Unfortunately, not all trips can be epic international jaunts in interesting business class products. Sometimes, you’ve got to slum it in Y on the way to a conference for work.
And that’s exactly the situation I found myself in this week, heading to the Orlando region to cover an event there. As a long-suffering Air Canada loyalist (you’ve gotta get the miles for the interesting flights somehow!), these days that means spending some quality time with Air Canada Rouge.
Affectionately referred to as “Rogue” by Air Canada elites, Rouge is AC’s latest kick at a low-cost (for them, not necessarily for you) carrier by packing as many people as they can into planes whose economics no longer make sense for its mainline business. Rouge operates ex-mainline A319s and 767-300s, and features a mixed bag business class (which is actually sold as Premium Economy on longhaul international flights on the 763, and can represent a pretty good deal as such) and a very tight (the luxury of 29-inch pitch) economy class.
The Rouge experience varies greatly depending on what metal you’re on. There’s no defending the A319. It’s not good. The “business class” section is “Euro Business”-style blocked middle seats and extra legroom on the same uncomfortable slimline seats used in the back, and it’s miserable in the back, with only the first bulkhead row afforded to its “Rouge Plus” product (think Main Cabin Comfort, or Economy Plus). On the 763, it’s actually quite bearable. The seats are still slimmer in Y, but are slightly more comfortable than the 319’s seats, and the first few rows of Y are designated “Rouge Plus,” which means decent legroom. The Business Class (or Premium Economy on long-haul international) section is roughly the same seat as AC uses on its mainline narrowbodies, although legroom is tighter than mainlain. Still, way better than blocked-middle-seat economy seats.
Fortunately, today’s flight would be on a 767, and I’d used my status with AC to grab a Rouge Plus seat for no extra charge.
I arrived at Pearson a little later than I usually do for such things, having had a busy day prior to this late-afternoon flight down the coast. I quickly checked grabbed my boarding pass at the Priority Check In counter for transborder flights, and was off for U.S. border control.
Customs was quiet, and the Global Entry section especially so.
Even better, the line for security for holders of the Nexus Card was short, and in a few short minutes, I was free and ready to head up to the transborder Maple Leaf Lounge for a quick pre-flight drink. One of the three MLLs at Pearson, this one is located just to the right of the security hall, accessible only via elevator.
The MLL was packed – it took a few minutes of circling to find a seat, and since it was just a quick stop-in, I didn’t take many pictures. So we’ll save a review of this lounge for another day. But I did have a delicious Caesar to get ready for my flight – whoever mixed it knows exactly how spicy I like it, and found just the right balance between Tobasco and Worcestershire. Great job!
Having downed my beverage, I was shortly off to the boarding area. Because Rouge is all about shoehorning as many passengers into a plane as possible, and because the airline is supposed to be all about leisure (read: infrequent) travelers, gate areas for Rouge flights – particularly on the 763 – are often a crowded mess. This was not the case this afternoon. In fact, the gate area was sparsely populated. Soon enough, boarding was called, and I joined the other souls in Zone 1 heading down to the waiting Boeing.
I was the second person in Y for this flight, so took the opportunity to get a look at the cabin.
Here’s my seat, 13A, in the second row of Rouge Plus, which features more-than-adequate legroom for an economy seat. There’s a shared power outlet between seats (two ports for the centre bank of three), and each seat has an armrest console with buttons for light and flight attendant call, as well as a USB port.
A few short rows later, the story’s not nearly so good for comfort factor – here’s a look at the standard 29-inch Rouge seating. Imagine the delights of being stuffed into this for a Toronto to Athens flight!
Boarding continued, or at least I assume it did, because not many people were filing past me, which is quite unusual in the second row of economy. Maybe things were going slow up at the gate? I got myself set up, and grabbed a shot of the CRJ-700 parked next to us.
But shortly thereafter, they announced boarding complete – despite the fact that there only a few people in the whole front cabin of economy. This had to be the lightest load I’ve ever seen on an Air Canada flight of any type. There’s no way there were 100 people on this flight, and I wouldn’t be surprised is we didn’t cross half that figure. The load was no heavier in front – here’s a look at one of the two passengers in business class. At this load, each business class passenger has their own personal flight attendant. Take that, Lufthansa First Class!
Soon enough, the old-school safety demonstration was going on, and we were pushing back into the central alley between the piers of Terminal 1, which was largely inhabited with AC narrowbodies.
We taxied out past the end of the international “Hammerheard” pier, home to an Air Canada Dreamliner and a Jet Airways A330, among other widebodies, including Lufthansa’s 744 in the distance getting ready for her return to FRA.
After a short taxi and basically no wait for the runway, we lined up, spooled the engines up, and took off like a basically-empty 763 with just enough fuel for a two-and-a-quarter-hour flight, which of course we are. We were off the ground in a hurry, and I managed to snap a great pic of Terminal 1 in all her glory, as well as T3 in the distance.
Our climb took us out over Woodbine Racetrack, just east of Pearson, and then out over the east end of downtown Toronto and the Toronto Islands.
Out over Lake Ontario, this little guy, a Dash-8, showed up below us. I presume it was a Porter Q400 headed for YTZ, but it could also have been an Air Canada Express Dash-8 variant headed for Pearson.
Soon enough, we broke through the clouds, the seatbelt sign was turned off, and the service began. Rouge is staffed by mostly young flight attendants, who are another part of the savings AC realizes by operating Rouge on a route. While they may sometimes show their inexperience, they’re generally very friendly and try hard. It may have something to do with them going through a much-publicized customer service course courtesy of Disney, whereas some longtime Air Canada mainline flight attendants leave one wondering if they got their customer service training from Genghis Khan. Being economy, drinks and buy-on-board were offered, which is good, because I was quite hungry by this time.
A couple of years ago, Air Canada realized that since it has to over-cater for J because it wishes to maintain some semblance of the illusion of choice for their premium passengers, it may as well make of those sweet sweet ancillary revenue dollars by offering the leftovers up for sale in Economy. It’s referenced in the buy-on-board menu, but AC doesn’t seem to do a good job of promoting it, which is fine by me, because I think it’s by far the best option available, depending on what the menu is up front. Tongue firmly in cheek, I enquire what’s left from the business class meals, figuring that with a load of two of 24, there’s probably a few choices. The yong flight attendant disappeared behind the cabin into J, and emerged a few seconds later, telling me that there’s chicken, or a ravioli dish available. Perfect. One of my favourite AC domestic/transborder J meals is their mushroom and cheese ravioli, so I’ll take my chances that the ravioli is that. She confers my order up front, and tells me it will be about ten minutes.
The business class leftovers are sold with a choice of various snack items, so while I wait, I tuck into my hummus and pretzel chips side order as an appetizer. Nothing special, but Sabra hummus isn’t bad. (This was two days before I read of a rather substantial recall of said hummus rom Sabra due to potential listeria contamination, but so far so good.) I also grab a glass of water and a Coke, presented in all their economy class glory.
When the main arrived, I was a bit disappointed. This wasn’t my preferred mushroom ravioli in cheddar cheese sauce, but rather a ricotta ravioli in a tomato sauce with a few vegetables thrown in. Definintely not as good as the dish I hoped to get, and as usual, way too salty. I expect the dish with the cheddar cheese sauce to be pretty salty, but the tomato sauce could be done with a lot less sodium. It filled the hole, but reaffirmed that when ordering business class leftovers, I should ask for the menu to really know what I’m ordering.
Meal done, I take a quick look at the IFE options. Rouge has done away with the familiar AC mainline seatback touchscreens in favour of streaming video to your device. Passengers can access a selection of movies free on their iPad or iPhone using Air Canada’s iOS app, or can rent an iPad from the airline for $10. Free for business class customers! Air Canada doesn’t really do a good job of explaining it, but the streaming video (delivered via on-board WiFi that only serves content, no Internet access) is also available on any device that supports Adobe Flash by connecting to the WiFi network on-board and typing player.ac into your favourite Web browser.
Streaming video options are a mixed bag, more older offerings than on mainline IFE, with a few newer selections sprinkled in. Here are a few of the movie categories to give you a feel for what’s available. Those who opt to rent an iPad on-board also get acces to “Player Plus,” which usually includes about five additional new release options pre-loaded on the deice.
There wasn’t a lot that grabbed me from the options on-board, and I wanted to save some of the options that were somewhat interesting to me for two very long upcoming flights with AC mainline, so I decided to eschew IFE for this flight, and spent much of the rest of the flight engaging in world domination in a heated game of Civilization V. Hooray for power outlets!
Just as the game was getting good, we started our descent, and soon enough it was time to pack up the laptop and get things ready to land. Although it was quite cloudy, we soon got a glimpse of very typical central Florida terrain.
Soon enough we were in our final approach.
We touched down smoothly, and the pilots brought our big hard to a quick stop, and we began the MCO ritual of taxiing halfway around the world to get to a gate. Unfortunately, in the twilight and just shooting on my iPhone, it wasn’t exactly great spotting conditions, but I did manage a decent shot of this beautiful LH 744, which we pulled in next to. Presumably, like her twin in YYZ, she too would be shortly on her way back across the Atlantic to Frankfurt.
The seatbelt signs turned off, I grabbed my bags and pulled in behind the one J passenger on the port side of the plane. As the door opened, I heard the in-charge flight attendant give the ground agent our load information. Seventy-five passengers on a plane that seats 280. Ooof. But as our flight attendant pointed out, the return flight to Toronto, scheduled for 9:30 pm, was going to be packed.
This later flight is popular with leisure passengers because it lets them have a full “last day” of vacation before heading to the airport, and besides, if the load for this flight isn’t looking good, AC can just cancel the 7:45 pm flight on an A319, and shoehorn as many bodies onto the later 763 flight as possible. More on that in a few days.
They let the few of us who had made it onto this flight out into the cabin, a quick trip to the main terminal on the train, and I was off to find my shuttle out to the Omni Orlando for an early-morning start the next day.
Air Canada Rouge
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Transborder
Toronto - YYZ
Orlando - MCO
No Canadian frequent flier is going to profess their love for Air Canada Rouge, but as long as you can get the legroom of Rouge Plus, I find the Rouge experience on the 767 entirely acceptable. That said, I would never want to endure the tighter legroom further back in economy, particularly not on a trans-Atlantic flight. And economy in general on the Rouge A319 is something to be avoided if at all possible.
Sadly, it appears Rouge is a financial success for Air Canada, which likely means we can count on seeing more Rougeification of mainline Air Canada routes -- already everything transborder from Calgary and Vancouver have been handed over to Rouge. For some routes -- anything to Hawai'i, for example, that makes sense. But I just don't believe that Los Angeles and San Francisco are primarily leisure destinations from Calgary and Vancouver.
1 LIKESLIKE TO THANK THE AUTHORTHANKS ! FLIGHT-REPORT LIKED
Flight-Report is a free website hosting more than 500 000 pictures and 17 000 reviews, without ads, this website can't exist. We understand that ads can be annoying, this is why we only display a maximum of 2 non-invasive ads per page.
To continue using Flight-Report, we invite you to add Flight-Report to your blocker's "white list".