Air Canada’s Chief Commercial Officer, Lucie Guillemette

Travelweek’s exclusive interview with Air Canada’s Chief Commercial Officer, Lucie Guillemette, and Senior VP Air Canada, Lisa Pierce, touches on everything from Air Canada’s recovery, to call centre hold times, to the ongoing airport delays at Pearson and other gateways.

In this first instalment of the interview, Guillemette offers an overview of Air Canada’s recovery on its domestic, transborder and international routes, plus the re-launch of Aeroplan, and the return of corporate travel.

Later this week, the second instalment features both Guillemette and Pierce answering questions about wait times – both on the phone, and at the airport – and about the importance of travel agents.

DOMESTIC RECOVERY & NEW COMPETITORS

“We assumed domestic would rebound first. And that’s exactly what happened,” says Guillemette, when asked what’s booking well for Air Canada right now.

Upwards of 85 – 90% of the carrier’s pre-pandemic domestic network is back for summer 2022.

Air Canada is very aware of the many competitors circling the waters right now.

Earlier this month, Flair Airlines got the green-light from the CTA to continue operating, and the ultra low-cost carrier will be looking to make good on its expansion goals.

Upstarts like Lynx and the soon-to-launch Canada Jetlines are revving their engines too. And that’s not to mention all the other usual players.

“It’s a very competitive environment,” says Guillemette. “There’s more low-cost competition in Canada. And we’re going to compete on that front.”

48 TRANSBORDER DESTINATIONS

Transborder is shaping up well too, and will no doubt hit even higher levels now that the U.S. has lifted its pre-departure test requirement.

Air Canada’s transborder network for summer 2022 includes 46 destinations, down just slightly (from 49) in 2019. And there’s a total of 91 routes, compared to 93 in 2019.

“We were the largest foreign carrier in the U.S. before the pandemic, and that’s a milestone we plan to return to,” says Guillemette. “When it comes to the transborder market, that was one that we wanted to make sure we returned as quickly as we could.”

With flights to many U.S. destinations already underway, more are relaunching in June, including: BDL, MCI, SLC, MSY, MKE, PDX from Toronto; ATL, BWI, DTW, MSP, PIT, RDU, SEA and BNA from Montreal; AUS, SMF, BOS from Vancouver; and BOS from Halifax.

“TRANSATLANTIC IS GOING TO BE VERY, VERY SOLID”

Not only is demand high for Air Canada’s U.S. destinations from Canadian gateways, but the transborder network feeds the airline’s international network too.

The summer months will see Air Canada flying to 21 more international gateways. Added to the 20 international routes that were already in service, that’s a total of 41 overall.

And that’s not counting sun destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, which are also performing well.

While Asia could take until 2023 or 2024 to fully come back, mostly due to China, Guillemette is especially optimistic about Japan (which recently announced its reopening), and South Korea.

Meanwhile forward bookings for Air Canada’s transatlantic routes are going gangbusters, says Guillemette.

“The transatlantic market for this summer is going to be very, very solid. Talk about pent-up demand … that’s one of the markets where we’ve seen it the most.”

International routes returning in March 2022 included Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv. In April 2022, the list grew to include Athens, Rome, Lisbon, Venice and Vienna. May brought Barcelona, Budapest, Casablanca, Cairo, Copenhagen, Madrid and Nice. This month it’s Algiers, Edinburgh, Keflavik, Manchester and Milan. And restarting in July? Brisbane.

They’re all on top of the existing 20: London, Paris, Dublin, Brussels, Frankfurt, Munich, Lyon, Geneva, Zurich, Doha, Dubai, Delhi, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, Bogota, Sao Paolo, Santiago and Buenos Aires.

CORPORATE TRAVEL’S RETURN

Guillemette is also looking forward to the return of the corporate market.

The meteoric rise of Zoom and other video conferencing platforms aside, corporate travel has been showing “encouraging signs” for Air Canada since April, she says.

“We’re thinking that by Labour Day, we won’t be 100% of 2019, but we should have a meaningful return of corporate,” she says.

The lag in corporate travel during the pandemic prompted Air Canada to focus its energies on building new markets, to open up new revenue streams.

One of those new markets was leisure premium, which dovetailed well with VFR markets travelling to destinations that were open during the pandemic. “Some of those markets continued to perform very well,” says Guillemette. “It’s something new that we unlocked during the pandemic, and we intend to pursue.”

HIGH-PROFILE PARTNERSHIPS FOR AEROPLAN

Air Canada’s loyalty program is a big selling point both for the corporate market, and for leisure.

And while the past two pandemic years were something everyone in the industry could have done without, they did yield new opportunities – and new partnerships – for Aeroplan.

Back in Air Canada’s hands since late 2018 and relaunched in November 2020, Aeroplan added some big-name partners during the pandemic, including the LCBO, and Starbucks.

Also during the pandemic years, Air Canada re-thought ways to provide more Aeroplan members better access to its inventory, to pave the way for easier redemptions.

“Despite the fact that it was an extremely difficult period of time, we are fortunate in the sense that we did have the chance to capture opportunities,” says Guillemette.


Watch for the second instalment of Travelweek’s interview with Guillemette, who was joined by Senior VP Air Canada, Lisa Pierce, as they answer questions about wait times – both on the phone, and at the airport – and about the importance of travel agents.



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