Alfredo C. Tan, WestJet's Chief Digital & Innovation Officer at the Russ White Hangar

WestJet is no stranger to technology.

The first airline in North America to launch an electronic boarding pass and the first airline in Canada to offer Live In-Flight television, it continues to lean into innovative solutions to differentiate itself.

And its first hackathon brought some major tech talent to WestJet’s headquarters in Calgary.

Lead by Chief Digital & Innovation Officer Alfredo C. Tan, Tan joined WestJet in 2018 to lead a team transforming the WestJet guest experience across all digital channels. An alumnae of Facebook and Instagram, Tan’s network of Silicon Valley tech companies (including Google, Sabre, IBM, Microsoft and social media titans) jumped at the opportunity to spend a day problem-solving in the Russ White hangar.

“No one person is more creative than anyone else,” said Tan. “Hackathons allow the collective to come up with their own solutions, often coming to the same conclusions, but in their own unique way.”

Seventeen teams, each with a tech company, two WestJetters and a premium traveller were paired together for a 12-hour sprint. And the problem they were aiming to solve? How to enhance the premium travel experience.

“If you think about it, what has changed in the past 20 years for premium travel? Today we are coming up with digital solutions for a physical experience,” said Tan. “At the end of the day, we’ll have 17 prototypes for inspiration.”

A passionate supporter of the hackathon, here are some of the benefits Tan sees to creating a hack-culture in your organization:

1. Unpack it- it’s a way to solve complex problems by breaking them into small, bite-sized chunks you can solve.

2. Timing is everything- the velocity and time-restraint of a hackathon forces participants to distil their ideas into actions.

3. Get engaged - it’s an opportunity to co-create from outside your organization.

4. Community creation - it’s collaborative, not competitive.

5. Instant innovation - its creative horsepower.

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