Canada’s largest airline is carefully plotting what a return to travel may look like. But it’s far from easy.
Lisa Pierce, Managing Director, Canada and USA Sales for Air Canada, took part in a TravelPulse Canada 1 on 1 Facebook Live Chat on Tuesday and talked about the difficulties of running an international airline in such a turbulent time, as well as chargeback, travel vouchers and the travel trade in general.
“We absolutely have to look to the future,” she told TravelPulse Canada Editor in Chief John Kirk. “We have teams of people that are working to understand where the demand may come and how we can best take advantage of it. Most importantly we have to understand that the world is going to look different when we come out of this. And we have to be adaptable.
“I’ll confess I’m not a Canadian, but Wayne Gretzky has a great quote; ‘You have to be where the puck is going, and not where it is.’ It’s really challenging because we don’t have a playbook to follow. But we are for sure working internally and working with our partners to understand where that demand is coming so that we can be there when it does come, and in a way consumers want to have it because I’m sure consumers needs and desires will have changed, and we need to adapt to that.”
Pierce said it’s very difficult to predict what routes may open up first.
“For sure there are a lot of travel restrictions, and that’s going to impact demand. Probably the most obvious would be domestic travel given there are less restrictions domestically,” she said.
A lot also depends on public health issues.
“Obviously the United State is a big market and we’re huge trade partners. Internationally I think we have to take it as it comes. The bottom line is we have to adaptable and flexible.
“As an international airline we fly to more than 200 destinations around the world,” Pierce explained. “I think I heard from our government relations team that we’ve gotten something like 5,000 emails with either new restrictions or changing restrictions, and we have to stay on top of all of them. It’s a tremendous amount of work, not only to understand them but to implement them and then communicate them, because we understand communication is very important in this situation. We’re adapting as we go, and we understand changes will keep happening and we need to respond to that.
“I’d like to give a shout out to all the entrepreneurs out there,” Pierce said. “Calin (Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu) likes to say we’re an 80-year-old start up, and now we’re definitely going to have to prove our entreprenueurial spirit. We’re going to have to be entrepreneurs, just like our travel trade partners out there.”
Asked about public anger regarding airline policies and COVID-19, Pierce said that she wanted to remind the public that refundable tickets are still refundable.
“There’s absolutely no change to that. Additionally, we’re offering 24-month credits, which is quite generous, and we are in line with what the CTA (Canadian Transport Association) has endorsed for airlines. And we also are … working on ways to make it as easy as possible to consume those travel credits. That’s an ongoing effort that we’re undertaking. But, ultimately, refundable tickets are refundable, and we want to make it easy as possible to use those travel credit, and we are working with our trade partners to find creative ways to do that.”
Pierce said Air Canada understands that travel advisors are hearing complaints from the public.
“We are very well aware that our agents and agencies are the first line of defence and you’re delivering the message. It’s up to us as the airline to make sure you have the information you need to deliver that message. I know it’s a difficult message so first and foremost I want to say thank you to all the partners that are working with us together to find ways to make the message more palatable and working with us to find ways to find creative solutions, because we do have the 24-month credit and we are trying to find ways to deliver that.”
“It’s a new world and we’re going to have to come up with new ways to recognize the support that agencies do provide to the airline, and we’ve already started doing that. We have definitely reached out to all our partners to see what makes sense in the new world, given it’s completely different from what we’ve ever known before. So, thank you to everyone out there who’s worked with us to come up with those programs.
Pierce said the airline also is working on the chargeback issue.
“We’re actively working to minimize any impacts or chargebacks to the travel trade. We know that’s a huge issue so we are working with the credit card companies to try to mitigate as much as we possible can and do things differently than we’ve done before. We recognize that it is a unique situation and we need to adapt accordingly.”
She also had some final words for Air Canada’s travel trade partners.
“I think it’s so important that we remain hopeful. There’s nothing more optimistic than travel and dreaming about future trips. There’s going to be a lot of pent up demand, so let’s be ready for it and let’s remain hopeful. Let’s always keep our mind on the future and what the future looks like, because hope is so important for all of us. And thank you to all of you for all your support.”
Source: Travel Pulse Canada