Commentary

The Joy Seen In 'WestJet Christmas Miracle' Is Contagious

Maybe it's the snow or maybe it's the nog, but this holiday season I'm finding mirth and goodwill everywhere I look - under boughs of synthetic mistletoe, at the venison processing plant, in the wake of morbidly overpadded mall Santas, you name it. As a result, I'm doing everything in my power to pay it forward, going so far as to make consistent eye contact and issue a rapid-fire "gesundheit!" whenever somebody in my immediate presence sneezes. 'Tis the season to be marginally agreeable.

One place I won't be pursuing my baseline-decency agenda is at the airport, partly because I ain't gots nowheres to go but mostly because flying has become the knit-socks-for-Christmas of modern travel. Given the niggling fees, routine delays and deficient legroom - I can't handle the crunch and I stand 4'11" while wearing Cuban heels, so lord have mercy on any non-compact passenger who attempts to fold himself into an economy-class seat - the experience of flying has achieved a degree of unpleasantness usually associated with invasive surgical procedures.

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Nonetheless, I'm tickled that at least one airline, low-cost Canadian carrier WestJet, cares enough about the customer experience as to selectively shower weary travelers with holiday booty and then broadcast evidence of their munificence to the masses. I'm sure you've seen the video, "WestJet Christmas Miracle," because it went viral within milliseconds of its debut on Sunday. And I'm sure you reacted to it precisely the way I reacted to it - by grinning warmly - because that's the only conceivable response to a clip so perfectly calibrated to the audience and the season.

(Aside #1: If a clip is said to have "gone viral" when it is circulated via social media and my mom's email dispatches, we need a term for the phenomenon of local news broadcasts categorizing such clips as "news," all the while ignoring all the pain and suffering in Africa (h/t Bono). "Gone contagious," maybe? Aside to the aside: I'm not sure how many more twerking fails these broadcasts will be allowed to feature before the FCC recategorizes them as non-news programming.)

Back to the clip. It's the simplest of set-ups: WestJet sets up an interactive video Santa booth at one airport and invites anyone/everyone to unspool their holiday wish-lists. The passengers board the plane. WestJet's minions shop like mad. The passengers disembark at the other airport and head off to pick up their baggage. WestJet cranks up the holiday basics (faux snow, carols, Santa cameo) and the wish-list gifts come streaming off the baggage carousel. Everyone expresses great surprise and emotion, the narrator's rewritten version of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" concludes with "miracles do happen when we all work as one" and we are happy. That's all.

(Aside #2, or #3, depending on how you're counting: Can video documentarians of stunts of this nature stop including so many shots of onlookers capturing the action for posterity on their cell phones? Of course people are using their phones to film the flash-mob Nutcracker or Strippin' Santas in their midst; people are using their phones to document heretofore-unseen-in-nature phenomena like thin-crusted pie, so it's a given they'll film anything remotely interesting. Please ditch the social-media-attuned navel-gazing.)

Again back to the clip. It's impossible not to be charmed by the obvious delight all participants - the flight crew, the shoppers, the gate peons - take in the stunt. It's also impressive from a logistical perspective, given how much WestJet left to chance. What would've happened if passengers emerged from the plane shaken stupid from turbulence? Or if they couldn't locate the Thomas The Tank Engine figurine requested by the scamp with the adorably tousled blond hair? (Okay, they probably would've just abolished the kid from the final cut.)

The point is this: their joy is contagious. For all I know, WestJet is an evil conglomerate that busts unions for sport and relegates puppies to the unheated cargo hold. Unlike all fellow carriers not named Southwest or Virgin America, however, WestJet is savvy enough to realize that they've gotta toss travelers the occasional bone. The best way to do this - maybe the only way to do this - is by flashing some personality and, with it, a tacit recognition that man, flying really sucks, so we'll do whatever we can to mitigate the misery.

While one might take issue with the clip's characterization of the giving spree as a miracle, "Christmas Miracle" made me feel good about the brand and about the season. Will it prompt a mass flier exodus onto WestJet flights? Almost certainly not, unless the company appends the clip with a promise to massively undercut the competition on price. But hey, it temporarily changes the conversation, from cabin odor and handsy TSA agents to unprompted generosity and holiday spirit. For that alone, "Christmas Miracle" goes in the ledger as a huge win.

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