Pro Tip: Don’t Bash An Airline And CC Their Comms Director

Filed Under: Air Canada, Media

Okay, this is hilarious on so many levels. I’m not sure if it’s funnier that the CBC accidentally CCed Air Canada on an email saying they can “skip all the bullsh*t,” or whether it’s funnier that Air Canada decided to Tweet about it on their official account.

Air Canada Tweeted the following this afternoon:

Attached were the following four screenshots (sorry for the sizes, but that’s how they posted it):

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, let me summarize:

  • The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) wanted to do a story about airline boarding processes, so they emailed Air Canada for comment on why they use what’s considered to be the least efficient boarding process
  • An Air Canada rep provided detailed explanations of everything, including their response to the research that suggests that the back-to-front boarding process that Air Canada uses is the least efficient out there
  • After the questions were answered, the person from the CBC said “Very Helpful Peter. Thank you!”
  • He then emailed his colleague the following, not realizing that he also CCed the Air Canada rep who had answered the questions: “We can skip all the bullsh*t. The bottom line is we say ‘Air Canada continues to employ the least efficient and most time consuming boarding system.'”
  • Air Canada posted the whole interaction on Twitter, questioning whether there’s media bias against them

I’m not posting about this because I think one side is totally in the wrong here, but the sum of everything is just quite entertaining and bizarre. Is the CBC being biased here? It’s popular for media outlets to hate on airlines, so I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that they might be biased. Air Canada has reasons they don’t use the other systems, and it seems they’re not wanting to give that any air time.

I actually think Air Canada’s boarding system is fairly efficient, but I don’t think the Air Canada rep did a great job explaining why their system works for them. The CBC quotes a Vox story from 2014 entitled “The way we board airplanes makes absolutely no sense.” And I actually disagree with their conclusion, which works great in a test environment, but not so much in the real world for all airlines. It doesn’t factor in how different airlines operate. The story suggests that the two best boarding methods are:

  • Southwest’s boarding method, where people can choose their own seats
  • A method where those in window seats board first, followed by those in middle seats, followed by those in aisle seats

Southwest’s method works great for Southwest, but the airline leaves a huge amount of money on the table with that method. Other airlines make a lot more money in ancillary fees, and this includes charging for priority boarding, charging for seat assignments, etc. So a traditional airline that derives much of their profits from ancillary revenue would be missing out big time if they adopted a free-for-all boarding process.

The window, then middle, then aisle method sounds great, and it works great in a test environment. What it doesn’t account for is that many people are traveling together, and splitting up parties will increase confusion, and gate agents will spend a lot of time enforcing boarding order. The below simulation isn’t how this boarding process works in the real world.

For anyone who wants to watch, here’s the Mythbusters segment about airplane boarding:

So I’m not suggesting either of the above methods are bad, but rather that they don’t work for all airlines. Furthermore, any of the science associated with these boarding processes is generally in a test environment where everyone is on the same page, and doesn’t account for potential confusion, which is bound to happen. Even in the Southwest method, this doesn’t account for the issues you have onboard when people are separated, then they try to get people to switch, etc.

The actual talk of boarding order is a tangent, though. The real story here is this bizarre interaction between Air Canada and the CBC.

What do you make of this situation — was the CBC being unfair, and was Air Canada right to share this on social media?

(Tip of the hat to @dougscandrett)

  1. We’ve all received an email we know we weren’t supposed to see. The professional response is to delete it and let the sender know it was sent in mistake. You come out looking like a million bucks and now have someone feeling good about you and that they owe you one. If the Air Canada PR person had done that he would have probably ended up getting a much more sentimental ear at the CBC.

  2. The “Reply All” and “BCC” features have bit me once or twice in my career. Not too long ago, I “BCC’d” a colleague who then hit reply all, which goes to the original addressee; thus, letting them know that I had sent it to someone else. The moral of the story, only put on “paper” what you are willing to have shared!

    On a side note, Lotus Notes, an IBM product, has a feature to lock an email from being copied, forwarded, or printed..that was really nice.

  3. @DCjoe : i don’t see how that works here. The entire basis of the story line was how much better Southwest was, so anything that remotely attempts to paint AC in a less-than-worst-case lighting will simply undermine their story line.

    I absolutely don’t blame AC for tweeting it. The CBC guy clearly had no intention of reading through AC’s responses, and basically wasted AC’s time just to pretend he bothered with reaching out first. He’s going to the air the story HE wanted, not one that reflects reality. AC outmaneuvered him by tweeting all of a it out.

  4. “We are one of only about a dozen airlines in the world that flies to all six inhabited continents.” Does Air Canada have any Africa destinations?

  5. Lucky, whether or not the boarding process is efficient has nothing to do with ancillary fees. That may very well be the reason an airline *chooses* not to board efficiently, but it’s not a counter argument – it’s either efficient or not.

    The PR guy at Air Canada was totally lying when he pretended not to know the science behind studies about boarding efficiency. Rather than assuming bias against an airline, I’d assume the average journalist is biased against the BS they regularly get from PR flacks, hence the email.

  6. Priority boarding in economy does a lot to foil attempts to have efficient boarding. The fastest carriers will always be LCC’s who can board as close to the ‘test’ environments as possible or those who incentivize customers to check all luggage. United employed the window, middle, aisle boarding method for non-Premier access customers (at least up to when they added basic economy) where group 3 was window seats, group 4 was middle seats and group 5 was aisle and I don’t think anyone would ever say they board flights efficiently…
    In the end, as Air Canada points out the commercial realities of the business mean things operationally behave a lot differently than these theoretical simulations done by researchers.

  7. The CBC’s been posting stories like these about AC’s horrendous customer service for months now:

    Stories like these go over well up here because we’ve only got a couple of major carriers, so everyone’s been screwed over by AC at some point. The airline claims there’s media bias, but it’s not like the CBC is making these things up. The customer service fails just keep coming too, so it’s obvious AC isn’t actually trying to fix the problem.

    The Canadian government will be introducing passenger rights legislation this fall, but the details have yet to be worked out. The airlines and consumer advocates have all been very active lately in the media (both traditional and social) trying to influence public opinion ahead of the new parliamentary session.

  8. CBC was writing a hit piece, not a news article.

    Typical of modern day journalists, and news organizations wonder why their profits and readers/viewers are falling.

  9. When airlines study boarding efficiency, they can only really do so with the customers that aren’t granted a specific boarding group via status, credit card, etc. This leaves probably half of the airplane to board first without much science to speed it up and then you’re left with the rest of the people who don’t have status and generally are seated towards the back of the plane.

  10. Why sensor “bullshit” in a direct quote when posting the email you’re quoting wherein it’s spelled out? Let your foul mouth fly!

  11. I learned hmm… back in the late 90s? Don’t ever cc or bcc without assuming any or everyone will see the message eventually.

  12. The bias against Air Canada in my opinion doesn’t come from only CBC, but other Canadian news agencies who mostly seem to only report the bad things about Air Canada. I think the issue is the fact that in Canada you pretty much have only 2 choices of who to fly with domestically and who offers the most flights out of Canada, being AC and WestJet. Therefore airfare is constantly high in Canada. So news agencies here tend to report on every negative of these airlines despite there being minimal competition in the Canadian market. I actually like the boarding process of AC, so CBC is for sure being biased.

  13. I like AC’s boarding procedure in economy because I always buy an aisle seat and I see no reason why I should board last because of that. I stopped flying UA for this reason. The real takeaway from this exchange is that yes – media IS biased. This is why the familiar #FAKENEWS is everywhere these days. Political populism has exposed the trickery and put big media on notice! Maybe “double secret probation” is next for big media. Those of a certain age will know what that means…

  14. Lol.
    CBC asked questions. AC answered, tough not the kind of answer CBC was expecting, a thorough answer nonetheless.

    CBC circulated the answer internally, and one of them decides to just skip the answer and badmouthing AC nevertheless.

    AC got a hard evidence that CBC is going to badmouthing them and decides to attack first, with solid evidence.

    CBC is stupid, AC is smart. You can’t argue against a solid evidence.

    Funny everyone is suddenly an expert on aircraft boarding process, with some arguments based on a tv show -myth buster. The situation and condition on AC is not the same as a tv show, as AC mentioned before, they have many things to consider for boarding process.

    Then again, tv show is often a legitimate source of knowledge in country of drama queen. And all citizen of this country surely know what is the best for everybody around the world necause their country is so great….

  15. @James – re: “CBC is stupid, AC is smart. You can’t argue against a solid evidence.”

    Unfortunately your perspective is outdated. Today, many people can simply regard mountains of evidence and easily categorize it as biased opinion if it’s not consistent with their fantasy of how the world should be or how they feel about others. What is far more compelling to these people is to simply repeat, loudly, a very simple slogan or phrase that sounds tough and identifies someone else as the source of the worlds troubles and frustrations. Plus it doesn’t require reading, a lot of people hate to read now. Hurts their minds. Shouting is much more comforting for them.

  16. Good on AC, I’d say! They’ve been asked questions and have given decent replies, trying to provide reasonable detail – obviously we won’t all agree with their specific arguments but CBC should have at least reported them give enough they’d asked the question and not just ignore what AC said.

    Has there been any response from CBC?

    @DCjoe – presumably you mean a ‘sympathetic ear’?!

  17. I fly AC a lot. I travel 80% for business with AC being my main airline, united second, American third, and southwest last. In my experience, AC has had the best boarding and service – status or not. Also, southwest doesn’t have assigned seats. I hate free-for-alls.

  18. If CBC really wants to investigate deficiencies at Air Canada I think they should start with the ground operations in Montreal. Admittedly I don’t fly Air Canada on anything near a “frequent” level but every time I pass through YUL on AC there is some thing that goes wrong my flight or a weird/unfriendly interaction with ground staff. Purely anecdotal, but 100% of the time I go through YUL I have an issue and for the rest of my world travels combined the issue frequency is probably <5%. Maybe it's just coincidence, but I doubt it.

  19. @another steve
    Precisely. Shouting is not arguing. Shouting without knowing or reading is….. stupid. Thank you for explaining the obvious. I respect your desire to write something that looks intelligent.

  20. Good move AC! Mainstream media (esp. state sponsored ones;) and the unwashed masses in most western countries like to take for granted and badmouth their respective flag carriers – Canadians have AC, Brits have BA, etc. As citizens of both countries, I can’t be prouder of those two airlines!

  21. Good move AC! Mainstream media (ironically state sponsored ones;) and the unwashed masses in most western countries like to take for granted and badmouth their respective flag carriers – Canadians have AC, Brits have BA, etc. As citizens of both countries, I can’t be prouder of those two airlines!

  22. @joechin13
    You can bash, if you have a proper reason. For example, some may complain about inflight meal on BA or about the tea time.

  23. Gmail has a nice feature which I use. When you hit “send” there’s actually a delay you can set from when the email actually goes through (which is usually a few seconds to a minute) which actually gives you time to cancel the email from being sent if you make a mistake and realize it only after you hit the “send” or “reply to all” buttons.

  24. @Eric Nielsen

    Air Canada was a Crown Corporation, but it was privatized in 1988, having been a subsidiary of Canadian National Railways from 1937 to 1978, and then a Crown Corporation from 1978 to 1988.

  25. Clearly the CBC employee, Michael Enright, wanted to do a story before he had the facts and reached a conclusion before waiting for the facts…. Am I surprised? No…this is the CBC and they often do this sort of thing without any push back from victims or insiders. Hats Off to Air Canada for exposing them in email for the fakes that many of them have become…fake journalists who are still on the public payroll without much accountability to the CBC Board or to the public who end up with the CBC bill each year. Perhaps Enright had to sit in a middle seat after arriving late to board and felt entitled to a free upgrade?

  26. Agree with Gerry.

    I don’t believe it demonstrates a general bias – but it does indicate a closed mind on the behalf of Michael, whoever that is. Worse is it’s trumped up that they’ve asked multiple questions about the detail as though trying to demonstrate “understanding” and he then turns around and just makes a simplistic statement, disregarding the detail provided.

    Incompetent at best. Personally biased and deceptive, hence not doing his job, at worst.

  27. Lucky, have you seen the updates about this incident? Well done AC!

    Facebook CBC reply: September 15 at 6:47pm “We’d like everyone to know that this correspondence was an internal email shared in error, and both Mr. Enright and the producers of The Sunday Edition have contacted Air Canada directly to address the mistake and apologize for the content of the message. As per our commitment to our journalistic standards and practices, we can assure you that there are checks and balances in place to ensure unbiased reporting, and this will be the case when the segment of The Sunday Edition in question airs in the coming weeks.”

    Air Canada reply: September 17, 2017 “We would like to thank our customers, employees and the public for their overwhelming support. In the interest of transparency, we have posted Mr. Enright’s response, as well as additional context to explain why we have taken these steps.

    Irresponsibly and deliberately ignoring the facts and context that was provided simply confirms what many of our employees and customers have already remarked — that CBC’s reporting on Air Canada is biased, unfair and negligent. We often see coverage singling out Air Canada on industry topics that are relevant to all airlines, or the use of isolated cases as if they were systemic across our 45 million passengers carried globally, or disproportionately publishing brand damaging stories, while our airline has consistently been recognized as the best in North America by organizations and news outlets with much more pertinent industry experience, credibility and ethics.

    Despite numerous attempts in good faith to bring this endemic problem at the CBC to the attention of CBC reporters, editors and the Ombudsman over the years, we continue to be disappointed, particularly as this coverage often does not adhere to CBC’s own reporting standards. As such, we will be lodging a formal complaint with the Ombudsman, once again.

    From: Michael Enright [mailto:[email protected]]
    Sent: 15 September, 2017 3:48 PM
    To: Peter Fitzpatrick
    Subject: email
    Mr. Fitzpatrick: No excuses . A seriously dumb and insensitive mistake on part. It was committed inadvertently in the heat of an early morning moment. I take sole responsibility for the comment and I can assure you that it in no way reflects the way CBC, its producers and reporters and other journalists regard the national air line. I also apologise unreservedly to you and your staff who after all were only doing their job. enright”

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