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Canadian Travel Hall Of Fame 2024 Profiles: Lucie Guillemette’s Passion For Aviation Remains Undiminished



One of the finest careers in the history of the Canadian aviation industry was inspired by plane-spotting.

Lucie Guillemette, who retired last year as Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer for Air Canada and President of Air Canada Vacations, moved from Quebec City to Dorval with her family as a young girl. Her father used to take the family out to watch the planes take off and land. Lucie found it thrilling.

In 1976, when she was 14, tourists were pouring into Montreal for the Summer Olympics, and YUL was desperately seeking students to work in its concessions. Lucie signed up, expecting to do it for a few months. That turned into a 10-year part-time job as she pursued her education.

“I met a lot of people during that time, and I was always so impressed by the pride that Air Canada employees had in their jobs and their company. I wanted to be part of that.”

Lucie Guillemette

Lucie Guillemette retains a “deep, deep loyalty” to Air Canada. (Photo Credit: Lucie Guillemette)

At 25, that dream came true when she was hired in a customer service role with Aeroplan, a loyalty program that had launched just a few years before. She was promoted to the marketing team on a one-year assignment, and her career took off in earnest. Lucie would spend the next 37 years with the airline, rising to Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer.

“It was exciting. There were always new Aeroplan initiatives, and there were very generous people who took the time to guide me. We were allowed to make mistakes and correct our course. I realized that I was competitive, and preferred to take on more scope when it was available.”

Lucie says there were many people who contributed to her success, beginning with her parents. She says her mother passed on the attributes of tenacity and compassion, while her father instilled a strong work ethic that served her well.

Along the way, many Air Canada employees influenced her career. An early mentor was Louis Gialloreto, a marketing director who Lucie said had a great ability to motivate and mobilize staff. “He made a lasting impression on me,” she says.

But the person who was “undoubtedly the most influential” in her career was Calin Rovinescu, who led a massive turnaround for the airline during his tenure president and chief executive officer of Air Canada from April 2009 to February 2021.

“Calin was an incredible leader and strategist, and working for him was a privilege.”

Lucie Guillemette, Air Canada CCO, and Andrew Yiu, Air Canada vice president of Product, hold the airline's 2018 Skytrax award for Best Airline in North America.

PHOTO: Lucie Guillemette, Air Canada CCO, and Andrew Yiu, Air Canada vice president of Product, hold the airline’s 2018 Skytrax award for Best Airline in North America. (Photo by Brian Simpson/TravelPulse Canada) (Photo Credit: Brian Simpson)

While international aviation was a male-dominated industry during Lucie’s early years, she says  her experience at Air Canada was different. “There were many strong women in senior management at the time. Lise Fournel was at the time EVP of Commercial, and a strong advocate for young women.”

She acknowledges, however, that her experience at Air Canada wasn’t necessarily representative of how women were generally treated at the time in corporate Canada, or in general society.

“When I was 18, I went to buy my first car with money I had earned. My father came with me, and the salesman handed the papers to him. My father said: ‘She’s buying the car. I just came with her to help pick the colour.’ That showed me I could do anything,” Lucie says.

She adds: “There has been great progress over the years, and we need to pay it forward and do our part to support young individuals  commencing their careers.” 

Lucie Guillemette

Lucie Guillemette with Mark Galardo, EVP Revenue & Network Planning for Air Canada. (Photo Credit: Lucie Guillemette)

The aviation industry is uniquely vulnerable to the impact of outside events, from volcanoes to terrorist attacks, viruses to economic crises. Lucie saw them all during her nearly four-decade career. Major ones included 9/11, the SARS outbreak of 2002/2003, Air Canada’s 2003 restructuring under the Companies’ Creditor Arrangement Act, the financial crisis of 2008 and the grounding of the 737 MAX between March 2019 and December 2020, and, of course, the COVID pandemic, the worst of them all.

“With many of these crises, you could shift resources around, as they only impacted specific geographies. They were difficult in the short-term, but nothing could have prepared us for COVID. After working so hard to create solid results, a product and a brand that we were so proud of, it was heartbreaking to watch it all fall apart. Everyone in the industry was suffering.”

Again, Lucie credits Calin Rovinescu and Michael Rousseau for creating the conditions of financial stability that helped the airline weather an unprecedented storm. Quoting Winston Churchill, Lucie says “When you’re going through hell, you keep going.” She cites the example of Air Canada Cargo, which was able to pivot and “embrace the crisis.”

“The team at Air Canada Cargo did the unthinkable in a short period of time. Overall, COVID drove the complex ecosystem of the industry to become far more collaborative. Challenges are interesting, and challenges provide the best reward.”

Lucie Guillemette

Lucie was President of Air Canada Vacations and loved working with the team there. (Photo Credit: Lucie Guillemette)

Air Canada’s massive international expansion over the past decade led to major expansion at Air Canada Vacations, which Lucie led during the last years of her career.

“I loved working with the ACV team, and it’s such a pleasure to work in an area that brings so much joy and happiness to so many people.”

Air Canada Vacations

The Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations team celebrating the career of Lucie Guillemette. (Photo Credit: TravelPulse Canada)

Lucie says she has watched Air Canada’s COVID recovery with a great deal of pride. “I think Air Canada has done some great work. I always look forward to seeing the quarterly results and I follow the industry every day, it’s my favourite hobby.”

Lucie Guillemette’s passion for aviation is undiminished, and she was recently proud to join the Board of NAV Canada, the privately run, non-profit corporation that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation system. She’s also on the Board of the McGill University Health Centre Foundation, which does “incredible work.”

Lucie Guillemette

Lucie Guillemette with Craig Landry, EVP & Chief Operations Officer for Air Canada. (Photo Credit: Lucie Guillemette)

Lucie says she truly misses the people she worked with at Air Canada, but is very thankful for the “friendships that will last a lifetime.” In her short period of retirement to date she has also “had time to do some things around the house,” and is excited to be travelling to Ireland in September. She’s spending time with family, including her niece’s children, and her golf clubs are ready to once again take on “the world’s most frustrating sport.”

On being honoured as one of the 2024 inductees to the Canadian Travel Hall of Fame, Lucie says she is “deeply touched, humbled and honoured.” But she doesn’t see it as an individual award.

“I share this with all my favourite colleagues. I think part of the reason I did enjoy success in my career is because I worked with people I had deep respect for. You really don’t accomplish much on your own. I was surrounded by incredibly talented people and I retain a deep, deep loyalty to Air Canada.”

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