A Review of Air Canada Rouge – Just Say No for Business and Personal Travel Jason Busch - August 22, 2014 2:20 AM | Categories: Friday Rant, Travel | Tags: Incendiary Tidbit, L1 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.” Get more nuggets of brilliance from the SM team directly to your inbox every week. Related ArticlesAir Canada Rouge — A Pictorial Guide to An Airline That Needs Some Deep Cleaning Voices (43) David: 03.08.2016 at 10:48 pm Just flew from Vancouver to Honolulu and return on Rouge. Horrible. Old, dirty aircraft, grumpy, uninterested and rude attendants, no in-flight entertainment (other than the iPad’s which didn’t work), poor climate control (it was incredibly hot), bad food, cramped conditions – the list unfortunately goes on. My mistake though – never saw the asterix on the booking which noted this was Rouge. Won’t make the same mistake twice. Reply GK: 19.06.2016 at 8:07 am Air Canada must suck, but I can’t imagine it being worse than any of the US carriers. They are by far, among the worst airlines in the world. Reply fwilman: 31.03.2016 at 12:14 pm Air Canada no longer honor Star alliance air miles earned on other carriers. in 2015-2016, I flew over 150,000 air miles predominately on LH an Air Canada code share YVR – FRA – AMS return business class 12 times . I did not receive my Star alliance Aeroplan status . Air Canada Stated I did not fly enough on Air Canada Flights. I asked LH and they no nothing of this, Piss on Air Canada I just got a miles and more card, Aeroplan and air Canada can pound salt. Reply fernando lopez de castilla: 04.03.2016 at 11:51 pm AC1947 Rouge worst experience ever. and the bullshit NEW entertainment media … THOSE OLD PLANES do not have seat -movie-screens or any other screens! The service was bad bad bad. Reply Petra: 15.11.2015 at 7:16 am On flight AC1855 Rouge to Vegas. Paid for Premium seats to get leg space. Cramped into seat by exit that has less leg room than regular seats. No efforts at all by staff to rectify the issue. Will be asking for full refund of upgrade cost. Lesson # 1 AC : do not sell seats at a premium where they are inferior seats. Reply Barry: 17.09.2015 at 4:08 am I concour with all of the complaints on here. In 2014 I flew Air Canada round trip from Edmonton to London and back. Adequate seating room, complimentary wine, a movie to watch – overall it was pleasant. In May 2015 we flew from Toronto to Athens roundtrip on Rouge, we didn’t have a say in this as it was part of a package tour – I was dreading the return flight . . . I brought on 2 airline sized bottles of vodka just to help ease things . .. my knees were pressed against the seat in front of me, I’m 5′-8″ and 162 pounds luckily I could still wiggle my butt. I had to ask the person in front of me not to recline their seat it was that tight. There are no individual air vent controls, the aisle lighting consists of a single LED about every third seat. The wifi service on my netbook crashed enough times that I just gave up, good thing I brought that vodka . . . Oh, I did have a power plug and I had a couple of movies on my netbook but bring a book in case your seat / row doesn’t have a plug-in. Kwality – hahahahaha! Reply jane jakobszen: 03.09.2015 at 7:59 pm We flew from Athens to Toronto on Rouge, AC.August 27th. That included our 13 year old granddaughter. It was the most horrible experience ever and my husband & I have been travelling for over 35 years. It was shocking to subject unsuspecting passengers to this 10 hour and 17 min flight, not to mention how unhealthy the conditions were. We will certainly never fly AC rouge again. There was nothing positive about anything. The food, service, lack of entertainment, costs, aircraft was completely negative. I will give it a f for FAILURE. Air Canada better find a CEO who will clean up this sad mess. Reply Erika: 31.08.2015 at 4:43 pm We have traveled to Dublin and back on ‘rouge’ in May. In one word, it was TERRIBLE !!!!!! Next time we will do our home work before choosing an air line. Read reviews people ! The flight was delayed both ways. On the way there was a 2 and a half hours, on the way back was 1 and a half hour. No tv’s what so ever so you can rent an iPad for $10 using master card only !!!! BS ! I am under 5’6″ and my knees were jammed into the seat in front of me. Now in August our daughter also traveled with the same company and she experienced the same issues. Over an hour and half delays both ways. Other elements: really bad food / tiny meals — make sure you bring food. The attendants are all very young, inexperienced, and many quite rude ! Really, there is not a single thing I can say that is positive about the experience. Reply Dean: 20.07.2015 at 6:32 pm Worst Flight Ever This is a letter I recently sent to Mr. Rovinescu, the President of Air Canada. Air Canada has always been our airline of choice in North America and internationally but after our Air Canada Rouge experience on May 25th (flight AC449/AC1946 to Lima), my husband and I will likely never fly Air Canada again. The issues and disappointments with the Rouge Flight and the Aircraft: – seats – little leg room – making for an unhealthy situation as you can’t stretch or sleep properly – a domestic flight on Star Peru in a smaller aircraft provided more leg room than the Rouge Aircraft 763 for an eight hour flight – no in flight entertainment – you could rent an iPad/IPhone unacceptable for an 8 hour flight – the movies and TV shows were old and outdated – no complimentary drinks with the meals as per virtually any other airline on international flights – what a ridiculous place to put the overhead light switch (on the armrest) as you are constantly switching it on and off with your elbow – Rouge is promoted to be more economical but in fact the flight is a similar cost to other airlines who fly to Peru. This flight (with no benefits) was the same price we paid to Europe for the past four years. Best Airline in North America? Really!!!! Reply Sean He: 16.02.2015 at 12:43 pm I can’t take this article too seriously. To directly address his concerns, the B767-300’s are from Air Canada’s fleet with the oldest being 1995 vintage. Of course they have been updated multiple times over the years. As for the flight attendants, they are not the most junior in “the air canada fleet”, they have nothing to do with Air Canada. They are all Rouge hired employees. I have talked to several of the flight attendants, while they are very inexperienced, they all seemed to be giving their best effort. I have 7 flights on Rouge, both aircraft types and all classes of service on both. All the check in and facilities are Air Canada. The airplanes are the least comfortable in north america, in fact the legroom on the A319s should be illegal!!! Bottom line, outfits like Rouge exist because people insist on paying less for air travel than is reasonable. Idiot CEO’s go along with this. End result, brutally uncomfortable airplanes with zero creature comforts. Reply Sherm Brown: 19.12.2014 at 10:59 am My wife and I just (Jan. 8, 2014) flew Air Canada Rouge from Montreal to Las Vegas. The Airbus 319 was smaller, less stable, less comfortable than larger planes. Flight was otherwise smooth and on time. Crew was polite, warmer, younger and friendlier than US Trophy airlines. Entertainment via Ipads was poorly designed, lacking content. Price and service otherwise comparable to AC regular flights. AC remains the least costly, most courteous and accommodating North American Airline. Family in far north NY requires flights to YUL. Prices on AC are identical to UAL at much lower cost. We continue to trust AC until experience dictates a change. Reply Mitch: 14.10.2014 at 3:46 pm 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! Reply Richard Reynolds: 13.09.2014 at 11:41 am 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. Reply Jason Busch: 01.09.2014 at 1:43 pm 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. Reply Jeff: 08.09.2014 at 12:46 am 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 Reply Ryan: 01.09.2014 at 12:16 pm 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. Reply Stevens: 27.08.2014 at 2:11 pm 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. Reply Bill: 27.08.2014 at 7:05 am 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. Reply Jeff: 29.08.2014 at 5:00 pm 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 Reply MARIA: 26.08.2014 at 11:49 am 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!!! Reply Paul: 25.10.2016 at 2:45 pm Just flew to Las Vegas on Rouge the seats were terrible. I was cramped and in pain the whole flight. Fortunately on my return leg I did not have to fly on Rouge. Instead it was two United airlines Boeing 737s. The seats were comfortable with more padding and a lot more space than Rouge. What a pleasant change. I will avoid Rouge at all costs in the future. Reply Thomas Kase: 25.08.2014 at 9:07 pm 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. Reply Jeff: 30.08.2014 at 6:56 pm 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 Reply Mike: 17.09.2014 at 1:42 pm Clearly you work for Air Canada. Reply Jeff: 01.10.2014 at 1:07 pm Again, no. just know whos jet I am getting on Mike. Reply maddelena Tedesco: 24.08.2014 at 6:58 pm 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!! Reply Jeff: 24.08.2014 at 2:27 am 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) Reply Conchur: 25.08.2014 at 5:20 pm 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? Reply jeff: 25.08.2014 at 6:05 pm No, I own my own company and I don’t major in minor things Reply Jason Busch: 25.08.2014 at 5:53 pm 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. Reply jeff: 25.08.2014 at 6:10 pm When you have high personal expectations and good business posture you get what you expect.. Always. High rolling “status” or not. Reply Deborah: 23.08.2014 at 1:10 pm 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. Reply Jeff: 24.08.2014 at 12:06 pm 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!! Reply John: 23.08.2014 at 7:18 am 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! Reply Linda: 25.08.2014 at 7:08 pm 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. Reply John: 09.12.2014 at 1:29 pm Linda — I do consider Air Canada a partial crown. They have backed the truck up to the Government of Canada’s cash pile a number of times since the 80’s for a bailout. The Government puts conditions on them that other carriers dont have as the countries flag bearer. Technically not a crown — but gets bailouts from taxpayers. And BTW there is no defending Rouge — it has won the race to the bottom. Reply Alex: 15.01.2016 at 8:45 am They “backed the truck up” for loan guarantees, not bailouts. These were all repaid with interest, so taxpayers actually came out ahead. As you mentioned, the government does indeed have many more requirements of Air Canada than they do of any other airline like requiring them to adhere to the official languages act. These incur extra expenses that airlines like Westjet don’t have and as such, I have no problem with loan guarantees. Whatever you might think of AC, the country would be in chaos for years if they ever stopped flying abruptly. Since this article was written, Rouge (at least in terms of service and condition of its livery) has greatly improved. Sadly, seat pitch and comfort not so much. Though, the 767-300ER’s are not bad at all, even in economy. Reply Wayne: 31.01.2016 at 10:01 am Just arrived home from both Europe and Barbados on Rouge. Never again. Would walk first. 5 and a half hour flight, had to let staff know we pre-ordered food they tried re-selling us, paid for extra legroom on both flights (still cramped), and wasn’t offered a drink of water until the last hour of flight. If you are not in Business, I feel you do not matter. David: 25.08.2014 at 10:54 pm 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 😉 Reply Andrew: 26.08.2014 at 12:25 am 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. Reply David: 08.01.2015 at 9:58 pm @Andrew…actually AC received fed loans in 2009 which they repaid, and a pension lifeline in 2013 that saved their butts. They clearly have received preferential treatment from the feds. Ranked #24 in most recent Skytrax rankings internationally, not including the inferior Rouge product. Reply Dan: 23.08.2014 at 4:15 am 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. Reply scott: 24.08.2014 at 11:55 am 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. Reply Discuss this: Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *Comment Name * Email * Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. 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