Air Canada Reps Taking Direct Hits on the Front Lines of an Altitude Battle

Oh to have been a fly on the wall at Air Canada headquarters when the executives were meeting to decide how to announce a host of devaluations to the 2015 Altitude program on FlyerTalk.

I imagine it went something like this:

Ok, we’re going to approach this head on. They aren’t going to like it, we know that going in – but we need to try to temper the blow back as much as possible and prevent this from going viral and turning into a mass exodus.


First, someone needs to write-up a full accounting of the changes. Keep the spin to a minimum. Our strategy here is going to be to present the facts. If we try to spin all of this too positively they will see right through that and it will just get them more roiled up.


We’ll make the announcement on FT on a Thursday instead of a Friday. Again, these people are smart. This will diffuse the “you-knew-this-was-really-bad-that’s-why-you-announced-on-a-Friday” attacks.


Ok, now someone is going to have to monitor and engage on the thread.


Hold on, hold on … everyone settle down. I know it sucks, but someone has to do it. Look, handle this well and it could mean a very bright future for you here at AC. Any volunteers?


Ok, fine … looks like we’re going to have to go the straws route.

Andrew Yiu and Ben Lipsey drew the short straws that day, and were sent headlong into the fray – their instructions evidently being to answer direct questions about the changes, be as straightforward as possible – minimal spin, and don’t allow yourselves to get dragged into the mire. Don’t defend the changes to the venting FTers, just address the facts squarely, succinctly and without apology.

The two poor bastards never stood a chance.

Actually, they both performed quite well for several hours, despite relentless attacks from wave after wave of angry Canadian travelers. Andrew and Ben held their cool and continued to engage.

Then, just a little over 24 hours into the onslaught, Ben broke:

I’m going to be blunt: we are not a charity. From what I’m hearing, it would appear a majority pays for Y and expects to sit in J. It’s not a secret that we would prefer our customers sitting in the J cabin to have paid for it. ~Ben Lipsey

The Air Canada generals should have seen he was cracking and pulled him out then. But in the fog of war they kept him at his post, and Ben suffered several direct hits:

We know that you’re not a charity…. but I’m also going to blunt: the way you treat your top customers is baloney ~theseatbelt

Obviously AC isn’t a charity… because charities know that to keep getting donations, they have to act like they care about their donors ~xray

And this proposed new logo created by rankourabu.

Still, though he was certainly showing signs of fatigue, he was still performing well for the most part. Ben continued to keep a relatively cool head for several more hours and even diffused some of the damage he and AC had incurred. Andrew stepped to the front line for a bit and both seemed to enjoy a short rest – but then yesterday this happened:

Look, I won’t deny the discrete cost of moving somebody from Y to an empty J seat at boarding 45 mins before departure isn’t huge, but it does two things:


1) It cheapens the J product – I will again reference our European and Asian competitors who have very tight access policies to their premium cabins, and point out how highly valued they are, especially compared to our American competition – ever wonder why F fares are so cheap on US carriers?


2) It sets an expectation. If there’s an expectation that for >50% of the time you can sit there without paying for it, why would you ever be incentivised to do so?


At the time of this writing, more than 1,600 volleys have been exchanged in this battle that only began on Thursday. It appears Ben has now been pulled back and is presumably recovering behind the lines. Andrew continues on. And yesterday afternoon, Ben Smith, Air Canada’s President, engaged to presumably encourage his troops – though only in a half-hearted, PR sort of way.

If you love drama, you will love this thread – no matter if you are an Air Canada flyer or not.

Andrew and Ben (Lipsey) – I hope you two receive medals of some sort – or at the very least promotions once all of this is said and done. You have both earned them.

Read the thread in its entirety: Important updates to Air Canada Altitude in 2015

Image: “Fog of war” by Loozrboy. CC BY-SA 2.0.



  1. Does Air Canada permit its non-rev’ing employs to travel in the premium cabin if there is space available?

  2. Seems AC is trying to change the customer perception from “We’re not happy until your unhappy” to… “We’re not delighted until you’re really pissed”.

  3. @Carl: yes union and non-union employees get a limited amount of j passes allotted to them annually. needless to say these policies will make it much easier for them to hit upgrades, unless consumers are willing to pay $$$.

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