Having just arrived from Toronto into Vancouver, I faced the long hike towards US Customs at YVR. This process means having one’s boarding pass scanned no fewer than five times between the first greeter and the customs agent.
There are still no Global Entry kiosks for Nexus card holders entering the U.S. via transit from a domestic flight, so we have to do this the old-fashioned way, and actually fill out a US CBP form and talk to a customs agent. It’s been so long since I did this, there’s actually a little novelty and nostalgia to it all.
Okay, I lied. It’s a bit of a pain, actually.
But the border agent is friendly enough, and doesn’t get too probing with his questions, so I’m quickly spit out and allowed through the gates. Of course, I make my way down to the transborder Maple Leaf Lounge.
This MLL is by far the least busy of the Maple Leaf Lounges at YVR, and it’s pretty sparsely attended late this morning. It’s not a large lounge, but it’s bright and open and has a pleasant decor. Because it’s generally not crawling with people and because it’s a bit more open-feeling, I prefer it to the domestic and international Air Canada lounges here.
The buffet features mostly snack items, with crudités, salsa and chips, hummus and pitas, salmon pinwheels and cucumber sandwiches, along with a pair of soups. There’s nothing great on offer here, but considering U.S.-bound flights out of YVR are mostly short hauls down the west coast, it’s more than good enough. There’s also a pretty standard MLL self-service bar.
I grab a snack, pour myself a Caesar, and settle in by a window, where a Rouge A319, identical to the plane that will take me down to SFO, is parked. It’s not exactly a surprise to see it here – all Air Canada flights to the U.S. out of Vancouver have now been Rouged, flying in the face of Rouge’s role as a “leisure airline.” Seriously – YVR-SFO and YVR-LAX are strictly tourist? I think the reality has more to do with competition making AC’s mainline cost structure unprofitable on these routes.
I work a little bit on the YYZ-YVR flight report, and realize I’m still a little puckish. Okay, so more like I feel like having another Caesar, and feel some food should accompany it. So another round of eats it is.
About 20 minutes before we’re slated to start boarding, I watch this Rouge A319 pull up to the gate assigned to my flight down to SFO. So clearly, we aren’t likely to be boarding right on time.
I enjoy the rest of my snack and my drink, and soon enough it’s time to head on down and see what’s going on down at the gate. On the way out, I grab a picture of this little guy, who’s rapidly becoming a ubiquitous feature in the MLL.
Down at the gate, and we’re advised that we’ll start boarding as soon as the groomers are done with the plane. The upgrade crowd is called to the podium, and passengers needing assistance are helped down the jetway. I think the official policy is that passengers needing assistance or extra time board after Zone 2, but I think that’s a fairly ridiculous policy.
Soon enough, Zone 1 is invited to board, and I head on down to this Rouge A319.
As I’ve said before, I think Rouge is really a tale of two airlines. The Boeing 767-300 is, generally speaking, not bad. But there’s not a lot good to say about the A319, in any cabin. For this flight, I’m in Premium Rouge, which is marketed as business class, for business class prices, but looks nothing like a proper domestic/transborder business class. It’s “Euro-J” – the same slimline seat found throughout the A319, with a little bit more legroom and the middle seat blocked.
Even as Rouge comes up to its second birthday, there are still people surprised by this, as more than a few of my 11 fellow Premium Rouge pax ask some variety “What the hell is this joke?” The young flight attendant serving business class repeats the company line that it’s “premium” class and not business class, and then confirms that, as rumoured, the A319 fleet is getting overhauled to include proper 2x2 premium rouge seating, likely in an effort to quell the complaints of Premium Rouge pax.
Legroom is adequate enough in Premium Rouge, but that’s about all that’s adequate. The seat is uncomfortable for an economy-class seat and completely unacceptable for a business class seat. And Premium Rouge on the A319 features the same Spartan amenities as economy – no power outlets, no USB, no nothing. And yet, had I not combined it with the YYZ-YVR flight, Air Canada would have wanted 8 eUpgrade points – more than 10 per cent of what a 100K Air Canada frequent flier get to start the year – to sit in this for two hours.
It must be premium, though, because the antimacassar says it is.
As usual on Rouge, though, the service is good, if a little unpolished. The flight attendants are young, mostly fairly new, and what they generally lack in experience they make up for in attitude. The flight attendant working business quickly offers a choice of water or orange juice as a pre-departure beverage, and then follows with the menu for lunch. I’m surprised to see a beef dish on a Rouge flight – usually it’s just chicken and pasta, or chicken, fish, or pasta at best.
Orders are taken on the ground, and I opt for the chicken in black bean sauce. I’m the first to be asked, so clearly they’re taking orders by status. Exactly three orders later, they’re out of the beef option, so obviously, AC isn’t exactly generous in catering this option for this little Rouge flight. With the meal order, I’m asked if I want to borrow an iPad for the flight, and I decide to do so, to see what’s on the “Player Plus” app, only available on the borrowed (rented in the back) iPad, which usually includes a handful of new release films not included on the WiFi streaming IFE system.
As usual with Rouge, boarding takes longer than it should because they quickly run out of overhead room and the flight attendants have to scramble to stow everything they can and gate-check the rest. But soon enough, we’re buttoned up and we get the manual safety demonstration in both official languages, and we push back about ten minutes late.
There’s some half-decent spotting on the way out to the active runway – especially because we basically have to taxi three quarters of the way around YVR to make it to the runway. It starts off with these two split-scimitar 737s from WS and UA.
Then we get a pair of 777s, soon to be heading back to Korea and Hong Kong, respectively.
And finally, we reach the Star Alliance international section, with a pair of AC 777s and Lufthansa’s 747-400 hanging out.
Soon enough, we line up, put the coals to ‘er, and away we go, info the sky, out over the ocean and making the big turn to head south for San Francisco.
It’s about this time in writing the report that I realize that I don’t have pictures of the in-flight service. Which is odd, because I remember taking pictures. Particularly, I remember taking a picture of the borrowed iPad slung over the back of the seat in front of me, because of the contrast to the above seatback shot, and because of how comical this makeshift IFE looks in a premium cabin.
But the Camera Roll disagrees with me, and I don’t seem to have any pictures until we’re on descent. So apologies for that.
Seat belts signs are off quickly, and our efficient flight attendant rapidly hands out and then collects hot towels, passes out iPads to those who want them, and gets the bar service started. I opt for another Caesar (my fourth and final of the day) and it comes, as always, with the warmed but overly-salty cashew and almond mix AC offers with its J bar service. I choose “Still Alice,” from the Player Plus app, as it’s not very long so I should be able to get it all in. And what screams “lighthearted entertainment” more than Julianne Moore playing a brilliant college professor struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s, right?
Lunch is brought out altogether on one tray, and actually looks quite appetizing, though you’ll have to take my word for it. The salad is every salad Air Canada Rouge has ever offered, complete with the omni-present balsamic and olive oil dressing which AC must have got a great deal on by purchasing a 20-year supply. The chicken is presented as cut-up strips of chicken breasts in the black bean sauce with carrots and edamame, along with the rice. It’s a pretty tasty dish, and doesn’t seem overpoweringly salty like many Air Canada J meals. The main is served with choice of white or wheat breadstick. I go with white this time, and it’s exactly the same bread that AC always serves. The tiramisu dessert is fine, although I miss the cappuccino cake that was the oft-featured dessert on flights like this, and which I absolutely adore.
I decline coffee or tea after lunch, and just have a glass of water, which is kept topped up regularly.
Before I know it – and naturally before the movie is over (thank you, IFE Gods!) the iPads are collected and we’re starting out descent into SFO. A little bit different route into the airport than I’m used to taking coming in from YYZ, but some good views of North California on the way down.
We touch down gently, about 20 minutes behind schedule. Taxiing to the International terminal at SFO from which AC flights operate despite having pre-cleared US Customs, there’s some pretty good viewing, starting with a bunch of United narrowbodies, led by a retro Continental livery 737.
Then it’s into widebody territory, as a Swiss A340 peaks out from behind a UA 747.
Then a pair of Star Alliance 777s I mean to sample in the not-too-distant future, pending award availability – EVA Air soon to beading back to TPE, and Turkish, getting ready to go back to Istanbul (and not Constantinople).
Finally, we pull in at the gate nearest the main International terminal building, next to this Aer Lingus A330.
Soon enough, we’re bid goodbye by our friendly flight attendant, and released into the wilds of SFO. As I have no baggage to pick up, I’m quickly standing curbside on the arrivals ready, calling for the car that’s been arranged to take me south for a busy couple of days in San Jose.
Air Canada Rouge
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Trans-Border
Vancouver - YVR
San Francisco - SFO
As usual with Rouge, the service was just fine, but extra legroom and a blocked middle seat doesn’t make up for the uncomfortable slimline seat they use. I don’t think it a very good seat as an Economy seat, and it’s laughable that they’re branded as business class seats. The sooner AC rips these seats out and replaces them with a legitimate domestic business class seat, the better. At least, then the business class experience on the Rouge A319 will be decent.
Sadly, I don’t think anything can save economy on these planes apart from a complete overhaul to increase seat pitch. But that’s not happening, because Rougenomics are all about cramming as many lowest-available-fare customers as possible into the available space.
This upgrade didn’t cost me any additional eUpgrade credits over upgrading the YYZ-YVR segment that preceded it, so I can’t really complain about value in my situation, but it’s definitely not worth the 8 eUpgrade credits it would take to fly this alone, much less the premium it charges for it.
I don’t see Air Canada reversing course on its upgrade policies, but they really should consider making space-available complimentary upgrades available to status pax on Rouge flights. AC’s argument against doing so on mainline is because they feel their business class product is so much better than UA et al, but the current reality of business class on the Rouge A319 is that it’s not better than UA, AA, or DL. It’s worse.
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