Take-two: My love-hate relationship with Air Canada

by Allan Yong

by Guest Writer
1 comment
a person walking in an airplane

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As I sit on this transatlantic flight in Air Canada’s 77W business class, #survivewithoutfirstclass, I’ve noticed that the onboard Wi-Fi is non-existent. The SSID (ACWiFi) is not on my phone or laptop. It’s different than the usual case of being unable to log in to my Aeroplan account or having no Internet access.

It’s a perfect time, without the noise from social media, for me to reflect on Air Canada’s launch of the transformed Aeroplan program and its operations since pandemic. My views may cause discomfort to a specific demographic, which leads to fewer discord group invites. It’s a fascinating phenomenon in social norms to see how a disliked blog post can affect human behavior, but let’s talk about Air Canada. We will start with three things I love, followed by three things I hate.

Choosing an Airline Loyalty Program in Canada

For those who live in Canada, we only have a few choices, as many airlines have tried to challenge Air Canada’s status but failed miserably. WestJet’s program gained momentum in 2018/2019, but its efforts to improve have stopped. When choosing a loyalty program, you consider your travel pattern, location of residence, and the value the program provides. If you travel domestically, mainly within Canada, Aeroplan is the only logical choice. However, if your journey is primarily international, you will have many more options from the southern neighbour or even programs overseas.

Reasons to love Air Canada;

  • Niche experiences – Flying on Air Canada Jetz alone

During the pandemic, I noticed that Air Canada was operating their all-business class seater, also known as Jetz, on the Rapid Air routes. I have taken this exclusive plane a few times whenever it was available. Although the 2-2 layout with outdated seats is not even close to any modern business class, the pursuit is of exclusivity.

Even at the worst times during Covid, there were always people flying. The one time I took this flight, it was exceptional. When I arrived at gate D31 of Pearson Airport, I noticed no one in the waiting area at the boarding time. I found peace of mind by confirming with the gate agent, who informed me that I would be the only passenger on that flight.

OMG, I was! Therefore, the crew took a photo of me in the empty cabin and exhibited it at the Harbour Front Center for months. I was speechless and thankful that the flight operated with only one passenger, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

relationship with Air Canada

  • The More Partners, The Merrier

A few years ago, we learned that some Star Alliance members started to limit lounge access for some star gold members under specific circumstances. Around that time, American Airlines acquired a good chunk of China Southern Airlines (CZ) after Delta partnered with China Eastern airlines. Then the wishful rumour suggested that CZ would join another One World. I disagreed, and I wrote a post in 2018 about how there was no need for China Southern to join another alliance, given its massive network and how there was a trend where airlines started forming partnerships when their routes were complementary.

Air Canada has done a tremendous job partnering with airlines in Asia, South America, and the Middle East. These partnerships have created an impressive network for more revenue and empowered its loyalty program. I am pleased that we can now fly many non-alliance airlines and collect Aeroplan points. With expanded partners outside Star Alliance, we now have access to Etihad, Emirates, Gulf Air, Oman Air, and more.

  • More ways to spend your points

After the launch of the New Aeroplan brand, the program has become one of the most flexible programs in the market based on ways to redeem your points. Air Canada has knowledgeable people working on the new program who have done necessary market research and borrowed good features from other loyalty programs. When you want to book an award flight, you will see similar fare names as standard, flex, and Latitude, giving you the added flexibility that comes from those fares. For example, you can book a latitude fare and use your eUpgrade credits to confirm an instant upgrade if “R” space is available. Moreover, you can also use your points to pay for onboard Wi-Fi, meals, seats, etc. Air Canada also added strategic day-to-day partners, such as Uber/Uber Eats, LCBO, and Starbucks, which have made non-travel point redemptions more accessible.

Now we will move on to what Air Canada could improve upon;

  • The Flexible/Dynamic Loyalty Program

Despite the benefits of the new Aeroplan program, many promises from the AC executives are still “election platform.” For example, the dynamic pricing found on Aeroplan search results is often higher than the published charts, especially when partner airlines are mixed with an Air Canada-operated flight.

relationship with Air Canada

We have also seen a price bump on the latitude fare. I am unsure if that “attitude” caused Air Canada to return to the drawing board and devalue the “ultimate” way of using Air Canada points and eUpgrade credits. Fewer members will purchase these fares using points if the price is out of reach. And maybe that is the point, to be able to sell higher fares, in cash, as much as possible.

However, expensive redemptions are not the only problem. With increased non-alliance partners, dynamic pricing, and the new fare structure, the robustness needed for the online booking system is essential, but it has been dysfunctional for too long. I will not dream about constructing an old-style “mini-rtw” ticket on Air Canada’s website, as promised. The worst part is that the IT system also causes frustrations for Aeroplan phone agents. The agents have less power and a more constrained booking system than before.

One of the latest bugs is that many agents cannot price and issue tickets that combine different cabin classes, such as first-class + business class. I mentally break down whenever I have to book a ticket that requires putting flight segments together. The AC search engine prioritizes overpriced AC metal flights. I need to go through several rounds of search and filtering to see if my routing has any potential issues, e.g., married segments, which can cost me hours on the phone with the poor agent who constantly needs to check with the ticketing department.

  • Need for better IT infrastructure

I am trying to remember how often I’ve noted website and app issues with Air Canada. While I understand the systems and their integration are super complex, there are always things UX and Dev can do to mitigate spinning animations and countless web redirects on both the website and the app. With a much-improved look and feel across the board of Air Canada’s digital presence,  Air Canada still needs a lot of work to increase the usability of its new booking system, which is very frustrating for customers.

I have also lost count of how often the Wi-Fi has not worked for my flights. It sucks to be me since I have an annual subscription and do not get the service as expected.

  • The hit-and-miss experience in operations

While I found many cabin crew very friendly and professional, there is always a hit-and-miss experience with AC staff. Maybe Air Canada is still severely understaffed, but some ground staff are overworked and transfer their inner rage onto the passengers who check-in their bags. Baggage delay has become more frequent than before.

Filing and claiming compensation has been another big issue with the airline, where agents apply rules arbitrarily. And the compensation granted, if any, is often condescending and does not align with CTA regulations. Getting a resolution for something as simple as delayed or canceled flights can take months. Often, the airline seems to rely on passengers not going through a formal complaint process.

Take Away

Human emotions are challenging to organize and articulate in words. It tends to be fragmented whenever I write a post with mixed feelings. My bond with Air Canada is like riding the waves of a toxic relationship. I want to leave, but there are hooks that keep me, and I suffer through it. 

1 comment

Sue Donymn March 17, 2023 - 9:22 am

Truer words have never been spoken. Allan speaks my heart. LOL


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