When WestJet announced a $25 baggage fee they were called sellouts, thieves, greedy and other names not appropriate for a blog. Travellers went so far as threatening to switch carriers and shamed WJ for the move. During all of this a question came up in the Calgary Marketing Club: “WestJet’s new baggage fees – How do they affect the WestJet Brand?” One individual called the fee the “last straw” another stated that it was an opportunity for other companies to swoop in and offer a low-cost alternative, while the rest of us seemed to think that the introduction of the baggage fee wouldn’t really affect brand loyalty.
Several years later, why are people still loyal to WestJet? People like the WJ culture. They go out of their way to treat customers well! If something goes sideways, they work hard to right their wrongs. And it’s not that WestJet makes fewer mistakes than competitors (if you stacked them side-by-side there would be very little difference) but it’s how they handle these situations that makes the difference – you know that WJ will take care of you. Heck! They’re typically the first airline in after disaster, working to help Canadians get out of places other airlines (and government) won’t necessarily visit. The baggage fee introduction demonstrated how an organization can make a bold business move with limited risk to loyalty, as long as they’ve built their brand on more than price.
Below are results of a very scientific social media audit performed following the announcement (2014).
WestJet – 550,474 likes on page
Baggage Announcement Post:
AirCanada – 957, 733 likes on the page
Baggage Announcement Post:
Response on WestJets Facebook Page:
WestJet’s Facebook page demonstrated engaged debate. Commenters were passionate (even if most of the comments were negative.) People were “disappointed”, “sad”, “frustrated”, “concerned” , “insulted” and “confused.” Some called on Clive Beddoe to start another low-fare airline company. Some self-proclaimed “loyal WestJet supporters” shared that they were extremely disappointed with the brand because they didn’t expect this type of action from WestJet.
“I am extremely disappointed by this announcement…” ; “I am so disappointed in this announcement.” ; “Gotta say I’m disappointed West jet…”
Response on AirCanada Facebook Page:
Air Canada page reflected the feeling that people saw this coming and weren’t surprised:
Defenders of WestJet:
Despite being harangued with negative comments, WestJet responded to concerns and questions. Unlike AC (out of the close to 500 comments on Facebook, they literally replied once.)
Here’s why loyalty can’t be bought (or lost) for $25:
(1) Trust. The addition of a baggage fee was a calculated risk for WestJet. However, they knew that they had an advantage over their Canadian competitors, which played out online and offline as soon as Air Canada introduced the same fees right on the heels of this announcement. Brands, like WestJet, have built a solid foundation of trust with their clientele; a minuscule $25 isn’t enough to persuade loyal flyers to jump ship. As one WestJet traveller posted on their FB page: “After the shock has worn off, like everything else in life, well adjust and then just accept it.”
(2) It’s the norm. More than ten years ago, airline carriers in the states added baggage fees, nearing the $50+ mark. The differentiator between those airlines is their customer service and the little things (ask anyone who flies Delta vs. AA.) What are the little things? They’re the flight attendants who know you’re a nervous flyer and take special care and attention to ensure you’re well looked after on a flight – even though it’s not really their job. Or the Customer Service Reps who noticed you’re flying alone with an infant and offer to have someone escort you through security, right to the terminal because it’s obvious your hands are full. That’s what really sets WestJet apart, isn’t it? What I found interesting was that at the time of this post, WestJet made absolutely no mention on their Facebook page about sending a plane to Cabo San Lucas to rescue 45 Canadians stranded following the hurricane (at no charge!)
(3) Transparency. The VP of Communications Richard Bartrem recently spoke with a local radio station in Calgary about concerns that WJ was moving too far away from their roots and changing too much. In completely transparency, he made no bones about it stating that if WestJet never changed, the airline wouldn’t be flying internationally with TVs and lots of legroom (isn’ t that the truth?)
Some people would have wanted WJ to bury the cost of baggage because people hate to be nickel and dimed (couldn’t agree with that part more.) But the point is that they were transparent and they didn’t need to be, even though some asked them to –> “You really should just raise the fares. People hate being nickel and dimed. It’s irritating.”
Do I hate fees? Absolutely. But my loyalty can’t be bought and I’ll stick with WestJet, thanks.