27 JUN 2013: It all looked so Sound of Music meets Disney Mousketeers except the backdrop at Air Canada Hangar 8 was no dreamy Austrian hillside nor was it a mega theme park. Everyone (i.e. invited media and industry guests) was in the aircraft parking garage by Pearson airport to view two aircraft by Air Canada’s new leisure airline - rouge.

There was Calin Rovinescu, president and chief executive officer followed by Michael Friisdahl, who heads Air Canada’s leisure group among a sea of spiffy trilby hat wearing young adults who could have been stand-ins for the von Trapps or the Mickey Mouseketeer Club.

Then came the announcements.

-Air Canada is proud to announce the birth of Air Canada rouge.
Calin Rovinescu praised Michael Friisdahl and his leisure group team on literally building an airline overnight. “From a standing start late last year they had little more than six months. He obtained an operating certificate, hired and trained more than 200 employees, (and) developed a brand identity,” and Rovinescu added that launching an airline within an airline in a compressed period of time cannot be underestimated.

-Transport Canada finally granted Air Canada rouge it’s Air Operating Certificate. rouge flights will operate from Toronto and Montreal to vacation spots in Europe, the US and the Caribbean.

-Canada Day is the official launch of rouge.
“Air Canada rouge flight 1920 (will) take off for Kingston Jamaica on July 1 at 10 am. That flight kicks off a week long schedule of first flights to and from our launch destinations including Edinburgh, and Venice from Toronto; Athens from Toronto and Montreal; and Caribbean destinations from Toronto to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Costa Rica in addition to Kingston Jamaica,” announced Friisdahl.

-Air Canada Vacations released its new 2013-2014 Passion brochure.
Rovinescu asserted that rouge has a distinct advantage “because we are leveraging the strength of Air Canada Vacations. This will give it a higher profile and heft on a lower cost basis.” Friisdahl added how rouge will provide Air Canada with a competitive and cost efficient leisure carrier. “(This) will benefit from the combined strength of Air Canada’s distribution along with a very strong market position for Air Canada Vacations in the leisure market.”

-The planes are recycled.
Right now there are only four of them: two Airbus A319 aircraft and two Boeing 767-300ERs. One Airbus and the larger Boeing currently seating 264 passengers were parked in the garage but only the smaller one was open for viewing.

By the end of this year expect ten (6 Airbus A319s and 4 Boeing 767-300ER). By 2014 four more Airbus A319s will be added. So once said and done, expect up to 40 planes in the rouge fleet overall. Rovinescu says this strategy is part of the business plan as Air Canada acquires new planes and expands its international network.

“The growth of our leisure carrier in tandem with the mainline fleet renewal and international network expansion is a key element of Air Canada’s overall strategy for sustainable, profitable growth, both at the mainline and leisure carrier.”

Rovinescu noted with more modern cost-efficient aircraft coming on board the older aircrafts they would have displaced like the Boeing 767s “would normally have exited the fleet taking job opportunities with it but now (these) will continue to fly under the Air Canada rouge. It’s a win-win situation.”

-The planes have in-flight streaming entertainment
but you need an app plus your own fully charged personal wire device like an ipad to watch free movies or free TV shows in the month of July. Charges kick in after. “(There will be) a nominal $5 charge starting in August to (upload your entertainment),” explains the aviation company’s press release. Note that music and destination information will be a free download. Air Canada rouge tells us they are one of the first carriers in North America to offer streaming onboard.

Hmm... could pose a problem for a family of four with only one I-pad among them and what if you don’t own an ipad?

-The flight attendant staff went to the Disney Institute in Orlando to learn their stuff. On hand at the media launch showing obvious excitement were the first rouge crew graduates, all 127 of them. We heard the 50 pilots just wrapped up their transitional training.

“Earlier today they officially graduated and are now making final preparations to start work as early as June 29th” explained Rovinescu, hoping the new graduates might toss their hats in the air like regular university graduates.

-Roomier leg room in the rouge Plus
comes at an additional cost of $40 explained Ryan, one of new rouge crew recruits. The first four rows he says boast this option but get ready for the ping. The pricier seat has a 35” seat pitch, up to 5” recline and a seat width within the armrests of 18”. Note the seats are known as rouge and rouge Plus preferred seating. Everybody else has a 29’ seat pitch and a 3’ recline. The A319 aircraft has 142 new seats in a 3 + 3 configuration.

“Air Canada rouge’s start-up fleet of A319 aircraft transitioned from Air Canada has been converted inside and out. The airline’s B767-300ERs, also from Air Canada, have been fully converted save the seat configuration which is being completed after the busy Europe summer season,” noted Rovinescu.

-You know some of those popular Air Canada holiday destinations?

Rouge will fly there. “This is why I’m pleased to be announcing more mainline routes to add 13 destinations with Air Canada rouge. Among these are well known routes like Orlando, Las Vegas and Montego Bay Jamaica. Air Canada rouge will serve 23 destinations in southern leisure markets this winter in the US, Mexico and the Caribbean,” said Rovinescu and added, “There are presently three Air Canada rouge European destinations with more to come.”

Watch rouge fly on a phased-in basis to Mexico, the US and the Caribbean. Dates: October -March 2014.

-The perks. The publicity material explains the benefits on using the new Air Canada rouge. “Air Canada rouge is the only leisure airline that offers a full network of connecting flights, Aeroplan Miles with every flight as well as redemption, and Air Canada Vacations package holidays or flight-only options. With all of these customer benefits, Air Canada rouge will be leading the way in leisure travel.”

Okay with all your points racking up what’ll it be?

Post Note:

It can’t be easy launching a new airline these days. Rovinescu commended Friisdahl and his team at rouge for, "overcoming the complexity and challenges of launching a new carrier in record time with professionalism and an impressive sense of purpose. I also congratulate the first Air Canada rouge inflight graduating class who we expect will set an excellent customer service standard for vacation travel.”

But still all that Disney training doesn’t come free. Over the course of the next three years the new hires will have to personally repay Air Canada for their training.

Now comes the test. Will consumers go ga-ga over the new discount carrier or will rouge be regarded as just another leisure carrier - or variant of Jazz and Tango?

Maybe only Mickey Mouse can tell.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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