I joined CP Air in the IT department in 1975. CP Air was the predecessor to Canadian Airlines (remember them?). I didn’t even consider the flight benefits when I applied for the job; I wasn’t aware there were any. I soon learned that after 6 months I could start flying on both CP Air and other airlines. My boyfriend’s family (now my husband) live in the Comox Valley and I remember asking some co-workers if I would be able to fly to Comox. They just looked at me and said “Oh Theresa, you really need to set your sights a little higher!”
So how did the benefits work?
- Rules change but when I was an active airline employee I was eligible for unlimited travel on my airline. I could also travel on other airlines that we had an agreement with (called Interline agreements).
- The costs to me were really low. At that time we only had to pay a service charge; there weren’t all the taxes and fees that are added on now.
- All my travel was on a standby basis. Anyone who paid more than I did would be boarded before me, even employees from other airlines. After that, I was boarded based on my seniority. So an employee with 25 years’ service would be boarded before someone with 2 years.
- When I first joined, the wives of male employees could travel on passes but the husbands of female employees could not. Go figure! Fortunately that changed soon after. What a long way we have come!
For the first few years when I was young and childless, the hardest part was I got unlimited travel passes but only 2 weeks of annual vacation. We would catch a flight to Hawaii after work on a Friday and return on a Sunday midnight flight arriving at 6am on Monday and go straight to work! With luck you were able to sleep on the plane. Those were the days!
The travel opportunities were amazing. How else could our family of four travel to Disneyland, DisneyWorld, Australia and Hawaii? But it could also be really stressful travelling standby knowing we had to be back at work and the kids back at school. I tried to plan trips for less busy periods (ie not at Spring Break) but a flight could be “wide open” (meaning it had lots of seats available), and then another competing airline’s flight has a mechanical problem and all the passengers are transferred to your airline. Bingo….no more seats. And while it sounds wonderful to be “stuck” in Hawaii, it is really no fun having to traipse back and forth to the airport standing by for flights. Not to mention the expense of hotels, meals and transport.
Oh and that’s another aspect; the planning. Deciding which route to take that had the greatest likelihood of success. Most of it fell to me since I was the airline employee and knew which airlines and routes we were eligible for. I used to tease my husband (and still do) that all he has to do “is show up”.
Canadian Airlines closed their IT department in 1994. As part of my severance package I was able to take early retirement (very early) with lifetime “retiree” flight benefits. Things changed when Air Canada bought Canadian in 2001, but I was fortunate to retain my basic benefits. Some aspects were taken away and I have a lower boarding priority but it is still a tremendous perk for which I am very grateful.