Welcome to the future… better than it used to be
Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer
At the start of 2020, Air Canada was on a high
We had just completed a stellar year with record revenue in excess of $19 billion. We had set a record for passengers carried and record liquidity.There was every reason for continued optimism but then came COVID-19. Governments closed off air travel, traffic fell 90% or more and revenue evaporated. Suddenly, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, “the future wasn’t what it used to be”.
Given this sharp turn of events, I am reluctant to make any predictions. Ideally, we will see rapid testing and a vaccine that will lead to eased government travel restrictions, so traffic can regain its previous levels over time. This is why we are actively promoting a science-based approach to a safe re-opening. In a worst, but we feel unlikely case, the pandemic continues, leaving people at home longer.
Manage the things you can
But rather than fret about possibilities, Air Canada’s approach throughout has been to aggressively manage the things it can.
Ahead of most airlines and governments, we introduced biosafety measures such as mandatory facial coverings and pre-departure temperature checks and we launched Air Canada CleanCare+. All these initiatives have already gone a long way to instil confidence in health experts and travellers that flying is very safe.
We are also actively planning for a post-pandemic world. In many ways the pandemic is accelerating innovation that would have been welcome even without COVID-19. For example, we introduced touchless bag drop, virtual queueing, virtual meal ordering in our Maple Leaf Lounges and we are looking at other technologies to further streamline the airport process.
The pandemic is also driving change in our revenue management. Since the historic booking patterns on which we used to rely no longer apply, we are rapidly incorporating AI technologies into our decision-making as well as heuristic techniques that draw on a broader range of information sources to more accurately determine demand.
This should help our agency partners by better aligning our offerings to real customer needs.
Also, some of the major investments we made before the pandemic are proving more beneficial than expected due to COVID-19. This includes our new reservation system – in fact the lower traffic volumes resulting from COVID-19 actually facilitated a seamless, final airport cutover last spring. Our new platforms endowed us much more flexibility and broader capabilities, for example giving us a platform for handling groups.
Another major initiative, our recently transformed Aeroplan program, will also play a key role in positioning us to emerge strongly from COVID-19. It will enable us to better retain the loyalty of existing customers while giving us a powerful tool to attract new ones. A strong loyalty program is vital as we expect that in the post-COVID market the early stages of recovery will be driven by leisure and VFR travel, while longer term it will be a much more competitive, with fewer, larger players.
Ready to rebound
COVID-19 has hit our industry extremely hard and we are very aware of the challenges our agency partners face.
We are committed to working with you so that we come through this together, stronger and prepared for an altered world.
Sure, the future is not what it used to be, but we think it could be even better.
What I do know to be true is our industry will rebound and Air Canada will continue to work with its agency partners to adjust and react to the twist and turns the recovery promises.
Brighter days ahead!