Darren Van Slyke is an Air Canada million miler, and a fan of the airline. On April 17, 2014, he was traveling from Toronto to Vancouver, on the airline’s brand new Boeing 777. Seated next to him was Dwayne Stewart. Both of them were in Premium Economy. As they waited for boarding to be completed, they witnessed something bizarre from the airplane window.

 

Baggage handlers were throwing last minute, gate-checked bags, almost 20 feet through the air, to load them into the cargo hold of the aircraft! Not surprisingly, this incident was captured by Dwayne on his iPhone, and posted on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter even before the flight took off. Within a day, the video had gone viral, garnering over a million online and featured on most major Canadian news channels. You may view it below.

This is not just another video going viral. It requires deeper thinking about social customer service, improving airline processes, and ultimately passenger experience.

YouTube Preview Image

More baggage toss videos will go viral

Passenger experience today is shared in real time. The good. The bad. And the ugly.

Gate-to-gate device usage is now permitted in the US, and very soon across the globe. A significant percentage of aircraft will be equipped with wi-fi connectivity by the end of this year globally. And most passengers carry multiple devices, allowing them to share anything that happens instantly. The Air Canada bag toss video was shot while the aircraft was on the ground, and uploaded even before the plane took off!

Darren, being a frequent flier, happens to be an active member of the community forum FlyerTalk. He has posted a detailed, transparent account about what exactly happened in the aftermath of the situation.

To Air Canada’s credit, the airline responded on Twitter within three minutes of the original tweet being sent out. That is because they have a professional social media customer service team set up. The team comprises staff who have have previously handled customer service issues offline as well, and are on the job even on weekends.

Though, despite the airline’s immediate attention to the matter, it seems the brand damage is done, with lots of negative comments online.

What about airlines that are not actively responding on social media? What about those that are not even listening online? They might not even know this incident has taken place, until the newspapers have columns about it the next morning!

While a United Breaks Guitars might have been an isolated incident a few years ago, more airlines will face situations like Air Canada baggage toss incident, and need to be ready to deal with them. Here is a quote from Darren’s FlyerTalk post.

For my part, I have been taught a valuable lesson regarding how powerful social media is and how all employees reflect the image of a company.

The need to re-think passenger experience

Air Canada has tried to rescue the situation by stating publicly that it will fire the employees involved in the incident after investigating it further. But before reaching quick conclusions, we need to analyze the context in which this happened.

The incident took place on board Air Canada’s brand new Boeing 777-300ER, which have a high-density seat configuration. According to Seatguru, these aircraft have 398 Economy seats, which are 17” wide, down from the 18.5” wide 302 seats they had previously (see seat maps below). The higher number of seats leads to lots of passengers having to check-in bags at the gate, since the overhead space is full. I quote Darren again, from FlyerTalk:

These “high-density” seating configurations are an abomination, which I have previously denounced on this site. They are a direct cause of so many carry-on bags having to be checked and a direct result leading to the ill-conceived actions of the baggage handlers.

According to Angela Mah, Air Canada’s spokesperson, the baggage handling procedures require gate-checked bags to be carried by hand to the ramp. That seems fine in a normal scenario, where there might be 5-10 bags that can’t fit in the overhead bins. But the new seat configurations mean that up to 90 bags may need to be checked gate-side for each flight. Is it practical then to expect the handlers to walk up and down the stairs carrying one bag at a time? Perhaps not.

Air Canada Boeing 777 Seat Configuration

This incident requires deeper thinking about passenger experience, and the impact of high-density seating configurations that are increasingly more popular. There are a few key questions for airline executives to think about:

  • Should the check-in process differ when the airplane is full, and there is bound to be a lack of overhead space? Perhaps passengers can be allowed to check-in an additional bag at the counter for free for that flight. This would reduce boarding delays.
  • Should automated belts be mandated at gates, where such planes are parked? So that the bag handlers need not walk up and down the stairs to load the bags.
  • How can the airline be better prepared for a future where passengers share in-flight experiences online first, then with the flight attendants? Is there a team “listening” to every tweet coming from an airplane? And not just the guy sitting on the couch in a basement?

It is the age of the connected traveler. And these travelers instantly share with the world what they experience. Airlines today need to be prepared to provide real-time customer service – an aspect Air Canada did well in. And then be ready to improve the processes very quickly, as the world looks on.

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco.Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others.Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
Shashank Nigam
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  • PeriSoft

    Call me a cynic, but I would be entirely unsurprised to find out that the scenario played out something like this:

    Scene 1:
    Upper Manager: “We’re putting 100 more people on the plane with no more carry on space. I’m getting a hell of a bonus.”

    Middle Manager: “We’re at the limit for time to handle plane-side checked bags already and our departure targets say -”

    Upper Manager: “I don’t want excuses, I want solutions! It’s time to step up and be a team player!”

    Scene 2:
    Middle Manager: “I was told to do whatever it takes to get these bags checked, so make it happen!”

    Baggage Manager: “I had two guys fall last week and the safety supervisor said never to let it happen again. They can’t move any faster.”

    Middle Manager: “I don’t want to hear “can’t”! I want to hear “can”!”

    Scene 3:
    Baggage Manager: “Look, guys, I don’t know what to tell you. We need to hit the targets. Do whatever you have to do, just move the damn bags!”

    Baggage Handlers: “You’re not going to like it.”

    Baggage Manager: “If you don’t want to work there are plenty of people who do!”

    [Bags get tossed]

    Scene 4:
    Top Manager: “Look at the blowback on this bullsh*t! Who do we have hiring these a**holes down there? Whoever’s in that video, I want them fired! …my God, it’s so hard to find people who are willing to -work- for a living. Tatiana! Cancel my two o’clock; I need a massage!”

  • http://fishyluv.com/ FishyLuv

    This is why I never travel with baggage. When I arrive, a quick trip to Tesco’s or Capri or Target, depending on the country, is a lot cheaper and easier than dealing with all the hassles of luggage, especially with connecting flights. Travel light and grab $40 worth of stuff when you get there.

    • PeriSoft

      Spoken like someone who hasn’t been to Scandinavia. I had such a policy enforced externally via baggage misdirection when I went to Helsinki a while back. It cost me almost seventy Euros for a pair of underwear, socks, and a white t-shirt. Granted, had I planned ahead I could theoretically have found a cheaper place to get stuff, but I was on a business trip that didn’t really leave time for driving around to find a KKK. (Yes, that is apparently an actual chain in Finland.)

      Also, to the Simpliflying people – for the love of all that’s holy, why does your mobile site insist on shoving a giant ‘read previous article’ layer over half of the screen not taken by my keyboard when i try to comment, rendering most of the comment dialog invisible until i perform finger voodoo to figure out how to scroll the right part of the screen to see both the bottom of the box, my text in the box, and the ‘post’ button? My phone’s habit of randomly refusing to acknowledge space bar inputs and instead smash together worda and then zing me up to the top of the page, where continued input ends up in the address bar for god knows what reason, is plenty frustrating enough without being abbetted by pushy site design… :P

      • http://simpliflying.com/ Shashank Nigam

        Thanks for the feedback – we’ll ensure the mobile site behaves better, and is a more friendly experience.

        • mrgirl

          I second that.

  • Tripper

    This is why all the jetways in Atlanta have a slide down the stairs to the ramp. No running up and down stairs or having to do what these guys did.

  • http://justtwonerds.com/ DaftDev

    This is just my personal observation, but I don’t remember overhead space being a problem before the creation of mandatory checked-bag fees.

    • LK

      True. People are bringing more stuff on the plane to avoid baggage fees, hence the space issue.

  • joyce

    Great! Because of the video- they just fired someone who’s trying to make a decent living. I wonder what these 2 video guys will do if they are the people handling those heavy luggages. I know a luggage is also important but I think they are built to those tossing situations too. I’m also a frequent flier and I don’t put any electronics or anything valuable in my check-in luggage, I hand carry them. But really? Try to think outside the box! What would you do if you were those guys? Firing the people involved isn’t the best solution either to satisfy the people’s reactions.

  • Paul Bronfman

    the workers should not be fired, fire the CEO, doesn’t he make 30 million a year?

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