formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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December 24, 2013 WestJet Christmas

The Liberty Gazette
December 24, 2013
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: Airline travel this time of year can be stressful. Getting to the airport, going through that mockery we call "security" and finally boarding the airplane in full cattle-car fashion can be overwhelming even for young, healthy people not traveling with children. If you are one of the millions of viewers who have experienced WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video, surely you’ve been blessed to have been an observer.

Canada’s low-cost and second largest airline is known for their customer service and friendly attitude, but now they’ve taken that to a new altitude.

In the middle of the night at each of two Canadian airports, Pearson International in Toronto and Hamilton International Airport in Hamilton, Ontario, WestJet employees quietly plant a large box in the departure waiting area. The next morning, as passengers scan boarding passes a virtual Santa magically appears "in the box". Addressing each passenger by name he interacts directly with them, confirming this is not an automated machine, and listening to each Christmas present wish list. Chuckling passengers then proceed to board their flights to Calgary.

The Santa boxes in Toronto and Hamilton are connected by Santa-cam to a studio in Calgary where Santa can see and speak with each passenger. Behind the scenes 175 WestJet employees volunteer as Santa’s elves, logging wish lists, organizing and executing the surprise. Once the customers have checked in at the two departure cities, the folks in Calgary head out to have some fun. WestJet teams race to local stores picking out exactly what the passengers requested, scurrying back to the airport in time to wrap and label each present and rush them to the baggage claim area.

Linda: The two flights land in Calgary, passengers disembark and make their way to the baggage claim area. As the baggage ramp buzzer sounds and the carousel begins to turn Christmas decorations illuminate and (fake) snow begins to fall on the weary travelers. Captivated by the holiday scene surrounding them, many pull out their cell phones to take photos…and then they notice the baggage that is coming down the ramp to the carousel is not baggage at all, but gift wrapped boxes labeled with their names. At first they’re stunned. Then that same Santa they spoke to before they boarded their planes shows up in the crowd. Realizing the gifts are for them, tears, laughter, and looks of astonishment fill the room as they unwrap and find exactly what they told Santa they wanted.

From a marketing perspective, WestJet has scored a mammoth branding win by pulling together joyful emotions, shockingly unbelievable actions, and real people who really give – a story everyone wants to share. It all adds up to a remarkable image for the company; one of honesty, integrity, compassion, and at a fraction of the cost of a television ad.

We haven’t totally spoiled it for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to YouTube and enter WestJet Christmas Miracle, and add yourself to the more than 30 million others this brilliant little surprise has touched. It’s narrated in the style of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas," though the words were changed a bit.

To quote Santa, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good flight!"

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