Following employee opposition, Air Canada has reversed course on an internal memo that prohibited staff from wearing Remembrance Day poppies while on duty.
On Monday morning a leaked memo issued by Renée Smith-Valade, Air Canada’s vice-president of in-flight service, told staff, “I strongly encourage anyone who wants to wear a poppy to observe and respect Remembrance Day to do so when not in uniform.”
The memo added that Remembrance Day would instead be commemorated by Air Canada with an “onboard announcement” on its aircraft. According to some employees, managers quickly began instructing flight attendants to remove uniform poppies in compliance with the memo.
But a few hours later — after the memo had already generated employee and union pushback — a second note from Smith-Valade confirmed that following some reconsideration the “wearing of poppies is supported.”
“The In-Flight Service department at Air Canada has been clamping down on many small things on Flight Attendant’s uniforms, like nametags, lanyards, and more. All in the name of consistency. But Poppies? That’s really pushing the limit, in my opinion,” wrote Michel Cournoyer, president of the Air Canada component of CUPE, in an email to the National Post.
In a statement to the National Post the airline said “while we do have regulations on non-service pins to maintain a consistent uniform look, we have clarified for our in-flight crews that they can wear a poppy in uniform and do so proudly.”
The statement added, “our uniform policy has been revised with this clarification to avoid any confusion in the future.”
Air Canada’s brief flirtation with a poppy ban is particularly strange given that, only nine years ago, the Royal Canadian Legion partnered with Air Canada on a campaign to emblazon the poppy symbol on the exterior of 20 Air Canada jets.
“With so many Canadian servicemen and women on active duty across the world, the message of remembrance is more relevant than ever, and we diplay the poppy symbol on our aircraft with the utmost pride and respect.” Montie Brewer, the airline’s then-CEO, said following the campaign’s launch in 2007.
While Air Canada’s links with the Canadian Armed Forces have likely decreased in recent years, there was also a time not too long ago when many of the airline’s flight crews would have been Royal Canadian Air Force veterans.
The famed 1983 landing of Air Canada’s Gimli Glider, for instance, was successful in part because the aircraft’s first officer had formerly worked as an RCAF pilot at the deserted Manitoba station where the jet ultimately touched down.
In its statement Monday, Air Canada said “many Air Canada employees have ties with the military.”
“We have apologized to our in-flight crews for any confusion surrounding this issue.”