Trip Report: Air Canada Rouge Between LAX and Calgary

I hear there's a new phrase in Canada: "I've been Rouged."

That's what happens when an Air Canada passenger who books on the airline's regular website hops on a special Airbus A319 or Boeing 767 and discovers it doesn't look like a regular Air Canada plane. Instead, it belongs to Air Canada Rouge, a relatively new sub-brand of Air Canada. By design, Rouge has a low budget vibe.

On a typical A319, Air Canada offers 31 inches of seat pitch in economy class. But on the Rouge flights I took recently between Los Angeles to Calgary, seat pitch was 29 inches. And yes, that loss of two inches is definitely noticeable. Rouge also has no first or business class, though its planes have small premium economy sections. 

Why did Air Canada create Rouge?

Simple economics. More seats means Air Canada can sell more tickets. In theory, it also means Air Canada sometimes can charge lower fares, since costs will be spread over more seats. Since it is a discount airline, Air Canada also pays its flight crews less.

Air Canada usually uses Rouge on leisure routes popular among price sensitive customers. Though I consider Los Angeles a business destination, Air Canada obviously thinks otherwise. The airline apparently believes Los Angeles-Calgary flights are more popular with Canadians seeking to escape the cold than with business travelers. 

Most of Air Canada's competitors in Canada, including WestJet, CanJet and Sunwing, are flying airplanes packed with lots of seats to warm-weather destinations. So Air Canada believed it needed a similar product to compete. 

"The Rouge model itself is really an internal tool that is cost competitive with some of the biggest leisure airlines in Canada," Ben Smith, Air Canada's president, told me in December. "Our mainline model was not in a position to effectively compete in some of our markets."

What's Rouge like? Here's my report:

This is not my crew - my flight attendants didn't want their picture taken - but flight attendants and pilots actually wear these uniforms, including the "jaunty hats." These crews are separate from Air Canada, and they're noticeably younger. One flight attendant on my return flight was celebrating her 25th birthday. The flight attendants seemed to be having a good time and had more pep than the average airline crew. That was nice.

I flew A319s in both directions. Unlike usual, I was not particularly jealous of passengers sitting in the "premium" cabin. It didn't look that nice, though passengers did get a free newspaper, and I did not. I believe they also got a meal. Flight attendants closed the curtains, so Premium Rouge passengers had some privacy.

Throughout the plane, Air Canada Rouge uses a typical slimline seat. It is not especially comfortable. 

And another shot of the A319 cabin from the back. 

The good news is that non-alcoholic drinks are free - not always the case on discount airlines. Also, the A319s have ovens, so it's possible to buy hot food, like pizza. Prices are reasonable, especially if you're American and can take advantage of the beneficial exchange rate. Improbably, Rouge serves sushi on some flights. How do you think it is? Fresh?

Any finally. Many leisure airlines now try to sell extras to passengers. Here, we have a Las Vegas show. One question: Does anyone ever buy?

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