A Review of Air Canada Rouge – Just Say No for Business and Personal Travel

- August 22, 2014 2:20 AM
Categories: Friday Rant, Travel | Tags: ,

air canada rouge

I think I’ve found the bottom of the barrel of Star Alliance. While it may be painted “Rouge” on the outside, Air Canada’s new discount service made my family red with anger on the inside. Earlier this month, we took a family vacation to Europe returned from Rome to the U.S. through Canada. The routing that made the most sense – and what first seemed like a great deal in cashing in Citi points – involved an airline-within-an-airline that I had never heard of: Air Canada Rouge. Air Canada Rouge is supposedly a discount airline, but the prices were similar for the transatlantic routes to standard airlines.

The online reviews of Air Canada Rouge were depressing. Of course I only read these after booking the flights. At least we were forewarned about the Spirit-Airlines-like seat pitches and invested an extra $90 each to purchase seats with slightly more seat pitch in the bulkhead row (albeit they were jammed in far closer than United Economy Plus would ever have been). The seats ended up being perhaps the least bad part of the flight experience in the end.

Far worse were the following:

A chaotic check-in, club usage, and boarding process. At check-in, I asked twice to make sure that my frequent flyer number was entered by an employee who did not know the system. Only on the third time I asked did the check-in agent write it down on the previously printed out ticket and confirm we could use the Star Alliance Gold club (Alitalia in this case).

However, when getting to a club, I was not allowed to take in my children (even with two United club memberships and one Star Alliance Gold ticketed passenger). There was no gate listed for the plane on any board past security (an airport official said this was because “Air Canada Rouge was not set up for this terminal properly”). After having to ask to confirm the gate number, passengers boarded 15 minutes late (and no late announcements about boarding were made) in a non-orderly fashion without designated priority lines.

A Boeing 767 (80s era was my guess) that appeared to only have been 10-percent updated after being mothballed for years. The carpet and the entire interior paneling were original – dented, dirty, and with gaps on the floor and even the walls in certain places. Even if the airframe was still sound, the state of the interior was not exactly confidence inspiring at 35,000 feet. The plane appeared not to have even gone through a deep cleaning for years. The dirt build-up was a walking advertisement for any other airline with newer planes – simply from the standpoint that nothing less than two decades old could have accumulated such dirt, grease and grime even in constant 24-hour usage.

A freezing experience. The first four hours of the flight were beyond cold. I have never been so chilled in a window seat. Finally the climate control was brought under control halfway through the flight.

That’s (not) entertainment. For the majority of the passengers, the plane had no entertainment system with screens only attached to each bulkhead section. Passengers were requested (while at the gate in Rome) to download the Air Canada app on their iPads or smartphones so they could watch the in-flight entertainment system on their own device. Since most iPads are not mobile wireless enabled and global data plans aren’t cheap for smartphones, an earlier warning (e.g., an email or call) would have been appreciated for the nine-hour flight. Of course for $10 one could rent an iPad. These, of course, run out before the flight attendants got to the back of the plane.

Interns as flight stewards. The flight attendants were clearly the most junior in the Air Canada fleet. They were young and nice with clearly no seniority (or career-induced grumpiness). The oldest flight attendant in coach appeared under 30 years old. Inexperience showed – they served special meals (e.g., vegetarian) with no silverware. Special meals were also served to the wrong seats and people. One flight attendant even added ice (after pouring a drink) to a soda that overflowed onto the cart. Hot water was served with the essence of coffee flavoring. As with American carriers (but not with regular Air Canada), wine on the transatlantic flights was only available for a fee ($6.50). At least the flight attendants were more than kind and seemed equally as stuck in the position as the passengers were, crammed into a terrible old plane.

A business class with circa 1970 seats. As we were travelling as a family in coach, I did not have a chance to experience the lazy-boy 30-degree recline with four inches of visible padding in all directions. But looking at the seats reminded me of museum plane walkthrough exhibits showcasing the luxury of a Carter-era Boeing 727.

Until these concerns are addressed, my business travel guidance to employees and travel managers would be to put Air Canada Rouge in the same class as Spirit Airways and Ryan Air until changes are made (albeit with far older planes and with far longer routes). Last, Star Alliance members considering flying Air Canada Rouge internationally should be also be aware that they are flying an airline that has scrapped the bone yard for planes and is not only no-frills, but is not up to the usual standards of cleanliness, roominess, service, and overall experience of Air Canada. They should also be aware that annual club memberships and Star Alliance Gold status for club admittance may not be honored in the same capacity (e.g., bringing two children per card-carrying adult) in the terminals in which Air Canada Rouge departs from in international locations.

As final observation, unless improvements are made (all new interiors, cleaning, etc.), Air Canada Rouge has the potential to destroy Air Canada’s brand. In midflight, I asked a business traveller seated next to me what she thought of the experience. A former management consultant, she responded, “Never again, which will include Air Canada generally.”

Comments

  • Dan:

    All iPads are wifi enabled, and data plans, global or otherwise, are not relevant when wifi is being used. You might want to excise that paragraph because it makes an otherwise excellent rant kind of embarassing.

    • scott:

      he may have meant downloading the app at the airport. A heads up so they can get the app at home when they’re on their wifi.

  • John:

    I don’t think I blame you at all! Horrible horrible airline! They only just updated all their airplanes with personal TV screens on regular air canada flights in the last five-seven years! Which every other airline has already done so at least ten years now! Now, air canada is doing the opposite after doing so with this “bring your own iPad” crap and lowering standards on something that is just regular service with any other airline in the world, lol. Pathetic pathetic air canada! Your lucky (air canada) is a partial crown corporation backed by the Canadian government, or they woulda been DONE a long time ago!

    • Linda:

      John: Air Canada has had in seat entertainment for longer than 7 years and has not been a crown corporation or had government money since the mid 80′s. Whatever a persons travel experience is, they have the right to complain or praise. But before one posts anything for others to read, they should at least check their facts.

    • David:

      Every other airline hasn’t installed personal TV screens to date. United flights to Hong Kong still have the TV on the ceiling and the small screens that fold down every couple of rows. That is a 15 hour flight. I would get your facts straight before commenting or at least travel a bit. Air Canada has been rated the best airlines in North America for 5 years straight, so it gives you and idea what the rest of the continent is dealing with ;)

    • Andrew:

      Air Canada has not been a crown corp for about thirty years. No government backing. And still best airline in North America five years in a row. It’s a pity that most Canadians are too….uninformed to know these facts.

  • Deborah:

    Hello, my husband and I also had an awful experience on Air Canada Rouge flying from Toronto to Athens. Like you, I have never been so cold on a flight in my life. I was wrapped in two blankets and shivering the entire time. I had also found out just before our flight about the genius ‘bring your own device’ rule. I assumed there HAD to be a charger of some sort at the seat because devices typically run out over a 10 hour flight. In fact, there was, however, ours was not functioning. I had to ask the flight attendant, who was probably 21 years old, THREE times to look into it and she never did and it was never fixed. The app on my device also kept crashing. Finally, just before we were landing I needed to use the bathroom. There was no announcements to remain in your seat, so I got up and went in. Seconds later POUNDING on the door began and I tried to explain that I would be out in one second, but because the attendant wouldn’t stop pounding, this message did not get across. Instead, although the door was locked, she somehow managed to open it WHILE MY PANTS WERE DOWN exposing me like a three year old child the rest of the aircraft. This was truly one of the worst flight experiences I’ve ever had. I will never fly this airline again.

    • Jeff:

      Oh Relax. Don’t take life so serious!!

      People complain that the inflight entertainment was not up to par…….So…… You were it!! Earthquakes, Flooding, Famine… and poor low cost airlines… Hmm get some perspective!!

  • Jeff:

    Book mainline Air Canada then and not Rouge. I am a regular traveler and find going for the no frills stuff is generally a disappointment. I have been flying Air Canada for years(sometimes 3-4 times a month) and they are excellent. This is a big airline with lots of people working for it. There are good days and not so great days great for the most part and chances are you got hit with a not so great situation in this massive system. You likely travel very little and got hit in the crossfire of a bad day. Don’t take it personally, take it professionally.YOU ARE FAR FAR FROM PERFECT TOO. I am always amazed with these people who have nothing to do but write a bad review about a carrier that has been serving Canadians for over 75 years.Get over it and find something good about it instead of being regular and negative. If you can’t do that then drive. Yes I have had some not so great things happen as well but tend to focus on the overall good things that go on too. Those who complain will complain about anything. Fly AC Voted BEST in North America 5 years in a row by the regular people who really travel and not those who go once in a while(like every 5 years). The “I hate Air Canada” people should start their own carrier and see how they would be reviewed. Life is too short to be a wine(er)

    • Conchur:

      If you read the article you would know that he has Star Alliance Gold status, hence he obviously travels much more often than you’ve presumed.

      Do you, by any chance, work for Air Canada?

      • jeff:

        No, I own my own company and I don’t major in minor things

    • Jason Busch:

      Jeff et al,
      If anyone is curious, I am a frequent traveller. This year, I will spend $50-60K on my own air travel for work (plus personal/family) and I oversee a small company (23 people) travel budget that is significantly larger. I am currently Platinum on United (will be 1K next year). More important, I cover the procurement market as an industry analyst and journalist including T&E. I know my airlines and I think my expectations are reasonable.

      • jeff:

        When you have high personal expectations and good business posture you get what you expect.. Always. High rolling “status” or not.

  • maddelena Tedesco:

    We took an Air Canada Rouge flight to Las Vegas Nevada leaving from Toronto Canada. ( Thinking it was strictly Air Canada ) . The experience was horrible. The crew very young and inexperienced, we were not informed that there was no inflight entertainment . The seating was very small and cramped, they literally ran out of overhead space ( because most passengers wanting to take their carry ons , which were large luggage on board cause they don’t wanna pay the $25.00 check in fees. I can go on forever however I will not. All I have to say is that we will NEVER fly this airline again. They are certainly giving Air Canada a very bad name! Please do not fly this airline as you will be so disappoint ted!!

  • Thomas Kase:

    Jeff, and others – you should see the pictures Jason took – filthy, worn down, no attempts at even half-decent levels of maintenance. Even if it’s no frills, you should be able to expect reasonably clean.

    • Jeff:

      Air Canada Rouge which includes mainline Air Canada aircraft are maintained by Air Canada in house aircraft technicians. They have the best safety record worldwide next to Lufthansa(AG) another top player. Esthetics can suffer a bit in low cost, however the aircraft you are on is properly maintained over and above specs. Low cost means low cost at all cost without compromising safety. Freddy Laker(UK) started it all… It will continue to live and sometimes the aircraft will look a little dated and stuff may not perform like the comforts of home and the staff may be new and a little clunky but bet your behind that bird is gonna fly and get you there….. Safely. That is really what matter MOST of all. Rouge is new with new staff(except pilots. Still AC pilots). give them some time to iron out thier shorts and improve…. My 2 cents

      • Mike:

        Clearly you work for Air Canada.

        • Jeff:

          Again, no. just know whos jet I am getting on Mike.

  • MARIA:

    Has anyone ever travelled on a US carrier? Rouge airplanes are modern compared to the US ones! Everyone wants to pay next to nothing to fly somewhere and look for the cheap airlines…READ THE FINE PRINT BEFORE BOOKING!!!

  • Bill:

    If only we could find a substantial population of Jeff’s to whom to market, creating the bylines would be a blast:
    – “If you’re unconcerned with product quality and impervious to performance failure, we’ve got the products you seek.”
    – “Life is short. If you tolerate poor diligence and delivery, and know that having control over most everything that happens in life is a fantasy — Fly with us… We’ve got your back at 90 degrees
    – “Are you tired of people who whine about bad service and accept whatever comes your way with a smile — Check out: Who Gives a Damn.com, your welcome alternative to Amazon.

    • Jeff:

      I just rolled in from Frankfurt yesterday on Air Canada Flt 873. We left on time and landed ahead of schedule. The service was great the plane was clean and the entertainment system worked and the staff was wonderful. Flight 872 going over was much the same. Excellent!! I am in London next week and will post my review on Flight 856 and the return flight 857 to prove a point. I am confident it will be much the same as above. Milan in 2 weeks then San Fran 10 days later. You pay for what you get but I am also prepared for whatever pitfalls will exist on Rouge when my future destinations require Rouge to get me there. My main concern is the qualified people in the left and right seat of the flight deck and thier abilities to fly and maintain altitude and safely launch and land the plane. Everything else is relatively minor by a long shot

  • Stevens:

    I am just petrified. I fly out tomorrow night to Ireland.
    I am a nervous flyer to begin with….this has now become a major concern and a terrible fear for me.

  • Ryan:

    An excellent article, that will sadly go ignored by AC management. As long as there are infrequent fliers and consumers who don’t know the difference or are motivated solely by cost, Rouge is here to stay. I refuse to fly on R.ouge. Previously, I consecutively qualified as an “Elite” AC client. Not any longer. The steady deterioration of quality and onboard AC experience encouraged me to try other airlines,. Over the past 2 years, I have selected foreign carriers for my long hauls. Yes, AC seems superior to many other airlines in North America,. However, the US airline operating strategies and model have failed for at least the past decade, and the Rouge model will also fail. Rouge fares are the same as the fares on the former mainline routes, but the service and comfort is significantly reduced. Not a value proposition for the customer. In the interim, Asian and Gulf airlines have grown, providing the value and quality that is no longer available on North American carriers, including AC. Congratulations to AC for transforming this once loyal AC client into an any airline other than AC consumer.

  • Jason Busch:

    Jeff,

    Just to clear the air, could you please comment on whether you (or your company or any company that you may be involved with) has received any compensation from Air Canada for any type of service or employment? Many thanks.

    Many thanks.

    • Jeff:

      Not at all Jason. No services or employment that will influence my opinion based on compensation or lack thereof. I will leave this conversation up to you and your group of followers to cancel each other out. Enjoy the ride folks, it’s been a bumpy flight.

      Best! Jeff

  • Richard Reynolds:

    I just returned from Europe on AC in business class. The regular AC flight was fine except I find the “pods” rather hard to sleep in. The “Rouge” flight from San Diego to Toronto was a nightmare. I have no idea where they found the most uncomfortable seats I have ever experienced. They were too short and hard, and, by the way, business class was in a three across seat row with a pillow in the middle to indicate that no-one could sit there. I appeared that these seats could be called anything else by removing the pillow. The staff was cute, but incompetent.

  • Mitch:

    I have to agree 100%, Air Canada Rouge is selling you a regular priced ticket for less room and services and the services offered are subpar. The airline is awful. I have been a loyal Air Canada client for over 10 years and after my 1 flight on Rouge it left a bitter opinion of Air Canada as a whole. Since I now fly on cheapest available and no longer look for just Air Canada, I save money and no longer hunt for Aeroplan points. Screw them!

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