8 Questions with… Vic Naughton, Air Canada

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This week, two years to the day after adding Brisbane as its second hub down under, Air Canada commenced year-round services between Vancouver and Melbourne. The route is the only non-stop service linking Victoria with Canada, and is serviced by Air Canada’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. Operating on a thrice weekly basis, the airline will ratchet up frequencies to four times weekly in November, and has aspirations to move the service to a daily operation within 12 months.

Earlier this year, Air Canada announced the development of a new premium product for its Business class passengers called “Signature Service”. LATTE spoke with Air Canada’s General Manager for Australia and New Zealand, Vic Naughton to explain what the product is and what makes its so unique.

Vic, can you explain to readers what Air Canada’s Signature Service is?

We launched Signature Service in April. We feel its an industry leading end-to-end premium travel experience for premium travellers, with the Air Canada Signature Class cabin at its core.

Over the past four or five years, Air Canada has invested heavily on improving the whole customer experience. We’ve been investing in our airports, making it a seamless transit through our three hubs – Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto – refining the whole transit experience to make it as seamless as possible. Transiting to and from the US is a massive part of our global strategy. With us being geographically based just above the biggest air travel market in the world, we are trying to leverage off perhaps the challenging transiting experience you may find in some US airports that some people say to us. We’ve worked with airport authorities to make sure its as smooth as possible and the infrastructure is great.

What are some of the elements that make up Signature Service?

For starters, we have a concierge service in place at all our major airports. Sydney, Brisbane and now Melbourne. Our concierge team are there to look after our luxury, high-end customers. So when a passenger is flying in Signature Class, which was previously known as International Business Class, they will get a personalised meet & greet at the airport, and will be asked, “Do you need any assistance”. They are there in the event a customer needs anything.

Air Canada has placed a strong emphasis on personalisation. Customers are not just a number. Our staff will know a deal about the passenger to make the experience really personable.

They’ll be there at the departure gate as well as a departing contact. They even help and assist people on the plane. The Concierge attendants are there to look after our top customers. It’s industry leading. No one else has that.

Air Canada’s Concierge Service at the airport.

What about at the end destination? Does the treatment carry through on arrival?

Yes, Air Canada’s Concierge will also be at Vancouver Airport for passengers travelling in Signature Service from our Australian ports, if there’s a need. If their flight was delayed for any reason, the Concierge will know and be making alternative arrangements for connecting flights if necessary. Or perhaps they’d like an escort to the lounge.

Can you tell me about the hardware that makes up Air Canada’s Signature Service?

Our Signature Class cabin product is up there with the very best Business class you would get anywhere in the world. Obviously airlines have upped their game, I will say that. A lot of airlines are improving their premium product but I’m proud to say that we are among the best. Our configuration is 1-2-1. It’s fully lie-flat. It’s our Executive Pod product. We have a mattress on there, we offer our Signature class cocktail now and there’s an amenity kit. I really feel that our premium class hard product is one of the most superior.

Air Canada’s Executive Pod, part of the Signature Cabin product.

Why should an Australian traveller consider flying with Air Canada through to a destination such as New York, via Vancouver, rather than through Los Angeles?

We have a seamless connection in Vancouver now. If you’re a customer connecting through to the US for example, in all the Canadian hub airports passengers clear US Immigration and Customs there. We’ve worked really hard to make that as seamless as possible. For example, there is no requirement for passengers to collect their luggage like they do via LA, where passengers then need to recheck them in, which can be a hassle. When you’re flying with Air Canada through a Canadian airport like Vancouver we’ve made it really easy, which is ideal for the luxury traveller.

Which aircraft is Signature Class available on?

We offer Signature Class on our wide-body 787s, the same aircraft we use on select services from Vancouver to New York, and to Montreal as well. Our 777s to Toronto also offer the same service. What we’ve done is keep the product consistent throughout. If you fly another airline on connecting services, their Business class might be one style on the first leg and something completely different on the next. You don’t always know what sort of Business class product you’re going to get on some airlines from route-to-route.

Dine on demand in Signature Class.

Over the last few years we have retrofitted our older aircraft in order to offer a consistent product. If you are on a wide-body aircraft and you are flying Signature Class, you know what you are going to get. The exact same seat on every wide-body aircraft around the world. So there’s no surprises when you get on the plane. A customer flying from Melbourne to New York is going to be on the exact same seat all the way through. With the luxury customer in mind, we’ve made the product consistent.

Are there other elements to Signature Service?

The next phase is our Signature Suite which has been rolled out in Toronto, our global hub. It’s not a priority for the Australian market due to its location, however its our top-end lounge for our top-tier frequent flyers and all Signature Class customers.

It’s a more exclusive lounge located in the International Departures terminal of Pearson International Airport. And its not considered a Star Alliance Gold lounge, and as such has a restricted access policy.

There’s an a la carte dining menu, complimentary signature cocktails and all day buffet, priority security for accelerated screening – all those extra touches you would expect. We also have the Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto but this is much more exclusive.

So far, the Signature Suite is limited to Toronto Airport but I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before the same product is introduced in Vancouver.

Signature Suite at Toronto International Airport for Signature Service guests.

Any other luxury touches in Toronto for premium passengers?

Air Canada also has a BMW Valet Service transfer experience in Toronto. For guests that are transferring from a domestic flight to international in Signature Class, they will get transferred from their gates in a BMW.

We’ve had this service since the start of the year, but up until Signature Service was announced it was a surprise and delight for customers. It’s only offered at Toronto Pearson Airport but available to Australian’s who may be travelling internationally.

Air Canada BMW Valet Service, currently only available at Toronto Airport.

Of all those little touches that I mentioned, the Concierge, the seamless airport experience, the consistent products, the lounges – all this work has been going on quietly over the last few years and we’re basically ramping it up now into a nice little package that we’re calling Signature Service.

For a lot of airlines it’s about the onboard product and what kind of a seat are you getting, which I know is very very important, but Air Canada is looking beyond that. It’s about everything. For some people, the first time they have contact with you’re brand is at the airport, and a lot of airlines forget about that. For us it’s an end-to-end offering, not just onboard.

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