Last week, I flew on Air Canada rouge for the first time. They began operating on July 1, 2013 with a start-up fleet of two Airbus A319 aircraft and two Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. By the end of this month, they’ll operate a total of 27 aircraft including 19 Airbus A319s and 8 Boeing 767-300ERs.
At launch, their planes serviced a network of 14 routes flying from Toronto and Montreal to Europe and the Caribbean but they’re now up to a total of 52 routes from Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver—including 11 to Europe.
I recently flew them roundtrip from Los Angeles to Calgary in both classes. Here are 10 things you need to know about flying Air Canada rouge:
1. Same check-in as Air Canada
Although Air Canada rouge is a separate airline from Air Canada, you still check-in for your flight as if you’re flying Air Canada.
2. Cool flight attendant uniforms
All the Air Canada rouge flight attendants that I came across were young and attractive, and sporting funky uniforms that included a gray pin-striped trilby hat. The look was created by Maybelline and Redken and their burgundy Fluevog shoes were designed and manufactured by Canada’s own Fluevog Shoes. Rob Lowe famously made fun of their uniforms but I like them—especially the hat.
3. The planes aren’t brand-spanking-new
I was expecting Air Canada rouge’s planes to be brand-spanking-new since the airline is only a year old, but they’re actually just converted Air Canada planes. According to Renee Smith-Valade, Vice President of Customer Experience, “the aircrafts Air Canada rouge operate (the Airbus A319 and the Boeing 767-300ER) have been transferred from Air Canada’s fleet. Air Canada rouge aircraft are restyled inside and out. They have modern charcoal and burgundy cabin interiors, featuring new Slimline seats with a streamlined profile, and branding accents throughout the cabin (e.g. bulkheads, curtains) and onboard service elements (e.g. tray liners in Premium rouge). Both aircraft types sport a sleek white, red and burgundy livery that clearly establishes Air Canada rouge as part of the Air Canada family.”
4. There are no built-in entertainment systems
Although Air Canada rouge’s planes don’t have Air Canada’s seatback entertainment systems, they do have a very cool app that you need to download before getting on the plane. Air Canada rouge aircraft are all equipped with Player, a next generation in-flight entertainment system that streams unlimited live entertainment to customers’ personal electronic devices. Customers should bring their own fully-charged laptop or iPad, iPod or iPhone and download the latest Air Canada app (from the Apple App Store). For those with a laptop, make sure you have Adobe Flash Player installed. Availability on other platforms like Android is coming this fall.
5. You can rent an iPad
If you don’t own a tablet, you can rent an iPad on-board for $10 (free for Premium rouge passengers). They hand them out after takeoff.
6. There are no electrical outlets
Rouge planes don’t have electrical or USB outlets to charge your devices so be sure to have everything fully charged before getting onboard.
7. Coach seats are tight
I flew on rouge’s A319 and the seats are tight in coach. The A319s are configured with 3×3 seating and they only have 29 inches of pitch (distance between the back of your seat and the back of the seat in front). In comparison: American Airlines has 30 inches, United has 31, Virgin America has 32 and regular Air Canada has between 31-35. The good news is rouge does have 18-inch wide seats, which are wider than American’s and Virgin America’s. FYI: On rouge’s other style of aircraft, the 767, which flies longer distances, they offer 30 inches of pitch in economy.
8. You can buy food
Just like on Air Canada, you can buy food—including pizza—on rouge on flights in coach. But on their flights to Europe, they do offer complimentary meals and non-alcoholic beverages. FYI: Food pic is from Premium rouge.
9. Premium rouge
On the A319, Air Canada rouge offers Premium rouge, which is a cross between premium economy and first class. They have 24 standard coach seats but they don’t sell the middle seat (just like intra-Europe on most European carriers). These seats have 35 inches of pitch and are 18 inches wide and recline more than the coach seats. If the Premium rouge seats aren’t sold out, they’ll offer them for a discount to coach passengers when they check-in online. Prices vary depending on the route but we were given our upgrade by their PR department. The food they offer is comparable to business and first class on transcontinental business class and it was good.
Good to know: If you want to sit next to your travel companion, you can sit in the middle seat—it’s not physically blocked. In row one (the bulkhead) the armrests don’t go up and there’s also no overhead bin storage above you (they use it for the plane’s equipment). I also don’t recommend row one because you can hear the flight attendants talking, which can be disruptive if you’re trying to read, work or sleep.
When asked why they didn’t upgrade the rouge seats in Premium rouge, their representative said: “The reason that we stayed with the 3+3 configuration on the Airbus A319 in the Premium rouge cabin was the flexibility of the seating. There are some routes that we operate that do not have a demand for a Premium product. With the 3+3 configuration, we can block the middle seat for the routes where we do offer that Premium product, and sell that middle seat for those routes where we fly a rouge and rouge Plus-only configuration. The blocked middle seat has proven quite popular as it allows the Premium customers to decide for themselves what they want to do with that additional space.”
10. They write the flight number on landing cards
This was a first for me…When the flight attendants handed out the landing cards for Canadian immigration, the airline and flight number were already filled out. When I asked the flight attendant if they always do this they said they try to on all rouge flights. That’s a nice touch.