Podcasts

#12 Aviation Evolution: A Flight Through History and Accessibility with Lorne Mackenzie

Welcome to ‘The Jump Seat,’ the go-to podcast for aviation enthusiasts and professionals alike. In today’s flight, we’re cruising through the clouds with Lorne McKenzie, a maverick in the aviation industry. With a legacy rooted in airlines like Canadian Airlines and a trailblazer in regulatory affairs and accessibility, Lorne offers us a cockpit view of the aviation world’s transformations. Fasten your seatbelts, as we journey through Lorne’s career, from airline startups to championing accessible travel for all.

In this episode of “The Jump Seat,” Chris Glass sits down with Lorne McKenzie, a seasoned veteran in the aviation industry with extensive experience in airline startups and regulatory affairs. Lorne provides an insider’s look at the aviation industry’s growth, its challenges, and the advancements in accessible transportation. His journey from opening Canadian Airlines’ ticket office in Beijing to influencing policy at WestJet paints a vivid picture of the sector’s evolution. The conversation touches on the inception and impact of ULCCs (Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers) in Canada, the necessity of inclusive travel for those with disabilities, and the economic influence airlines have on local communities. As Lorne recounts his endeavors in creating more accessible and cost-effective air travel, he also highlights the importance of engaging those with disabilities in policy-making for a more inclusive future in aviation.

Podcast Transcript

Chris Glass: Hi and welcome back to another episode of the Jump Seat. My name is Chris Glass. I am a product owner here with Flight and I am with Lorne McKenzie. Lorne McKenzie, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Lorne Mackenzie: Sure. So, lorne McKenzie, I started out as Canadian Airlines, but right now I’m currently working with Flair Airlines as a senior consultant for regulatory affairs Excellent, and from what I understand, you’re a bit of an regulatory affairs.

Chris Glass: Excellent, and from what I understand, you’re a bit of an entrepreneur now as well. We’ll get to that a little bit later on but, tell me about that role as well.

Lorne Mackenzie: Sure, I’m also the president of CSAT, which is the Consulting Services for Accessible Transportation Incorporated, and I created that just after I left WestJet when COVID hit and then recently, because of obviously lots of recovery through the last couple of years, just launched the website. So we’re now officially open for business.

Chris Glass: Excellent. I was just on your website the other day and it looks pretty slick.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yeah Well, we’ve got over a hundred years of aviation experience and all my favorite folks from the industry who have committed their lives to the industry and to accessibility and we’ll talk about that later.

Chris Glass: Well, and since you brought up the hundred years, of aviation experience. A lot of those years are your experience, so let’s talk about how you got into this industry. That hooks us all for life, it seems.

Lorne Mackenzie: It’s addictive. So I started my entry into the industry brand new. I had no aviation experience whatsoever. In Beijing, I started the city ticket office for Canadian Airlines.

Chris Glass: Wow, I didn’t know that. I’ve known you for a long time, but I didn’t know that Well, I lived there for 10 years.

Lorne Mackenzie: I’m fluent in writing and speaking Mandarin. I knew that and my experience there was, of course, china. Back in gosh 1996 was a bit of a revolution happening. They were just opening up to the world. They were starting to get more interest in the North American carrier network and my role was to teach customer service, because you got to realize when you got a billion customers on the other side of the counter you don’t have to be nice.

Chris Glass: No, you just have people coming up.

Lorne Mackenzie: So I had to introduce them to the concept of okay, you need to be nice to people, they will come back to you. It’s really good. So it worked very well for six years and then I decided to come back to Canada and start the. I took over the base for Victoria for Canadian Regional.

Chris Glass: Okay.

Lorne Mackenzie: So that was startup number two. So my role at Canadian was to get services launched and get the airlines. We operated a DC-10. Once a week I realized this post 9-11, all the US carriers kept flying. They said I know there’s nobody traveling everybody but we will continue to fly to China. All the Canadian airlines. Which was us pulled out because of course nobody wanted to go when you couldn’t travel because of the security. But by pulling out we essentially offended the Chinese government and they made us keep our DC-10 on the ground for seven days, paying per diems to 13 people in the Gobi Desert. It wasn’t good.

Chris Glass: So you would land and have to keep the plane there for seven days, one departure a week and then take off. You got it. Keep your people there, wow.

Lorne Mackenzie: Absolutely. Yeah, it was crazy. So that was just the world that we lived in. After we started flying again, we put the 7-6 on. Daily we could charge $8,000 for a one-way business class. So there was plenty of interest to fly to China after that.

Chris Glass: Yeah, and that was really Canadian Airlines’ stranglehold in Western Canada.

Lorne Mackenzie: It was.

Chris Glass: It was the Asian routes and kind of that Asian gateway.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yeah, and that’s why, when Air Canada eventually took us over, it was for that lucrative market Right, 100%. And we lost everything, of course, from hemorrhaging in the East.

Chris Glass: Of course, and then okay, so then you came back to Victoria, yep, and then what was next?

Lorne Mackenzie: So now I’m into the Canadian Regional, which is the feeder airline for Canadian, and right about then the merger took place and I moved from victoria to calgary to start what was at the time your canada jazz right, uh, which became jazz. Of course. With all the four regional carriers consolidated, they wanted us to go to halifax to set up air nova’s head headquarters. But I was born in glace bay, nova scotia, and I wasn’t prepared to move back east at that point. So I stayed in Calgary and guess what started next?

Chris Glass: Zip yes.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yes.

Chris Glass: So Zip was like the most colorful ULCC at the time, exactly. So tell me a little bit about Zip.

Lorne Mackenzie: So we thought, okay, let’s create something inside of our Canada that can take on WestJet. We needed a 737-200. We need flashy colors, denim t-shirts. I even had a job. I had safety and security and regulatory and uniform fitting. I had the wackiest jobs ever they had. Just okay, what’s happening?

Chris Glass: And they wore bright uniforms.

Lorne Mackenzie: Oh, you remember the denim shirt and the t-shirts yeah, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked for the purpose and so, but that, I think, like you were talking about a startup, you just do everything, so that was my opportunity Now, actually when we did end up shutting it down after a couple of years, because there’s some interesting, creative, let’s say, use of resources that we were trying to do and it was violating some union rules.

Lorne Mackenzie: So we shut it down, right. And that was about when WestJet was looking to launch international services for the first time, right, and I got invited to help them with that.

Chris Glass: So before we leave Zip, tell me what it was like. So you were involved with this kind of scrappy upstart under the Air Canada umbrella. Tell me a little bit about that experience and how successful or unsuccessful, or you know, like I know, you’ve told me in the past that it was quite a competitive fighting brand at the time. So, give me a little bit more on that.

Lorne Mackenzie: So first of all, I was trying to use resources. We had flight attendants trained as CSAs, csas trained as call centers, so if you ever had somebody sick, you just swapped them out, which was obviously a violation of union. Yeah, but we were also. We were, I think, one of the first carriers to do the electronic flight deck. We had laptops and one of my roles was to update the laptops with all the Jepsons and all that stuff loaded on there and then go around when the aircraft land I’d swap out the laptop put the new laptop in they’d say thank you very much and off they’d go and obviously you had to do it to keep currency for logs and all that stuff.

Lorne Mackenzie: So, very leading edge back then. But, oh my God, these laptops were heavy and it was not a new technology.

Chris Glass: So Zip was a bit of a laboratory for trying out new technologies and whatnot.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yes, yes, yes.

Chris Glass: Excellent, and so the decision was made to shut it down. Was it made because it wasn’t profitable?

Lorne Mackenzie: So we were right about to launch Laughlin, our first point outside of Canada. Uh, which again was the the model to. You know, we wanted to take on all of WestJet and of course they had transport at the point. Uh, no, sorry, they didn’t have transport at the point, but they were going to right and so we said let’s be the first, let’s get Laughlin out there. So I believe the intent was to grow the Zip fleet. Obviously, the union issues and other matters came in and the aircraft were reallocated.

Lorne Mackenzie: So they just said, well, it’s not a viable opportunity right now. Let’s park it and we’ll see where it goes from here. Right and that was the end of Zip.

Chris Glass: But it created at least a beachhead in the western. Yes, yeah, excellent, okay. So you leave Zip, yes, to come to WestJet. So you dedicate your career to killing WestJet, yes, and then you decide that is not what I want to do, I want to help them survive. So tell me about how you became a WestJetter.

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, that’s a fun story too. So, of course, coming from Air Canada to WestJet I, that’s a fun story too. Of course, coming from Air Canada to WestJet I was not deemed to be a viable candidate because, of course, they’re the enemy. But they also recognized that because of my number of startups to date, that I could help WestJet get to the US. It was a battle between airports and flight ops who’s going to get them? It was a manager of regulatory affairs and they’re trying to say well, we need you more for airports to get them started. No, we need you to get the approvals and operating services.

Chris Glass: So now WestJet has bidding war for you.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yes, it was phenomenal and I had this is the only time I’ve had 10 people in an interview. I had VPs right down to management. They were like so is this can we trust on board? And they did, and then there was no looking back and that was 2004.

Chris Glass: So 2004,. Westjet does not fly anywhere outside of Canada other than the occasional charter, that kind of thing, I suspect. Charter, but on behalf of other companies, correct? So I’m assuming you picked one destination, decided to just focus small and go all in on that, or did you decide to do, I believe, 12 stations?

Lorne Mackenzie: at once. So my original letter you have to get designation first. So designation gives you the ability to fly to a country outside of Canada. Then you need a license and then you need the approval from the other country and you get all those approvals. I did I think 30 countries. When I did my initial designation application I’m sure the government of Canada was like, oh my God, we got some competition.

Lorne Mackenzie: This is phenomenal I got them instantly, like there was no hesitation to get it. So once we got the designation, then the next question was and WestJet was very disciplined about its growth you remember how we didn’t just throw aircraft out into the world, we’d see if it made money, then we put them there. It was all about the profit, not just the revenue. So we were very strategic and we started adding points in the US and that became very quickly and a very large transborder program and of course the Caribbean was right after that.

Chris Glass: Yeah, so what was the most difficult station to launch in your time?

Lorne Mackenzie: I think well, economically, I think most of the countries were willing to have new services come down. It’s generally southbound traffic lots of revenue for the tourism, but the northbound challenges, a lot of these were brand new entities for us and I got to tell you there’s some serious operational concerns, ie drug trafficking and human trafficking and some of those other highly volatile scenarios. So we actually had people killed when they tried to put drugs on the plane and they were. You remember that. So I mean, it was scary and we had to have somebody come and oversee the people who were overseeing our aircraft in order to have some kind of assurances.

Chris Glass: One of our products here at Flight is called Clearport and it gives you real-time access to when doors open and close, and a lot of carriers in the Caribbean and certain parts of Africa are very concerned about doors being open in off times Like why is the cargo door being opened right now? And they get an alert from us. Can you talk about kind of how that operation works down there? Like what does a naive airline have to have to?

Lorne Mackenzie: think well, unfortunately you get to take your lumps generally. You learn as you go, but I, I would say in retrospect now, you, what you really want is some third party or and or objective system. Ideally, technology would be the best solution, because it’s not.

Chris Glass: It’s not as fallible as humans yeah, you can’t, can’t buy off technology.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yes, exactly, and you can’t have them put the cocaine in a larker. It’s not pretty. So that would be essentially take away your concerns, or at least mitigate to the best of your abilities.

Chris Glass: Right. One of my favorite things to do as a continuous improvement analyst when I had downtime in Toronto was to go sit by the Montego Bay flight and just watch the operational issues with not understanding that marketplace. So can you tell me a little bit about how unique that particular flight was? Because I remember the stories of people checking in engines and low flow toilets and all that kind of stuff.

Lorne Mackenzie: So well, just to bring up more relevance, I’ll talk about sort of flares launch to kingston oh, sure, yes, so same sort of scenario it was. It was interesting because, having watched the jamaican experience in my past and have them sort of say, well, what should we expect in terms of our new launch service? And I said just be prepared to bulk out for every flight yeah.

Lorne Mackenzie: Because the volume of check baggage carry-on baggage is going to exceed everything First day of operations. They’re like the ancillary revenue is through the roof. We set records off the chart. People were willing to pay and it was like wow, there’s a learning curve for you.

Chris Glass: That’s how you do it right, Right. And then the poor guy on the other end who had to try to load all those bags.

Lorne Mackenzie: I can’t imagine what below the wing would have been like. I can imagine there’s bulk, that’s all.

Chris Glass: What was the most unique thing you ever saw checked in.

Lorne Mackenzie: Oh well, because I haven’t been in the operation for checking and stuff, but when I lived in jamaica, yeah, um, which I was planning gladiola corms to to export to cuba, and because you could get three growing seasons in jamaica I’m sorry I’m gonna have to back up a little bit.

Chris Glass: First of all, you lived in jamaica. Yeah, talk to me about that well.

Lorne Mackenzie: So that was part of a an exchange youth program that I allowed me to go and live in in king Actually I was in Mo Bay and then they went to Lunenburg and we painted a mural on the wall in Lunenburg and so in my time in Jamaica it was just. I guess it’s true what they say about Rastafarians it’s a really relaxed environment.

Chris Glass: Right.

Lorne Mackenzie: Enjoyed it very much.

Chris Glass: Oh, excellent, good, good good. My wife is from her background is Trinidad and Tobaggan. They have similar issues with checked luggage going to. Port of Spain, so it’s always fun to watch the Caribbean flights as well.

Lorne Mackenzie: They are entertaining and terrifying in some cases.

Chris Glass: Excellent. Okay, so the Caribbean was a fun challenge for you. And then what happened? What was next for you?

Lorne Mackenzie: Well then, it was wide body season, right, we got into the six sevens, as you know, you remember. Gatwick’s launch, and so that was the next round was Europe and all the member states that we wanted to fly to.

Chris Glass: What are the challenges? Like? I mean going starting in Victoria, for example, in Canada, versus trying to get landing slots and timing into Gatwick. What are the differences? What do you have to think about when you’re launching a station like Gatwick?

Lorne Mackenzie: For sure, so yeah, like a Victoria is not slot controlled.

Chris Glass: They’ll have curfews Land whenever you want, exactly.

Lorne Mackenzie: But they won’t sort of regulate because of the volume. Obviously, a Gatwick or a London Heathrow is a very different scenario and in fact some of the slot purchases I mean, we’re up to a million pounds for some of these initial slots just to buy the right to get in there. So you had to be very careful. Obviously you’ve got to make more than a million pounds to get that revenue. So the challenge, of course, is the and we’re an unknown entity, we don’t have a code share partnership, we didn’t have an interline. At that point we were just starting to serve and we thought, well, we don’t know who’s who in the zoo. And that challenge of getting up to speed on what do I need to get into London was probably the biggest challenge of getting there.

Chris Glass: Wow. And then you started with the 767s moved into the Dreamliners. Yes, and then, where did your career go?

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, we were guns a blazing. There was no end of the growth at WestJet. We had every intention to global domination. Was our mission right? And then COVID hit. Right and that was a bit of a game changer.

Chris Glass: Yeah, and so COVID affected my career. It landed me here at Flight. And I’m quite grateful for that opportunity. Covid also landed you somewhere else, so talk to me about that, sure.

Lorne Mackenzie: So right off the bat, you sort of say well now, what am I going to do with my whole 18 years of my life?

Chris Glass: It’s just evaporated In an industry that doesn’t look like it’s going to recover anytime soon.

Lorne Mackenzie: No, it’s grounded, literally grounded. So I knew other airlines were not going to be hiring, that wasn’t an issue. So I started. I said, well, I have all these years of experience, what can I do? And I had a real passion. I was overseeing the accessibility portfolio at WestJet. Yes, so I had a real passion to help remove barriers for people with disabilities. So I thought, well, I’m going to start my own company and it was lauren mckenzie consulting at the time.

Lorne Mackenzie: And then I worked for the cta for a little bit and I worked at different airlines and sort of patchwork until, uh, the industry started to pick up. There was not a lot of growth and interest for that. So when I’d say this year and certainly last half of last year, you saw material growth, people were coming back, we were hiring again. The industry is starting to show some life. Um, and what I was, what I created after that was what I call consulting services for accessible transportation and what it does is in my mandate and hopefully we’re going to revolutionize the way people with disabilities are engaged and, okay, paid.

Lorne Mackenzie: So past history people would. Airlines were required to engage people with disability, to review training materials and to look at procedures and make sure your website’s accessible and all that stuff, but they were given here. We’ll pay for your flight, but you got to pay for a hotel at the other end, or we’ll give you a gift card opportunity to win a gift card in a lottery. I mean, there was no compensation being paid and I’m sorry I use that word remuneration paid to people with disabilities for doing their time and effort, and I think that was absolutely wrong.

Chris Glass: Yeah.

Lorne Mackenzie: So CSAT’s mandate is to say, well, if we’re going to engage people with disabilities, a, you will be paid and B you will stay in the engagement until its conclusion. That means you may have numerous iterations of a policy or procedure until they’re signed off saying this works. That’s when they’re disengaged. In other words, the initial history was you get somebody at the beginning and say, okay, tell me about your travel and experience and I’ll try and do what I can to remove barriers. Then they were removed and then the carrier went off and did their thing and that was it. I believe they should stay in that, the entire program and our friends and our colleagues over at the Canadian Council of People with Disabilities. They agreed with us and now their transportation committee is our advisory group.

Chris Glass: Everybody in Canada has a right to mobility, absolutely. How are the? Can you walk me through some of the hidden barriers that obviously you could see? The barrier of small aisles cramped quarters, small seats, but what? Are some of the hidden barriers that people might not be aware of.

Lorne Mackenzie: Sure. So right off the bat, let’s think about those with invisible disabilities or visibilities that are cognitive or mental. You can’t physically see some kind of evidence that they’re struggling with some condition, and so what you want is an awareness at your front lines to say be aware of this possibility. People will show up and you need to know how do you ask them for help, how can you be of service to them individually? And that’s so critical, because that’s a problem with a broad brush. Everyone’s so unique in their own skill sets and their own development. You can’t just broad brush this sort of thing. So that’s one thing is the training is critical to help avoid the unexpected. Another one is often we use the wheelchair as an example.

Lorne Mackenzie: A person with a wheelchair. It’s a mobility disability and they will be obvious. It’s the ones like language requests or multiple sclerosis, where they may be young but they can’t stand for long periods of time. And then they’re like well, I need a wheelchair. And you say why? You look perfectly young and healthy. Well, it’s my legs are killing me, because I have MS. That is another example of some. Just again, it’s awareness piece to make sure you capture all groups.

Chris Glass: Right. So what kind of work would an airline have to do in? Order to, I guess, free up air travel for everybody, not just able-bodied people or people with visible disabilities that are relatively easy to figure out. I remember back when I was a CSA this going back 20 years ago but I was a bigger guy, like a stronger guy, so I used to get called down to the gate all the time to help to help with carry-on guests, where you literally lifted the person as dangerously as humanly possible carried them a couple of rows.

Chris Glass: If you didn’t throw on your back, you got them down right, uh, and it would always be the same two guys, because they were the only two guys strong enough. I know we’ve come a long way there, but what? What if I was a fictional airline starting up now? How would you advise me in order to, without giving away all your secret? Sauce what steps would I have to take to make sure my airline is as accessible as possible?

Lorne Mackenzie: well, I gotta say it starts at the top.

Lorne Mackenzie: So your executive have to believe they have to buy in it’s intersectionality, it’s inclusivity, it’s we are a carrier to carry all people. And that means your mentality has to change to be inclusive, so that when you’re developing a website, you’re thinking of the blind and the deaf and the ability to get relay services online. That’s the thinking that has to start and has to come all the way through. If it’s not at the very top, you won’t be able to force those front lines, because the executive will always say do the minimum, what’s the law require, and then you end up with this highly restrictive environment where it says well, I don’t have to do all those stuff that should be done, the right thing to do, I’ll just do what’s the minimum and that’s the cheapest way to do it.

Lorne Mackenzie: Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that mindset isn’t there when they show up at your counter and it like well, I gotta do this, I gotta do that, but I don’t want to, I don’t care enough, right yeah and now I gotta say one of those strengths at west jet was that we did care, and I truly valued it yeah, you know, and I hear you talk about like the lowest possible uh standard and what’s the cheapest.

Chris Glass: I guess is is probably what people think about, but I think of the cost of an electric wheelchair and how mishandling those and they’re not really made for the airport environment. How do you go about training to deal with some of these 300, 400 pound devices that you? Need to go downstairs and get into the hold of an aircraft.

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, we did a lot of good work with IATA and I have to say the CTA was a leader in that as well as the National Research Council of Canada to do a lot of research and investigation on what are best practices in terms of moving mobility devices, particularly the heavy scooters, and we engage the manufacturers of those scooters and those mobility devices to say what we can do to make them less more rugged, I guess, but more easy to disassemble and protect, so that carriers don’t have damage and people don’t obviously lose their legs when they land Right.

Chris Glass: I just remember having to wrap those batteries up, and every single device was different. So it created such a panic amongst everybody Exactly.

Lorne Mackenzie: And that’s why this working group created these passports and they are literally a document that says this chair has all these features, so that the ground handlers would know what to do with it and the agents would say here’s what I need you to do to prepare.

Chris Glass: Yeah, so everybody would be ready and on the same page. Which airlines in the world do you think are doing a really good job at this, and who is the gold standard for accessibility in the world?

Lorne Mackenzie: I have to say there’s been significant improvement. A lot of carriers have invested heavily, and the one that springs to mind would be there’s been significant improvement. There’s a lot of carriers have invested heavily, and I have to. The one that springs to mind would be Alaskan. I’ve worked with their team for many years and they were always the more innovative sort of willing to spend the money to try out different things, including new technologies. I think they were the first one to have this device that could box up a device so that it wouldn’t be damaged on the aircraft.

Chris Glass: Yeah.

Lorne Mackenzie: So that I thought was sort of leading edge. So I’ve always felt they were.

Chris Glass: So Alaskans cutting edge, that’s excellent. What kind of technologies other than that device have you seen? What have they been trying out?

Lorne Mackenzie: Well then you’re starting to go further afield and you’re looking at the looping technology for people who are deaf. They can go through terminals and that kind of walks them through in a verbal sort of visual description of what they’re moving through so that they have a guide, the automated wheelchairs that they’re looking at in Winnipeg now that put in your gate and you get in and it just takes you there.

Chris Glass: Wow, so you don’t have to have that was always the hardest part. Resources You’d have five agents at the counter, somebody would show up needing help to the gate. Exactly, and now you have four resources at the counter.

Lorne Mackenzie: I can’t lose them, you can’t lose those people Sure.

Chris Glass: So Winnipeg has self-driving.

Lorne Mackenzie: It’s where it’s being trialed.

Chris Glass: Okay, so walk me through that.

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, it’s not part of my trial. I can’t tell you who’s actually leading that, but I’ve seen that kind of technology out there.

Chris Glass: Excellent. Well, that’s going to be a game changer for a lot of people.

Lorne Mackenzie: I hope so.

Chris Glass: You’re also advising for another airline now? Yes, so talk to me about that.

Lorne Mackenzie: So for Flair, yeah, so Flair, of course, is a ULCC, that is. I believe. One of the biggest barriers to air travel for people with disability is the cost of air travel.

Chris Glass: Right.

Lorne Mackenzie: And they’re often on subsidies, they’re often struggling to get income and so you get these large tickets and you can’t travel. That is a physical barrier to you being able to travel Right, and then what I’ve seen with. So ULCs, I think, play a very important role to get people traveling, to get them out of their homes and get them on planes, which I think is awesome. At the same time, their focus is on cost. So that balance of trying to say, okay, how much can I spend on this to get everybody on the plane without raising the tickets so high that now I just created a new barrier or something.

Lorne Mackenzie: And it’s actually in the law that you cannot create new barriers when you introduce removing barriers really yeah, so the legal framework has always supported this and it’s sort of the um, and this goes back to CSAT as well yeah which requires it says nothing about us without us. Which basically says if you’re going to talk about people with disability for policies, procedures, you better involve them.

Chris Glass: You need to engage them, and that’s the law as well. There’s nothing like a bunch of people making decisions for a group of people who aren’t involved.

Lorne Mackenzie: We’ve been there, absolutely.

Chris Glass: Let’s talk a little bit about Flair and their ULCC model and where they are in the industry right now. I know the ULCC market just saw Lynx leave the marketplace, so it seems like Flair is the last ULCC standing in Canada.

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, at the current time, I would have to agree with that. Yeah, it’s never good We’ve been. I think, like I said, I’ve lost five of the airlines that I started. They’re just gone and it’s heartbreaking. These are people’s lives. That good we’ve been. I think that, like I said, I’ve lost five of the airlines that I started. They’re just gone and it’s heartbreaking. These are people’s lives that are being uh impacted. But I gotta say, um, I’m optimistic for flair that it’s going to be the uh ulcc for the foreseeable future, to be that uh mechanism for people to travel, both people with disabilities and otherwise.

Chris Glass: I see your CEO often in the news talking about opening up Canada with low fares. You’ve been a part of opening many different bases. Can you shed any light on what it means to cities to have ultra low cost airlines flying into their bases? Ultra low cost airlines flying into their bases?

Lorne Mackenzie: So we’ve done numerous studies and I know we did it in previous airlines that show when you launch a new route, what is the economic impact on a?

Chris Glass: community.

Lorne Mackenzie: And I think we’ve seen significant increases in, for example, the kitchener market, which wasn’t served as frequently as we currently do today, and the impact to the economic region is phenomenal, just in jobs and income alone. But it also opens up opportunities that didn’t exist before, and I love the fact that we can take people out of Kitchener and fly them to warm and sunny destinations in the middle of the winter. So I love the ability to be able to do that, and I think the ULCs are instrumental. If you’ve watched the cycle of ULCs come in and then they grow and then they become big and guess what? New ULCs enter, I believe that is a natural cycle for this industry.

Chris Glass: Yeah, and it seems like Canada is. It. Doesn’t seem like it, it is. Canada is far behind the world in providing a fertile ground for ULCCs to be successful. From Zip, from the days of Zip, from the days of Jets Go, we’ve seen so many companies leave the marketplace that are trying to make it work. What are some of the barriers that a ULCC in Canada faces?

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, unfortunately it’s not just a ULCC problem. We’re talking things like APPR, which is the Air Passenger Protection Regulations. Understanding there’s sort of a phase-in from a small carrier to a large carrier and there are some different requirements. But at the end of the day, the onerous cost to the carrier to pay out for the compensation is in fact a barrier. So the fear of course is you’re selling a $49 ticket and somebody gets $500 in compensation because of an irregular operation. It’s logically not good for the long-term viability of ultra-low-cost carriers.

Chris Glass: Yeah, a lot of people don’t know that. They don’t know that the APPR payouts have no tie to the ticket price Correct. So it’s disadvantageous to offer a low fare in a lot of ways, because if you’re late you have to pay so much more. Sure.

Lorne Mackenzie: And let’s not forget, when it comes to and I understand that, for example, the ATPDR, the accessible regulations have a maximum fine of $250,000. The intent is to be a deterrent to obviously comply with the law.

Chris Glass: Yes.

Lorne Mackenzie: Sadly, in the event that somebody does get a penalty, none of that money goes to the individual, it goes into the general revenues of the government and then the benefit doesn’t experience by any of the people impacted. So and it’s obviously a huge cost to the airline, which completely they should have complied with. But at the end of the day those costs are significant and they add up very quickly so APPR is a factor.

Chris Glass: What else? What else is working against airlines in Canada? This is going to be a topic coming up on our pod quite a bit.

Lorne Mackenzie: Okay, the next little while.

Chris Glass: And you have a unique background as a governmental and regulatory affair expert, if you will Sure. So what other barriers are facing airlines?

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, you have your normal economic barriers that protect the Canadian travel industry from abuse from other countries. For example, you have your bilateral agreements and those sort of set out in the series of articles what’s allowed for services between two countries. But I have to say that my experience is working with Transport Canada Air Policy. They’ve always seen Canada’s interests first and I like the balanced approach. We want to have more business but we can’t have it at the expense of our Canadian aviation industry. So I have to say they’ve done a good job of doing that.

Chris Glass: We don’t want to have an American carrier come in and just fly Calgary, vancouver, toronto, montreal and that’s it you need cabotage protection so that they can’t come cherry pick the roots, Absolutely, but in terms of the broader barriers to the industry, I think it’s well I hate to say this.

Lorne Mackenzie: The aviation industry is a huge money laundering business. We generate tons and tons of revenue and spend tons and tons of cash. The margins are just microscopic, Right. So that is probably one of the greatest barriers to the entry of the business and the sustainability of the business.

Chris Glass: If Apple had the profit margin of an airline, they’d shut down tomorrow. There’s no way they’d operate Exactly yeah.

Lorne Mackenzie: So that’s probably. It’s an industry systemic, certainly here in Canada, I would suspect across the world.

Chris Glass: And you have the high costs of buying aircraft, high costs of fuel, huge cost of assets. High costs of staff.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yeah.

Chris Glass: And that’s before anybody pays anything.

Lorne Mackenzie: Yes, yeah, the infrastructure to set up an airline is unbelievable.

Chris Glass: So moving forward, where do you see the industry going from here when it comes to accessibility, first of all, when it comes to people with disabilities? So that’s the first question. And then, where do you think it’s going to go when it comes to fares and new entries in the market? Gotcha, so for people with disabilities.

Lorne Mackenzie: I’d love to be able to say, post-covid, things are getting better and people are starting to fly more and people are experiencing less barriers. Sadly, because of the impact on the airlines, because of COVID, they’re still in a restructuring format that is trying to get their head around what’s the new reality going to?

Chris Glass: be like they burnt all the furniture during COVID and they’re still trying to rebuild.

Lorne Mackenzie: Absolutely, and unfortunately, a lot of history was lost and a lot of the people who had that experience and helped to create what I believe was an excellent trajectory for accessibility is kind of a reset now, and so there’s a whole bunch of new folks in the market and they’re starting to learn again. And so I’d say, if I was to be a person with traveling today with a disability, you’re probably going to have barriers, more barriers than maybe even you experienced pre-COVID. And that’s unfortunate, because what happens is you have bad experience, you don’t want to travel again, or you hear bad experiences and so you stay home, and that breaks my heart because I think everybody should see the world. So that’s one. Secondly, and again back to the compliance piece, the stick isn’t working. So I believe the better way to do this is involve those people with disabilities so they’re part of the solution throughout and they feel in control. A lot of times they just feel like they’re just little incidents at the beginning. Then they’re not involved again, and that also breaks my heart.

Chris Glass: If I’m somebody with a disability and I have an experience that is suboptimal, what do I do?

Lorne Mackenzie: Great question. So obviously, the first thing you do is you go to the airline or this travel service provider and say I didn’t have a trip that met my expectations. I had an experience that was less than desirable. They resolve it or don’t. It’s a very simple can I satisfy your needs? Can we make the policy change or procedure change or whatever it takes? And if you can, ideal Problem solved. Everybody wins. The downside is that keeps happening and all these industry changes aren’t systemic, and so the goal with CCD Canadian Council for People with Disabilities and CSAT, is to create what’s called a social enterprise, to create where everybody’s inclusive and it’s intersectional, because you got to create what’s called a social enterprise, to create where everybody’s inclusive and it’s intersectional, because you’ve got to realize it’s not just the disability. They could have LGBTQ and they could have other considerations that are challenges to their travel as well, and so all of that needs to be systemically done, and we believe the best way to do that is through engaging all these folks at the ground level.

Chris Glass: Do that is through engaging all these folks at the ground level, excellent. Where do you see the barrier to cost? What’s the next step when it comes to ULCCs in?

Lorne Mackenzie: Canada. That’s a challenge, because now you’re looking at the usual costs which all carriers pay, but it’s the fact that you’re trying to be creative and push the envelope all the time, be it on onboard services, ancillary revenues, all those kind of things and that is usually met with resistance. There’s a lot of. When you start thinking out of the box, there’s like yeah, I’m used to that, I want that and this is how you break the industry to make it grow and make it evolve.

Chris Glass: Right. And then what’s the future hold for you?

Lorne Mackenzie: Well, csat is my primary. I will continue to push for growth in that area, but I’d like to stay involved in the industry because I love it. I love what Flare’s doing to change and grow the ULCC market, and I love what WestJet’s doing to rebuild itself and re-identify itself. So I just love to be part of this experience to be part of this experience.

Chris Glass: Well, and this is not an industry that anybody leaves easily so you lived in Beijing. Yeah, you lived in Victoria. You’ve seen the world all across. I like to ask everybody what’s your favorite place to see? What’s one place that me, as a traveler, that maybe I haven’t thought of? Or where in the world should I go next?

Lorne Mackenzie: Sure, Well, I had the pleasure of being, because of WestJet’s expansion program, five continents before I was 50. So I have the world to choose from and I got to say one of my favorite countries was Costa Rica.

Chris Glass: Costa Rica okay.

Lorne Mackenzie: And what I loved about the people are genuine and authentic and friendly, but it had the ecology, the environment. You had volcanoes and authentic and friendly, but it had the ecology, the environment. You had volcanoes and beaches and jungle and it was just sort of this mecca of what do you want to do today? Well, let’s go see a volcano. Let’s go to the jungle, let’s go hit the beaches. It had everything, so I like that Wow.

Chris Glass: So the next trip I need to take my family of five on is go to Costa Rica.

Lorne Mackenzie: I think you’d have an awesome time.

Chris Glass: Awesome. Lauren. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. It’s always great to bring on guests that have interesting stories and interesting backgrounds, and you really fit that bill. So thank you so much for spending some time with us today. We’ll be back with more episodes of the Jump Seat in 2024. Thank you.

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