Monday, 15 February 2010

Air Canada's Lack of Communication

I have been writing about travel for almost all of my adult life; for half of those forty years I ran a media consultancy specialising in leisure and tourism. Twice we featured in the listings of Britain’s leading PR agencies. For many years, as a consultant, I acted as head of group communications for one of the UK’s top 5 business travel firms. My other clients included Air UK, KLM, British Airways and several leading retail travel agents.

I think, therefore, I can justifiably claim to have a pretty good understanding of what good communications practice in the travel industry should be.

Last week, I was on a great press trip to Ontario with five other journalists. The group included representatives from Britain’s biggest circulation Sunday paper, the two leading regional titles in Scotland and England and the UK deputy editor of an international magazine with a worldwide circulation of nine million. Together, we brought potential coverage, just for the UK market, of around 4.2 million.

Trying to get a decision from Air Canada as to whether or not they would become involved with the event was a nightmare. I offered to use my contacts to help out, but it was like trying to make your way through treacle. Calls and emails to Air Canada’s media team went unanswered. I have never experienced anything like it.

Eventually, apparently reluctantly, the airline did confirm the seats, but in the intervening four weeks of dithering, the price of my connecting flight had gone up from £75 to almost £300. The transatlantic seats were not on a complimentary basis; they were at a ‘media special rate’. In other words, they had to be paid for; we owed the airline nothing.

Now you would have thought that a write up in some of the leading newspapers in the land would have meant something to Air Canada. It is almost unheard of on these trips for the airline not to make an effort to curry favour with the media. This can range from an extra baggage allowance, entry into the business lounge, a little overnight kit or an upgrade on at least one of the legs.

But Air Canada’s team did nothing. No phone call, no press release, and no email. Zilch. Nada. That despite countless emails and telephone calls to their sales and PR teams.

They couldn’t even be bothered to make a comment on the booking to tell the check in people or the cabin crew that journalists were on board.

Now, of course, you might say that we should be given no other privileges than anybody else. And I understand that. But from the perspective of someone who has always prided himself in attention to detail, I find Air Canada’s attitude to the media both astounding and remarkably complacent.

It’s tough out there. There is enormous competition on routes between the UK and Canada. It was an opportunity to get positive PR completely missed.

For the record, the fairly antiquated 767-300 on the Heathrow to Toronto flight had a load of about 25%. We all had space to sprawl. Executive First, AC’s business class product, had empty seats aplenty.

Catering consisted of a mediocre breakfast shortly after takeoff and a hot wrap just before touchdown. On arrival in Toronto, everybody was starving.

There were no games and a lot of functions inoperable on the outdated in-flight entertainment system.

On our return leg, an almost full aircraft with a pretty ropy dinner and, wait for it, a muffin for breakfast. Yes, a muffin!

Finally, two of us on the trip have Star Alliance frequent flyer cards. One of us, Elite. The other, Super Elite. The Alliance’s top two tiers.

But, because we were travelling on a ‘media rate’, Air Canada said that they would not be honouring them.

Now how bonkers is that?

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