

Wow, bad enough the guy actually has to speak in front of Air Canada employees – he also has to travel across the country on their planes. Bill Bredt, my nickname for you is Short Straw, for that is what you have drawn.

Air Canada’s customer service is legendary – among humorists, satirists and masochists. It’s the easiest joke in the world and one of the most rewarding to tell, because everyone gets it.

Of course there are some nice people who do good work for Air Canada (I remember encountering one – the year was 1985). But anyone who’s ever flown on the airline is familiar with the stares of indifference, the sneers, the attitude, the brazen cash grabs (introducing our Surcharge Surcharge, a surcharge to cover the internal costs of levying our various surcharges) and the way that important flight information flows from company to customer at roughly the speed of motionlessness.

But now a series of “cross-country pep talks” is going to change all that! The employees of Air Canada are going to become friendly, helpful and entirely pleasant to deal with. The surly will become smiley. Fuel savings will be achieved because the company’s airplanes will take flight on the power of raw amiability.

Impressive. Savvy work there at the top by CEO Monte Brewer. It only took him the entire duration of his time as chief executive to determine that the company’s customer service is lacking and, hey, wait a minute!, maybe that’s why WestJet – a company that started from the closest thing to nothing – now owns 36% of the domestic market.

So now Monte is issuing “a call to arms” – though if he’s like a typical Air Canada customer, he’ll need to wait on hold for 45 minutes for his call to be answered. Monte wrote to employees recently: “The most important factor in determining our future success is customer service. This will be the battleground this year and in the years ahead.” WestJet v. Air Canada on the “battleground” of customer service: it’ll be like Tyson v. Spinks, Secretariat v. the Belmont field, Rosie O’Donnell v. that side of ribs.

By way of conclusion, I draw your attention to the concluding paragraphs of the Globe story:

Air Canada reported Friday that it lost $1-billion last year.

“It is small comfort that our loss was the result of factors outside of our control — soaring oil prices, foreign exchange losses due to a drop in the Canadian dollar, and the slowing economy,” Mr. Brewer said.

I love this. How convenient for Monte Brewer that Air Canada’s loss was “the result of factors outside of our control.” Monte himself had nothing to do with it! The lousy customer service – which Monte himself just acknowledged – had nothing to do with it! Poor Air Canada was buffeted solely by mean, nasty forces beyond its control. The buck stops… somewhere over there.

Question: if Air Canada were ever to earn $1-billion (I know – hilarious, but stick with it), do you think Monte would say it was due to “low oil prices, foreign exchange gains and a strong economy?” No, I expect Monte would say it was due to Monte.


Air Canada pledging to improve customer service, then pull our other leg

  1. Monte should travel incognonte on both airlines to experience the difference.

    • I figure he would assume any service – whether good on WestJet or bad on AC – would be because he was “recognized”. It’s hard to travel incognito when you’re as important as Monte.

  2. But what does Obama think? Is it not mandatory to have a shout out to Obama in every single story coming out of a Canadian news outlet these days? Perhaps an Air Canada comparison to Air Force One?

    • You are mistaken. It is not mandatory, and the exact thing that your complaint was about would not have come up in this thread, had you not brought it up. So please correct your records and take your meds before you ruin your whole week.

  3. How big was Mr. Brewer’s bonus last year?

  4. I’m not sure that flying with WestJet is any better… On most WestJet flights I’ve been buffetted with a variety of terrible knock-knock jokes, WestJet themed remakes of popular songs sung by flight attendants over the PA, and a variety of other performances that would have been culled from most elementary school variety shows.

    I’ve yet to run into any problems with Air Canada – maybe I’ve just been extremely fortunate.

    • Ed, I hope you don’t trigger a spate of Air Canada personal horror stories, or this will become the longest thread in macleans.ca history.

      • In all honesty, I’ve never had a horrific experience with Air Canada or any airline for that matter. I’ve witnessed flight attendants behaving churlishly to passengers, but frankly, a lot of them deserved it. Too much carry-on, too fat, too drunk, too loud, etc. etc…

        I’ve only flown WestJet twice and the experience was pleasant. Except for the oil-industry yahoos in the seat in front of me that one time who the flight attendant actually had to cut off.

        • Passengers deserve churlish behaviour from flight attendants for being too fat?

  5. Ed, you have. Savour it.

  6. Whining about air travel problems is really just an oblique way of bragging about how well-travelled and wordly one is.

    It’s as dull and irritating as that time the air-conditioning conked out on the re-furbished Aeroflot helicopter I had to take for a Royal Nepal Airlines flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu.

    • Picking up another load of carpets from the Tibetan refugee camp north of Pokhara?

      • Someone didn’t appreciate my little joke. :(

        • Guess not – I hadn’t seen that side of your personality before –

          In any event, I’m sure the trip was no more unpleasant than the ride on top of the bus along the washed out and dusty canyon roads between the two centres. To pu things in perspective, it sure makes bitching about all things Canadian seem rather petty, wouldn’t you think?

          • I don’t know. Ask a petty, bitching Canadian. Bumpy rides on crowded buses through bleak terrain just remind me of my childhood in Northern Ontario.

  7. So glad I don’t have to travel by air much anymore. Used to be so much fun. On time service, good food, even free drinks at one time!!! Not anymore. Pay for water if you can find anyone to bring it. The whole experience is depressing. Massive lineups to check in. Massive lineups at security that makes no one more secure. Seems all they do is make you take your shoes off to check your socks and undies I guess. Then more lineups to get on the plane. Lard arses carrying everything but the kitchen sink onto the plane so it takes forever to load and depart. Until recently every airport was in a state of constant constuction and exits and entrances changed every time though. I swear to God the pyramids took less time to build than Pearson. All that constuction came at a high cost. Landing fees there for airlines have gone up 1000%. Most expensive place on the planet to land a 747 now. Departure fees , tranfer fees, surcharges, flights advertized for 100 bucks that really cost 400 bucks when everything is added on. Total madness, so glad not to have to deal with it anymore. Westjet does seem better than Air Canada but you have to go through the same crap to get to either. Sad, really.

    • Air travel these days means rushing a lot in order to wait a long time.

    • Speaking of free drinks on airplanes, I seem to recall flying on Delta Airlines when they gave everyone a free glass of champagne. This was in the mid-1970s.

  8. There is a huge difference between Westjet and Air Canada. Westjet’s people seem genuinely interested in helping passengers out. I experienced this first hand due to the weather delays this past Christmas. People had nothing good to say about AC. Westjet provided meal vouchers, hotel vouchers, and did everything they could to help passengers feel comfortable.

    I’ll take the corny Westjet jokes (and there aren’t too many of them) compared to Air Canada’s bad attitude. And they do have a bad attitude.

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