This might be the craziest day I've ever seen for airline travel in Canada.
At 11:15 a.m., Air Canada unveiled "Rouge" 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.
Around about noon, 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. It will allow folks to book flights and entertainment or ski or golf packages to places like New York City, Montreal, Burlington Vermont, Myrtle Beach, Halifax, Chicago and Quebec. And Toronto, of course.
Okay. That's a busy day. But then, right at 12:44, I got a note from the federal government saying that Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, today 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. So kudos to the Harper government for protecting consumers.
Vanessa Lu, the Star's hard-working airline/transport reporter in the Business section, has a full report at www.thestar.com/business.
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.
Not everyone likes the name, of course. One reporter turned to me at the press conference and said, "It's Red. Like Air Canada is in the red."
I was thinking more like it's a rouge from Canadian football, but then I'm again I'm a former sports reporter. It looks pretty good, I think, and certainly red is the colour in the Canadian flag and is Air Canada's primary colour, so it fits.
Officials said it was tested across the country and was far and away the best name they checked out.
The destinations and prices, of course, are what we really care about. They could call it "Let's beat West Jet's ass" 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 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 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.
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.
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