Air Canada (AC) replaced their daily scheduled flights to / from San Diego and Toronto last month to what they categorize as their “leisure airline” called rouge. Introduced in July 2013, rouge flies to other destinations as well — to the south (Florida and Las Vegas), the Caribbean, and selected cities in Europe (Dublin, Venice, Barcelona, Athens, among others). At this time, they are utilizing only two types of aircrafts: the Airbus A319 and the Boeing 767-300, the older aircrafts retired from AC, with the interiors refurbished to include new slim seats (read: narrower and less leg room). The flight attendants are friendly and peppy, evidently trying their best to deliver good service, however, not as efficient and well-organized as in regular AC flights.
If you have always relied on AC’s individual seat entertainment system — you are out of luck as they are non-existent on the rouge flights. One has to download their App Player before the flight (only for iPad, iPod or iPhone at this time) to be able to stream movies, tv shows and music on board. Mind you, the movie choices are not as extensive as compared to AC’s inflight entertainment system – and the functionality of the App Player is annoyingly limited. Not to mention that if there is an announcement for more than a minute, you have to restart the movie from the beginning! If you failed to download the App or do not have an Apple tablet, you have to shell out $10 to rent an iPad on board.
On the Airbus aircrafts, the front seats are called rouge Plus, with the only discernible difference is that the middle seat is blocked and a measly 6″ extra in seat pitch. However, the seats are exactly the same as those in the main cabin (18″ actual seating space and 29″ seat pitch). One is also provided with gratis use of an iPad. For meals, they serve the same complimentary meal menu in rouge Plus as in regular AC Business Class, and similar On-Board-Cafe service (or pay-what-you-eat) is offered in the main cabin.
The airfare is not much different from a standard AC flight. Two American business passengers beside me were taken by surprise of the change in airline and quite vocal with their disappointment (mostly about the seats) to the flight attendants. They were handed contact numbers to complain to – and were told they should receive a reply in “a few weeks”!
Air Canada projects their new low-cost rouge airline will operate at more than 20% cheaper than their regular AC flights, targeting cities with a high leisure market and little competition. For the passenger, there is no obvious savings in airfare — while the seats got narrower, leg space got tighter, and inflight entertainment got curtailed: Air Canada should re-brand this airline Sc-rouge!