Rouge adds more holiday destinations ahead of July 1 launch

Air Canada's new low-cost leisure carrier Rouge added 13 holiday destinations to its planned roster of routes Tuesday and said it is on track to launch the new airline July 1.

Air Canada's new discount airline to start with year-round flights and add seasonal routes this winter

Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu, centre, chats to Air Canada Leisure Groups president and CEO Michael Friisdahl and flight attendant Stephane Dolanhangar during the unveiling of one of the airplanes that will be used by the airline's new discount leisure carrier, Rouge, at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Tuesday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Air Canada's new low-cost leisure carrier Rouge added 13 holiday destinations to its planned roster of routes Tuesday and said it is on track to launch the new airline July 1.

"Once Air Canada Rouge completes its inaugural summer season to Edinburgh, Venice, Athens and a number of Caribbean destinations, its flying will expand southward for the winter to an additional 13 destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and select U.S. holiday markets," president and CEO Calin Rovinescu said in a news release.

The new discount airline showed off the Airbus A319 aircraft that will be the mainstay of its fleet in an Air Canada hangar near Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Tuesday

The Rouge fleet will initially have two Airbus A319s and two Boeing 767-300ER jets and will add six more planes by the end of the year and another four by March 2014.

"We're going to start small and build it up gradually," Rovinescu told The Canadian Press "We didn't want to start with 10 or 15 aircraft. That creates much too much complexity."

Some Air Canada routes to move to Rouge

Starting in October, Air Canada will switch many of its popular holiday routes over to Rouge and might release more European destinations to the startup airline next year.

Rouge service will launch with year-round flights to:

  • Athens.
  • Edinburgh.
  • Venice.
  • Kingston, Jamaica.
  • Punta Cana, Puerto Plata and Samana in the Dominican Republic.
  • Varadero, Cayo Coco, Holguin and Santa Clara in Cuba. 
  • San Jose and Liberia in Costa Rica.

All flights will be from Toronto except the Athens route, which will be offered from Toronto and Montreal.

Rovinescu said it was important to the airline to get off the ground in time for the summer holidays.

"To launch a venture like this with the most chance of success, it really needs to start in the summer," said Rovinescu. "That's our strongest season."

Winter will see addition of seasonal flights

Rouge will add a number of seasonal flights to its roster this winter, including several (marked with an asterix below) that still have to be approved by government regulators:

  • Mexico: Toronto to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta*, Cabo San Lucas* and Huatulco*.
  • United States: Toronto and Montreal to Orlando and Las Vegas; Toronto to Sarasota*, Fla.
  • Caribbean: Toronto to Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grenada*; St. Kitts*; Grand Exuma, Bahamas; Curacao*, Netherlands Antilles; and La Romana*, Dominican Republic. 

Rouge said Tuesday that it removed the television screens it initially put in its aircraft for in-flight entertainment and has instead decided to stream movies, TV shows and music to passengers' mobile devices for a $5 fee.

Customers on Rouge Premium flights will be able to access the service for free.

"Our market testing has indicated that many people prefer to bring their own devices and are happy to do that," said Rovinescu.

Bumpy start

Rouge caught some flak when it unveiled the uniforms of its flight crew. The attempt was to convey a more youthful, casual but fashionable look, but critics said the effect was cheap, unflattering and dated. (Rouge)

Rouge has already had some negative press even before its flights have gotten off the ground after it was revealed that its flight attendants were being sent to the Disney Institute in Orlando, Fla.  for customer service training and were being asked to foot part of the bill.

Several media outlets reported that Rouge would deduct $49 a month from employees' pay, which is already lower than that of flight attendants on Air Canada's main airline, for up to three years to cover the cost of incidental expenses associated with their stay in Florida — but not, according to Rouge, of the actual training.

Its flight crew's burgundy and grey casual uniforms, which included fedoras and clunky Fluevog brand shoes meant to exude a younger, "fashion forward" look, also did not meet with universal approval, getting negative press from as far afield as the U.K.'s Daily Mail newspaper.

With files from The Canadian Press