A pilot taxis a Westjet Boeing 737-700 plane to a gate after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Monday February 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

WestJet faces criticism for asking passengers to film flight attendants at work

MONTREAL — WestJet Airlines Inc. is facing criticism after asking some of its frequent flyers to videotape the service provided by its flight attendants and those of its chief competitor.

The Calgary-based airline said it asked 14 customers over a seven-day period to input the footage through an app as part of a larger online survey so it could monitor the service they most like.

But the practice has angered WestJet flight attendants who complain it is an invasion of their privacy, against the airline’s rules and not the practice of a caring employer.

Chief executive Ed Sims told reporters that the airline didn’t intend to anger flight attendants, who are in the midst of a union drive.

“I apologize to any flight attendants, unreservedly, for those who were upset or offended by that action,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s annual meeting in Calgary.

Sims said the practice is relatively common and was meant to help WestJet build a library of the service that means the most to passengers.

He said it’s not something the airline intends to repeat.

WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart declined to provide details about the effort but said no customers provided video of any WestJet employees or inflight experiences.

“Although the intent was to highlight the positive guest experiences our WestJetters (employees) provide, we regret that we did not consult with WestJetters prior to the study being conducted,” she wrote in an email.

Hugh Pouliot, spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents Air Canada flight attendants and is trying to organize WestJet, said Sims only apologized after getting caught.

“Things have certainly gotten a little paranoid at the executive level when they’re asking customers to film their employees,” he said in an interview.

Pouliot said videotaping employees is disrespectful and a massive breach of privacy.

Getting customers to effectively spy on employees signals a culture shift at the airline that has prided itself on employees being owners and gaining profit sharing, he said.

“This is definitely not owner-to-owner type of conduct first of all, but also this isn’t the kind of behaviour that a trusting company would ask its customers to carry out against its own employees.”

Air Canada didn’t comment on its rival’s effort, but the country’s largest airline said it doesn’t video or photograph its cabin crew for customer service purposes and requests that customers also refrain from doing so when asked.

“We have management programs that provide us with opportunities to monitor and coach service delivery on our aircraft,” said Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur.

WestJet warned on Tuesday that its bookings have slowed as passengers respond to the threat of a potential labour disruption from pilots who are trying to negotiate their first collective agreement.

The airline’s shares closed at new two-year low on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday of $19.70, down 1.2 per cent from the previous day.

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