How Air Canada changed course on its Fan Flights

The airline, looking to maintain its market presence, found travel-free surprises for its fan appreciation campaign.


Air Canada is showing that it can still “surprise and delight” deserving people without a flight leaving the ground.

The long-running Fan Flights program rewards deserving hockey and basketball fans with VIP game-day experiences, including a flight to see their favourite team play at home or on the road.

But with heavy travel restrictions and limitations on fans being in attendance at games, the airline has been finding other one-of-a-kind experiences to provide, like personalized jerseys, video messages from Raptors players and getting to play ball hockey with Leafs legends and coaches. And, fans are still being promised a chance to see their favorites in action in the future, along with Aeroplan points.

“Although most Canadians are not able to experience sport events or travel the way they used to, and we are not operating to the level we wish we were, it’s important to maintain a market presence during these difficult times,” says Véronique Poulin, manager, sports marketing and events, at Air Canada.

She tells strategy that right now, Air Canada is talking about the “Fan Flight” program specifically, but in general, the airline knows  that if it wants people to travel, it has to provide customers with peace of mind. “This will be at the forefront of our marketing for the foreseeable future.”

The uniting power of sports has always been a good fit with Air Canada’s goal of connecting with Canadians, Poulin says. The seven deserving fans featured in this year’s campaign, chosen by the Air Canada Foundation with a focus on amplifying BIPOC voices, includes Tara, a volunteer with MLSE LaunchPad’s Youth Council and a strong and active voice for the local Black community, and Olu, a youth mentor.

Past Fan Flight efforts have focused on youth making a mark themselves, but Poulin says this one is more focused on fans of all ages who have made an impact helping youth in their communities. As the program grows, she says, Air Canada is expanding the criteria for selecting deserving sports fans to celebrate even more Canadians who are making a positive impact.

While there are many programs that surprise Canadians with trips and experiences, Poulin feels like Air Canada‘s is a bit different. “At the core of the program are the deserving fans who are true champions within their community,” she says.

According to Poulin, “this was a stripped down version of the program, suitable for the times,” which is reflected in the marketing spend this year. For instance, she says, not flying over 60 fans to playoff game has resulted in savings.

This campaign was planned, produced and executed in-house with the support of Weber Shandwick for the public relations.