By now almost everyone's seen the little video that's gone viral of airline WestJet sending Christmas presents down the luggage carousels for unsuspecting passengers waiting at Calgary Airport in Canada. How did they pull it off? And was it just a marketing gimmick or were passengers genuinely as surprised and delighted as they seemed on film? suitcases&strollers chatted to Fraser Neek, General Manager at Calgary Airport, about his part in making family travel an even more memorable and exciting experience even for those of us not on the plane.
(If you've somehow missed seeing the video, here it is.)
Why did you choose to volunteer for the WestJet Christmas Miracle?
Being able to give back to our guests is always very rewarding. Having been involved in last year's event made me want to ensure I was able to be a part of it again this year.
What was your role in the project?
I helped primarily with working locally with the Calgary Airport Authority to ensure we were able to take whatever steps were needed to assist in making this miracle a reality.
Did any of the passengers twig that something was going on while Santa was taking his list of Christmas wishes?
I can’t speak to if they were suspicious in Toronto and Hamilton since I was in Calgary, however what I can tell you is when people started to realise what was happening in Calgary, it became very special in a short period of time.
How long did you have to purchase and wrap all the gifts before delivery?
Approximately 4 hours – the length of the flights – but it definitely took a coordinated effort to make sure our guests received their gifts on time.
Was there a budget per gift or did passengers literally get exactly what they asked for?
When working with Santa it's all about making miracles come to life. It took a team of dedicated volunteer WestJetters to make this miracle happen. We also partnered with a few trusted organisations that helped donate a few of the gifts.
Was there anyone who was unhappy with their gift?
Not that we could see. The general feeling in the baggage carousel was all around happiness and excitement.
I was around the baggage carousel when people received their gifts: the tears, smiles, surprised looks on people’s faces made all the hard work worthwhile.
What was the most memorable reaction you got?
It sounds a cliché however [it came from] the Hughes family. When Cohen got his Thomas & Friends train set, his eyes lit up. When Santa announced there was a surprise for Cohen’s parents and the oversize baggage area lit up, you could see the excitement in their faces as well. Then the tears and hugs started when they realised they got what they had asked for just a few short hours prior.
Cynics might argue that this is a blatant and exploitative marketing gimmick. What was the most positive part of this experience for you?
I think it really re-enforces the spirit that by caring about people and doing the right thing [your work] can really go a long way. Socks-and-underwear guy was a perfect example of this. He was brutally honest about what he needed for Christmas and when he received just that he was as excited as the Hughes family that got the big screen TV. It definitely re-enforced that small things can make all the difference during the holidays.
For more travel tips on family-friendly airlines, see the suitcases&strollers story Airlines Compared.
For more travel tips on surviving flights with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.