WestJet Adds Teeth to Mask Policy

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Last week, WestJet CEO Ed Sims announced that WestJet will be “adding teeth” to the existing Transport Canada policy requiring all airline passengers to wear a mask for the duration of the flight. Since the new Transport Canada policy came in, the vast majority of flyers have been compliant but on several occassions people have flatly refused.

Policy on its own does not drive change, and Sims and the team at EWestJet undertstood that there must be consequnces for those that don’t follow the new rules.

“All passengers who refuse to wear a mask will be banned from flying for one year”

For a frequent flyer who relies on flying to make a living, the loss of flying privilege could be the loss of their livlihood so is strong motivation to conform.

Sims recongizes that the key to airlines bouncing back from COVID is to build trust in their passengers…trust that flying on an airplace is as safe as going to the grocery store and in order to keep it safe, people must wear masks. Sims said, “If you choose to act in a way that is not in the interests of those guests seated around you,” then you will be removed from the flight and banned for one year on all WestJet flights.

Sims also did some great work around change management to ensure that staff and the public were aware of this new policy. In additon to internal communications, he landed a spot on CBC’s National where he outlined the new consequences of the policy to CBC’s Ian Hanomansing. By communicating more effectively, WestJet will likley have significantly lower rates of conflict at the counter and the gate than their rivals.

Ed Sims: WestJet CEO with CBC’s Ian Hanomansing

Another change management best practice is ensuring that his crews are clear on the policy and their individual actions and obligations when someone does violate it. Obviously the folks at the gate won’t let you pass if you don’t have a mask and will immediately call security if you fail to comply. Ed knows that screaming customers and pushing matches are not going to bring customers back so by communicating more effectively, he can minimize these types of conflicts…think of those pushing matches we’ve been seeing on YouTube where a deternined front line worker in a store is trying to force someone who refuses to wear a mask to leave.

If you are on the plane and you remove your mask, the flight attendant will ask for compliance but if they can not acheive compliance, the pilot will return the plane to the gate and security will be called. If you have departed and you remove your mask, the plane will return to the originating airport.

In applying these changes, WestJet has also recruited other passengers to use peer-to-peer pressure to enforce the policy. Imagine the hateful looks you will receive if you are the cause of a plane turning around.

You may not agree wih the policy or think masks are dumb, and will therefore not fly on WestJet. No problem, that means all the hard cases will be flying with Air Canada, demanding their rights and delaying flights, while WestJet enjoys hassle free onboarding and ontime deaprtures.

Policy change is not hard if you take the time to think it through, communciate effectively, provide clarity and training on the changes to individual roles and repsonsiblities and if possible, get your customers to police the policy for you! Brilliant.

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