Air Canada hopes to score a touchdown with new rouge airline
Tuesday December 18, 2012
ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR Air Canada's Ben Smith (L), chief commercial officer and Michael Friisdahl, president and CEO of Leisure Group, announce its new discount carrier 'rouge' at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday.
Image By Jim Byers Travel Editor
Air Canada on Tuesday morning unveiled “Rouge” (with a small r) as the name of their new, low-cost airline that will start flying to Europe and the Caribbean/Central America next July 1. Fares appear quite competitive and, in the case of a roundtrip to Punta Cana I checked, strikingly lower than WestJet and Transat. More on that in a minute.
Less than an hour later, I got a press release from Porter Airlines saying that their new package program, called Porter Escapes, is now available online at www.porterescapes.com for trips starting Jan. 14. It will allow folks to book flights and hotels and entertainment or ski packages to places like New York City, Montreal, Burlington Vermont, Halifax, Chicago and Quebec. And Toronto, of course.
Okay. That’s a busy day. But then, less than 90 minutes after the Rouge unveiling, I got a note from the federal government saying that Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, announced that all-inclusive airfare advertising is now mandated under amendments to the Air Transportation Regulations.
This will ensure consumers can clearly see the total price of an airline ticket, with no hidden fees, officials said.
Most airlines in Canada have been following this rule for some time, either listing prices that include the taxes and fees and surcharges or advertising both together. Still, it will force all airlines doing business here to follow suit, and that’s a good thing for consumers. And kudos to the federal government for that.
Getting back to rouge, the Air Canada folks held a splashy announcement in a movie theatre at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto and then went outside to give away “boarding passes” with discounts from 10 to 99 per cent for the new airline.
Officials said the rouge name was tested across the country and was far and away the best name they checked out. Not everyone agrees but I like it fine.
The destinations and prices, of course, are what we really care about. They could call it “Let’s beat West Jet’s derriere” or name it after their chief and call it “Rovinescu Air” for all I care. I just want cheaper rates and a good airline, and that’s what they’re promising.
Flights will go from Toronto to Venice and Edinburgh and from Toronto and Montreal to Athens for as little as $949 round-trip, including all fees and taxes. Flights to the Dominican Republic (Punta Cana, Samana and Puerto Plata) will go from as little as $538 round-trip, while those to Costa Rica (San Jose and Liberia) will go from $778 round-trip, while flights to Varadero, Cayo Coco, Holguin and Santa Clara, Cuba start at $538 round-trip.
They’re only starting with four planes, which means they can’t do flights every day to all destinations. Toronto to Athens will be four times a week for now, while Toronto to Punta Cana will be three times a week for now.
Ultimately Air Canada plans to hire 900 workers and will have 50 planes, both Boeing 767-300ER’s and Airbus A319 aircraft.
Complimentary meals and non-alcoholic beverages will be served on flights to Europe and snacks, meals and beverages will be available at a “nominal fee” on flights to the Caribbean. Their press release also says in-flight entertainment, such as movies and TV and music, will be available for “an affordable fee,” versus free on Air Canada.
I don’t know what the difference is between a “nominal fee” for food and an “affordable” fee for entertainment.
Just for kicks, I went onto the Air Canada site - rouge flights can be booked at aircanada.com and folks can collect (limited) Aeroplan points, which is an important factor for many consumers - and found a round-trip flight from Toronto to Punta Cana for July 6-13 for $502.68, which actually is lower than they said in their press release. A flight on the same days on WestJet was listed at westjet.com for $700.79, while Transat ( www.transatholidays.com) had flights on July 7 and 14 for $991.
Vanessa Lu told me she found flights next August from Toronto to Athens on rouge for $949, as advertised. But she said Transat was costing out around $1,300. That’s another enormous difference in Air Canada’s favour, so it’ll be interesting to see if Transat makes any adjustments.
Those might not be typical. But if they are, rouge could be a very attractive airline for Canadians.
In addition to regular rouge seats, Air Canada will offer a series of upgrades, including rouge Plus and Premium rouge. Those will cost extra but rouge Plus is just $40 extra each way if you fly to the Caribbean and $90 each way to Europe. For that you get nicer seats with more pitch and reclining ability, plus other options.
There’s also a Premium category with more extras.
Aeroplan points can be earned but you only get 200 points for rouge class flights to the Caribbean. You’d get 400 for rouge Plus and a full 1,400 for Premium rouge, which hasn’t been priced yet.
For trips to Europe, each way you get 400 points in rouge Class, 800 in rouge Plus and 2800 in Premium rouge.
Rouge flights will have Air Canada’s checked and carry-on baggage allowance.
In addition, they’re promising flight attendants trained for both safety and “warm, welcoming service.”
It’s clearly a nod at WestJet. I asked Air Canada folks if they’d give the same training for “warm, welcoming service” to their existing crew members if it works on rouge. Naturally, they suggested Air Canada folks are just wonderful as things are and reminded me they’ve won the Skytrax award as best North American airline several years in a row.
True, and I think Air Canada’s crew is getting better. But there’s plenty of room for improvement.
I just hope they don’t get carried away. Some folks like it, but I really hate it when the WestJet crew gets all silly with the jokes. I want courtesy and smiles but not David Letterman in the sky, thank you very much.
“With leisure time at a premium, Air Canada rouge will combine affordable fares, great service and choice leisure destinations with those benefits offered by Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations that are valued most by vacation travelers,” said Michael Friisdahl, President and Chief Executive Officer of Air Canada’s Leisure Group. “We look forward to giving them a warm welcome onboard Air Canada rouge, Canada’s affordably stylish leisure airline.”
In addition to a new training program for flight workers (one person close to the scene told me Air Canada might even use Disney to help give folks the right approach) and thusly aiming at WestJet, Air Canada rouge is promising nice lighting and stylish interiors. Which sounds like a move towards the sleek Porter model, at least to me.
As for Porter Escapes, it doesn’t look bad. But it doesn’t look amazing either, at least not at first glance. I went online on Tuesday, briefly, and found New York hotel and flight packages for The Doubletree New York City Chelsea, in southern/midtown Manhattan, for $534 per person for three nights, for a mid-January weekend. All taxes and fees are included.
That works out to $1,068 for a couple. The lowest advertised air fare from Toronto to New York on Porter in the Porter ad in Tuesday’s Toronto Star was for $286 return, meaning $572 for a couple. That means you’d get some meals and three nights at the hotel, all in, for $496. That’s a decent price for a hotel in New York City, plus some food, for three nights.
I went online to the Doubletree site directly and found a room for $161. Taxes added up to another $27 or so a night, bringing the total hotel cost to $565. You’d save $69 with the Porter Escapes package. And you’d get one-stop shopping and the ability to use a concierge service for sporting events and dinner, etc…(see details below).
I find the site somewhat confusing, however. When you look for the hotel on Porter Escapes, you’ll see a bit that says Meal Plan: European Plan. Nothing happens when you click on that and it suggests, to me, that maybe you get breakfast.
A Porter official said, however, that European plan means no meals and that if you click on hotel details when you’re surfing the site you’ll see a bit that says “Meal Plan: European Plan (no meals).” I think the website should say up front “No Meals” versus potentially confusing folks and making them click on another portion of the site.
“Passengers familiar with the Porter Airlines experience will recognize the commitment to providing a convenient and refined approach to travel,” said Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Escapes. “Porter Escapes does all of the legwork for you – selecting the best flights and pairing them with a range of recommended hotels and an exciting menu of leisure options, tailored to your personal preferences.”
Packages are available in each of the 19 Porter Airlines destinations and include flights and accommodation, with additional a-la-carte offerings available in some markets, like a New York CityPASS, providing access to landmark attractions. New York packages also come with a concierge service, allowing travellers to book theatre tickets, sporting events or dinner reservations through a dedicated phone number during the course of their stay.
Custom ski options are also available in Mont Tremblant, the Charlevoix region adjacent to Québec City and throughout the state of Vermont.