You know for any business, and certainly for an airline PR is usually a big part of the biz package considering it encompasses how you present yourself to the community, and the rest of the business world at large. Getting public relations right is usually a biggie.
But NOT always.
Certainly NOT with Air Canada.
Air Canada Flight 621 (DC-8-63 registered as CF-TIW) crashes in Castlemore, Ontario on July 5, 1970.
Everyone is killed, all 109 pax (passengers) and crew.
In the most horrendous way possible.
In a 150 tonne missile that went nose first into a Castlemore farmer's field at 400mph. All occupants onboard…absolutely terrified right up to the very end. And then crushed, or worse, atomized.
Three minutes previous these people were safely landing at Toronto International Airport…for the first leg of their long journey…and now they were high in the sky above Castlemore, until finally nosing down toward the ground…when the spent DC-8's structural integrity finally burned away the last secured section of that airliner's starboard wing.
The fatally crippled jet now lurched downward on its final descent. Yes, now these people who were almost safe at Toronto International moments before…had actually touched momentarily on Toronto's 33L runway…just 180 seconds previous…now all these people suddenly, unexpectedly, were going to die.
When I recalled aspects of this tragedy to a friend, I added an unusual question, and the response was venomous.
How could I even say such a thing…even suggest such a thing?
I had asked the seemingly disrespectful question, what if Air Canada's Flight 621 crashes again??
Seemingly being the operative word.
Because my question was a very real question, a very pertinent question…in the world of Air Canada.
It is not common knowledge, but… AIR CANADA, unlike JUST ABOUT EVERY OTHER airline in the world (as my friend assumed, incorrectly) does not, I repeat, DOES NOT, retire the affected flight number when one of their own flights crashes…with lives lost.
Say , what?
You heard me.
Well, why would they?
Why treat your customers with the ultimate dignity and respect…and as the irreplaceable human beings that they actually are by solemnly retiring flight numbers? So, silly~
As it turns out, Air Canada no longer uses Flight 621, though!
There is just too much on the internet NOW connected with that flight. None of it good. So I guess that flight number was set aside out of utility, not respect.
But what about other deadly Air Canada flights?
TCA (the precursor to Air Canada) Flight 831(118 lives lost), Air Canada Flight 797 (23 lives lost), and Air Canada Flight 189 (two lives lost) continue to fly again…as a DIRECT INSULT to surviving family members of all the victims, on all these ill-fated flights.
But Air Canada will AT LEAST change the flight route. The start point, and/or destination.
So Air Canada Flight 831, 797, and 189 keep flying today!
And yes, THEY COULD crash again or have loss of life!
Can you believe it?? Can you actually believe it??
It gets better, folks.
No, I won't tell you here about the Air Canada Flight 621, and the Alfred Hitchcock connection, since that will be saved for the book, but…
AIR CANADA, back in1970, had promised a memorial to the crash victim's families of Flight 621…ON SITE!
Yes, at the crash site in Castlemore!
AIR CANADA later changed the memorial location to adorn the Mount Pleasant FLIGHT 621 cemetery plot in the centre of Toronto. There, a little over 50 of the victim's bodies are buried to this day.
Yes, the promised memorial is there, in Toronto, some 30 kms away.
NOT where, or what, the Flight 621 families were promised at the time regarding said memorial.
But when you aren't even retiring flight numbers when tragic death is involved, can an airline like that really be expected to honour promises of on-site memorials that were to be a token and permanent sign of consolation, made in good faith, to the then-grieving family members?
C'mon, get real.
In fact, from July 5th to October 1970 over a hundred people a day were visiting the crash site. Many indeed were family members.
But there's more…
Eric Weiczorek, who lost his stewardess wife, Gundi, in the Flight 621 crash can be seen in the incomplete heart-wrenching film clip above. Taken at the 40th Anniversary ceremony last month, right at the crash site, Eric relays his grief at being so shabbily treated by Air Canada at the time of the crash.
He wasn't the only one.
A phone call, a limousine, a letter, and (hey!) Air Canada's duty to Eric was done!
Linda Fishman (author - Repairing Rainbows), who lost her mother and two sisters on that flight made a recent overture to Air Canada just before this summer's 40th Anniversary event. An olive branch extended, if you will, to AC a week or so, before the event.
When does the dawdling airline get back to her? Two days before the actual event. And they have conditions you, know. They want to meet with Linda and any other victim's family members only two hours before the start of the event! And whatever the outcome of that meeting…they are to be allowed to attend the 40th ceremony!
Habitually posturing, using pressure tactics with the still grieving, even after all these years, as if AC is still in the driver's seat… still trying to unsuccessfully manage the continuing fallout from Flight 621 without actually doing something new. Something uplifting, something positive.
Well, in short order, because of the disrespect, once again shown to the families…Linda told those AC execs to well…go fly a kite.
Because…we know they can't fly airplanes.
Well, actually they can…they've kept a pretty clean record since…its their public relations that won't fly!
I do want to be fair to Air Canada. They were named best North American airline for 2010.
AC was also capable of doing some good leading up to the Flight 621, 40th Anniversary Ceremony event.
Bruce Sultan, who lost his wife and two kids was given free tickets by Air Canada to fly up to Toronto to attend the 40th Anniversary. Lucie Raymond, who lost her father on the flight was also given tickets to fly to the ceremony. Both parties were thankful for the olive branch offering. There may have been others, as well.
These people, the victim's families, are being quite reasonable in their final demands.
If I was running Air Canada, I could solve this festering PR disaster in one day.
In a single day.
And here's how I'd do it.
1) Pay for the new monument at the crash site, plaque, benches etc.
2) Assess where the deficits are and issue formal apologies to all the victim's families acknowledging those especially wronged. Many wanted a genuine apology at the time. Eric saved the apology he received from the Navigator's Association at the time. It was handwritten, the writer expressed sorrow (likely by placing himself in Eric's shoes*hint*) and thoughtfully and earnestly attempted to reach out to Eric in his time of sorrow with offers of emotional support.
Air Canada sent him…an open, unsigned, letter of condolence!
How important is a current apology from AC, admitting as an airline that maybe we got some of the process wrong, back then? Is it important, even after forty years??
Well, one widower turned down over $200,000 in compensation from Air Canada for the loss of his whole family BECAUSE the financial recompense offer DID NOT COME with a written apology from the airline. He walked away from the table, never to return. Judas kept the money, and Mr. –––––––– kept his dignity.
So yes, a new apology would make a huge difference. Put your teams of lawyers away, no one is looking for money, people want acknowledgment that they were treated shabbily. If you doubt me, meet these people! Stop hiding behind your lawyers, and an unforgivable wall of silence.
3) Give all victim's family members free flights to the official opening of the Flight 621 memorial in 2012. The Castlemore on-site memorial process is going forward regardless. Air Canada has to decide if they want to be a part of the remaining healing process of 621 families, or not. As Air Canada CEO for a day, I would decide that we do want to be a part of that process.
And we, as an airline, don't need to lead the way. We can walk with these people in their sorrow. And not just for PR reasons. Because its the right thing to do. Now.
Remember the present "open" status of Flight 621 is most unusual. It won't be resolved until 2012.
There are still victim's bones being unearthed in the crash field to this day. And that is not Air Canada's fault. One has to look to the Office of the Coroner for that one. But AC could certainly commiserate with the families on this delicate issue. It wasn't only customers who were lost July 5, 1970. It was also some of the Air Canada family that was lost. AC employees.
4) Officially retire Flight 621, and all other Air Canada flights that crashed and/or resulted in loss of life.
That Flight 831, Flight 797, Flight 189 still fly to this day is a horrendous and UNBELIEVABLE lack of respect for the families who suffered untimely loss of their cherished loved ones. Did their untimely deaths not earn them this, at the very least? Is Air Canada run by communists, or Canadians?
Air Canada does a lot of good works in the community, helping aviation museums nationwide with notable donations, which I personally consider quite important.
More importantly though, Air Canada is "involved in a broad range of initiatives to improve the lives of children" through their KID'S HORIZON'S program.
So why leave these crash flight situations, unresolved…a recurrent black mark when it could so easily be resolved!
Air Canada can't bring those family members back…but they can ensure these people are properly acknowledged by additional positive action taken today.
Addendum: CF-TIW crashed and killed all 109 occupants. C-FTIW was reregistered and flown again.
In 2007 C-FTIW crashed killing the sole occupant.
And C-FTIW flies again today as a chopper. Sheer stupidity. Yup, those are call letters I would want!