Flying with Employee Engagement: WestJet vs. Air Canada

A Canadian Example of Employee Engagement Impermanence.

Caution. This is one customer’s opinion (mine) and does not represent a controlled study of employee engagement. Levels of employee engagement were also inferred from levels of customer engagement.

Frequent flying. I do a fair bit of flying for work and vacation in Canada. WestJet has always been touted as Canada’s  air carrier with terrific employee engagement — a shining example of engagement while Air Canada was often cast in a negative light and this was also my experience while flying with them. When I booked flights, I always tried to book with WestJet and avoid Air Canada.

Air Canada trumps West Jet in 2009 and early 2010. This has switched in the last year, based on a year’s worth of flying and talking with many other Canadian flyers.

  • I now seek out Air Canada because of their service delivery and engaged employees!
  • At WestJetI have been offered too many apologies over the past year for a wide variety of things ranging from late flights and broken reservation systems to no on board refreshments and tired crews.
  • The once surly cabin staff on Air Canada have been going the extra mile and more welcoming with genuine smiles.
  • The Air Canada check in process and greetings have been enhanced.
  • I sent a letter of complaint to WestJet about a few issues, it was a challenge on the website to find where to send the letter, and I never received a response to my concerns or an acknowledgement that they received the letter.
  • Air Canada held a plane in Toronto for my wife, myself, and 3 other passengers to make a connection. They were waiting for us, had preprinted boarding passes, and welcomed us on board. Employee engagement is based on connection and that was a very helpful and caring connection!
  • I am hearing from numerous other travellers that they are also winging back to Air Canada and enjoying the flying experience and appreciating the more engaged staff.

The bigger employee engagement lessons:

  1. Engagement is not permanent. Just because you were good at one time does not guarantee permanently engaged staff. Once you have engaged staff don’t take them or engagement for granted.
  2. Engaged change is always possible and if you have high levels of disengagement you can make changes to create more robust engagement over time and your customers will notice.
  3. Engagement is more than smiles and funny greetings it is ensuring the work gets done. I tire of “canned” repeated humor announcements  by the cabin crew, this can wear thin after many flights. It is also nice to see grimaces being transformed into genuine grins at a once surly airline.
  4. As your employees engage your customers will notice (I did). They will talk about it (like this) and they will choose you more and fly with you more.

What’s next? Because engagement is impermanent, things can change again. I look forward to both airlines having fully engaged employees who demonstrate high levels of customer engagement as the year progresses and makes my flying a tough yet pleasurable choice regardless of which carrier I choose. I would like to see fully engaged employees not as something extra but as the foundation of both organizations, and all organizations for that matter.

What about you? As I continue flying during 2010 I will keep monitoring employee engagement played out before my passenger seat location. What has been your customer or employee engagement experience flying in Canada?

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David Zinger, M.Ed., is an employee engagement writer, educator, speaker, coach, and consultant. He offers exceptional contributions on employee engagement for leaders, managers, and employees. David founded and moderates the 2350 member Employee Engagement Network. His website offers 1000 posts/articles relating to employee engagement and reached over 1,000,000 page views in under 4 months in 2010. David is involved in the application of Enterprise 2.0 approaches to engagement and the precursor, creating engaging approaches to communication, collaboration, and community within Enterprise 2.0.

Book David for education, speaking, and coaching on engagement today for 2010.

Email: [email protected]  Phone 204 254 2130  Website: www.davidzinger.com

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