As far as I know, WestJet have yet to serve honey-roasted peanuts on their flights. I’m not talking about the snack, though. I’m talking about their product strategy.
Flight Chic readers will know than when I talk peanuts, I mean the Peanuts–those sometimes-feisty, always-interesting rebels: the Low-Cost Carriers.
I have to say, until now I believed WestJet was marketing honey, and I’m not terribly fond of honey. It’s cloying, it’s a bit sticky and messy. They say it’s good for you, but that’s not enough to convince me. I do like honey-roasted peanuts from time to time. I definitely like WestJet’s honey-roast–which came as a complete surprise.
Take this, for example:
I’m not trying to sound like a Grinch, but when this video of WestJet making their customer’s Christmas wishes “magically” come true, I was not terribly impressed. Yes, it was nice, and the video went viral so it was obviously popular. It won the airline a lot of free advertising. But, really, what did the airline do? Buy customer loyalty with presents? Hmm. Limited presents on a limited flight–with other passengers thinking: “Hey! where’s my prezzy plane?” Nope, this was (to my peculiar palate) too sweet to be good. Followed by a bloopers reel even! It felt like they were trying too hard. That was my opinion at the time. I know..Bah Humbug..but really: presents?
And there was the Magic Plane in December.
That did nothing for me either. I’m a Warner Brothers fan. I don’t really do Disney. Of course, Southwest has SeaWorld and we all know what’s going on with that, so maybe a deal with Disney isn’t so bad. But really–it’s just a themed and sponsored plane. No real innovation shown. No significant brand value.
So why am I saying now that I like WestJet’s honey-roast?
I haven’t flown WestJet yet, so it’s definitely not anything they’ve done for me. It’s what they did for ID95280233, and it’s mostly how they did it.
The Guardian released a story entitled Ten Airport horror stories that will make you never want to fly again–and how can you not want to read something with that title when you work in this field?
Most were a bit mundane, one was a very touching story of a lost grandmother, one was somebody pretending to be John McClane in Die Hard. And there was ID95280233–the kind of anonymous, completely voluntary, unsolicited comment any airline would dream of having a customer write about them in the press.
ID95280233 is a limited mobility passenger, and she shared her horror story of the day ground crew Vancouver airport destroyed her $25K, 350 lb custom power chair by dropping it from a height of 20ft, after failing to secure it on the lift. This happened after she had already boarded the plane to go with her family vacation to Orlando. Truly a nightmare. She had to use a replacement chair for the duration of her trip–and for the five months it took to get a new chair like the one she had.
So why is this good for WestJet? Here’s what ID95280233 had to say in her comment on the Guardian:
It was the airline’s responsibility, but not their fault – Vancouver ground crew put it in a freight elevator without putting brakes on and leaving the back door of the elevator open. 350lb of chair flying through the air…could have killed someone.
The airline, WestJet, were wonderful and did everything they could and I ended up with a lifelong friend from their mobility specialist in customer service. And they replaced the chair, without us ever having a crossed word anywhere in the proceedings.
Has it put me off flying? Nah, flying again this year with WestJet. My mobility specialist friend already has the flights marked on her calendar…I’ve said I expect the chair to be wrapped in industrial strength bubble wrap!
I’ve never read a better endorsement. A check of the Guardian’s comment records for ID9528033 confirm that she’s a real person sharing a real event. She comments on other articles relating to other matters, including one having to do with her treatments for Multiple-Sclerosis.
With any business, what goes on behind the scenes is the true measure of their corporate values. Many of the airlines I write about, I’ve worked with very closely over the years. I know their insides as well as their public persona. That goes for a great many airlines around the world. I make statements about Low-Cost Carriers which go against what people might think, like:
- Ryanair takes safety very seriously and does a great job of managing their business.
- easyJet really is a top-notch quality operation.
- Southwest is one of the coolest places to work on earth, but all their fun has a very serious and focused no-nonsense business angle.
These are all things I can say about these Peanuts based on extensive first-hand knowledge, after nearly two decades of collaboration–not just having program-planning meetings in their conference rooms, but getting into their offices right in those cubicles, working in their hangars, working with their Cabin Safety teams, working at their various airport maintenance facilities, getting on their aircraft at Airbus and Boeing with their engineers and QC (Quality Control) before delivery–you name it. (This is true of many of the world’s largest carriers I write about too.)
Let’s just say that if an airline has skeletons in its closet, I’ve probably met them and bought them lunch. (Not Ryanair–they never accepted so much as a cookie.)
I’ve not had that relationship with WestJet. I can only judge the airline on the surface–and by what ID9528033 has to say.
But I like what ID9528033 said enough to declare: honey is a good thing after all.
WestJet describes itself in its Backgrounder a bit differently than many Low-Cost Carriers. It states: WestJet is Canada’s leading high-value low-fare airline.” I like that “high-value low-fare.” Actions like the ones they took with ID9528033 definitely demonstrate the airline’s values. Not because they replaced the power chair (they had to do that) but because their mobility specialist didn’t just resolve a problem–she made a life-long friend.
Actually, stories like these are not uncommon. This customer-oriented spirit is more common than many think at LCCs, though it’s not always what gets them press. LCCs have to work harder. In an industry which is always contracting, staying alive is no easy feat. The LCC mindset is that of the underdog fighting to prove it’s worth, every bit as much as it is the rebel trying to disrupt the establishment.
In WestJet’s case, it’s a kinder gentler rebel. More of a “pardon me, but let me do this my way” rebel. It’s a good brand positioning, backed by a strong product and strong service.
And it’s paid off. Net earnings of $270 million in 2013 is respectable for an airline this size.
It’s easy for an airline to claim it has a “caring culture,” as WestJet states in the introduction of its 2013 annual report, but quite a different thing to actually grow one when you employ 10,000 people.
I still feel that the Magic Plane is, well–not all that magical, and that the Christmas gifts video was perhaps well intended but kitschy. None of that counts against WestJet. What counts in its favour: unsponsored evidence of a strong commitment to caring for and looking-after the well-being of all its passengers, is a very good reflection on the brand.
Now we know: when life gives WestJet lemons, they flavour their lemonade with honey. And they’re funny!
Sure, SWA inspired all this–ALL of this–and we LUV them for it. Still, WestJet is doing it’s own thing–with it’s own rich Canadian maple flavour–and getting right where it counts most.
What’s not to like? Bring on the honey-nuts!
Do you have a story which proves an airline backs its brand with performance on promise? Share it here.