Open Letter to Air Canada regarding Rouge Service

Mr. Rovinescu
President & CEO
Air Canada

Mr. Rovinescu,

For as any years as I can remember, I’ve been a loyal Air Canada traveller. In my early days, back in the late 80’s, as I was starting my business career, I simply liked and enjoyed the  simplicity of Air Canada in terms of direct flights, easy luggage check in, the comfort of the seats, etc.  I was smart enough never to be angry with Air Canada over the taxes and additional charges as I understood it was a government issue, not something to be blamed on my favorite airline.

In 2001, when you gobbled up Canadian Airlines, I held my hands up in victory because I knew the better airline won the war.  And with less (or no) competition, I naively assumed AC would simply get better and better.  And under Robert Milton, I felt that happened.  I didn’t kick and scream as you moved to changes in service, like charging for food, blankets, and plastic pillows (I did laugh at the plastic pillows).  I actually applauded the moves as I felt it was the best way to remain competitive and continue to offer a high-class of service.  And then around 2005, the in-flight entertainment came!!  Could it get any better?  It did – one of the consequences of 911 was the tightening of security, but if you held some sort of airline ‘status’, combined with NEXUS, I was able to fly through security and customs with a pre-printed boarding pass that I printed at home.

And even though I was frustrated at your loyalty program which rewards miles and legs flown over profitability, I stuck with you.  I think the stupidity of your loyalty program probably has more to do with your archaic systems that don’t allow you to track profitability of a passenger.  Why else would you prefer to reward someone flying to China on a deeply discounted ticket over little old me who may fly on a $900, last-minute fare to Toronto?

Sure we’ve had our ups and downs over the decades, but there’s no reason to dwell in the past.  Let’s look at the here and now.  Rouge.  It used to simply mean a color to me.  Now the mere word reminds me of how much I’ve lost with my favorite airline.  Allow me to itemize:

1. Seats with less legroom
2. Tablet entertainment with shows from the 80’s and 90’s
3. No more Business Class to aspire to.

I’m having a very difficult time understanding the continued benefits of flying AC?  Much of my travel is in North America, and I fly your Rouge routes often.  Unfortunately, there’s no choice – it’s Rouge or nothing.  I can’t pick a ‘non-Rouge’ flight. I wish I could.  And I can only image the look on the faces when those that happened to upgrade, or worse – pay for “Rouge Premium” saw the identical seats as in economy, with a little more legroom, and a middle-seat blocked out.  Must be a hell of a meal in Rouge Premium for the additional $299.00 one-way fare from Montreal- Orlando! On that note – here’s some free advice.  Stop showing what looks to be the “old business seats” when you preview seat availability when choosing a Business Class Fare on a Rouge Flight. It doesn’t border on misleading, it is absolutely misleading, maybe fraudulent.  If you’re proud of your Premium Rouge  class, show off those economy width seats!

Did you really thing a cute fedora and sweaters on the flight attendants would make us forget about the lack of comfort we now experience? I don’t recall hearing anyone say “Who cares that I have to lean sideways because my knees hit the seat in front of me?  Look at the cute hats!”  However I do recall the man on  left who must have been 6’2″ cursing for the first 20 minutes and wondering WTF happened to the TVs!  And I also recall the lady next to me from Halifax swearing never to fly a ‘Rouge’ flight again. One more tip – if you want the flight attendants to be ‘whimsical’ like Southwest Airlines, it can’t be the same lines over and over again.

As for me, well I’m hoping that someone at AC comes to their senses.  Why on earth would you anger the business travelers and make us fly in what you’re calling your “leisure airline”?  There’s nothing leisure about it.  Let’s call a spade a spade, or more specifically, let’s call a “discount airline” a “discount airline”.

One of the reasons I, and many others fly our beloved AC is to score upgrades into Business Class and better service.  Without the Business Class to aspire to, please explain to me why I care what airline I fly?  I used to tell people that I would prefer Economy on Air Canada over Business Class on many other US airlines.  Do you understand the value in that statement?  Now, I couldn’t care less about “Premium Rouge” – so now I would rather fly economy on another airline, than Premium Rouge, especially given the fact you’re charging as if it’s a Business Class seat.  And that leads me to my last point.  If you were taking away all of these comforts, but charging way less for the fares, maybe I would be a little more understanding.  But you’re not – this morning a return flight on Premium Rouge to Las Vegas in mid-April comes in at $1604.  United has a United First class ticket for $1343.

I’ve started to look into other airlines.  Wish I didn’t have to, but I do.  I travel too often and I value comfort and convenience too much.  You’ve taken that away, and left me no options.  Like I said, I can’t fly non-Rouge on certain routes anymore.

I’m sure WestJet and Porter are getting all sorts of people looking at their flights and fares from people that were once AC loyalists – opportunity is knocking for them and it will be interesting to see how they respond.

In the end, I think Rouge is going to put Air Canada in the red.  The irony of it all.

Lorne Schwartz
President & CEO

~ by lschwartz on March 21, 2014.

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