Air Canada Rouge A321 Premium Rouge Review SAN to Toronto YYZ
This review is from 2018 and all indications are with the exception of some Covid-19 measures it is still accurate today. Well, that and it appears Air Canada will replace Rouge on the San Diego Route with its mainline fleet for the beginning of 2022, but Rouge will return in late Spring in 2022. It also looks like they have done away with their B767's and Rouge now consists of Airbus A319, A320 and A321's.
I recently returned from vacation and took a series of flights I want to review and update and thought Air Canada's Rouge Business Class (Premium Rouge) was a good place to start. As I was researching for award availability with United for a Business Class ticket from SAN to Moscow the best option was a combination of Air Canada Rouge from San Diego to Toronto connecting to Turkish Airlines to IST on to VKO. I have flown Turkish before (hopefully a review forthcoming) and was more than happy to fly them again. I have also flown Air Canada before in Business Class but never their leisure subsidiary; Air Canada Rouge. I tried to research their Premium Rouge (Business Class) product before deciding what route to take. However, there was very little information I could find, other than just facts on the Air Canada site (flyrouge.com) or a few comments (all negative) on Seat Guru & Skytrax. Nothing of any detail. Despite the negative comments this was really my best option if I wanted to fly Business the entire way (UA doesn't seem to have availability on their domestic First Class seats). So, I thought this product was in need of a proper review.
As I said, Rouge is predominantly used on vacation and leisure routes from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary to sun destinations such as Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, several cities in Florida, Hawaii, The Caribbean, Mexico, and even a few European, South American and Asian cities. Besides the A321 they also fly A319's and B767's (since they no longer fly the B767, I assume Rouge no longer flies to Asia, but may fly the A321 across the Atlantic). The seats are the same in all three Airbus aircraft so this review would also cover flights of similar length and time of day on the other two types of aircraft.
Check-in was very easy at SAN as I was the only person checking in (I was there an hour and a half before, too). Since I was continuing on to Istanbul and Moscow I checked-in with an agent who was pleasant. The first sign that Premium Rouge was going to be better than I feared was when the agent told me I could use the United Club. I never really thought about this as I am a member of the United Club, but it was still nice to know that lounge access as well as Star Alliance benefits are the same as if flying Air Canada. I even got TSA Pre-check.
We boarded 40 minutes prior to departure and Premium Rouge was first to board (Zone 1). The cabin was very smart looking with charcoal grey seats with red leather head rests. All five of Rouge's A321's are less than two years old (in 2018 - now they have 14 A321's) so the newness of the cabin added to the appealing look (the A319's and B767's are converts from AC so much older - my guess is the 5 A320's they fly are also from their mainline fleet). There was a pillow (no blanket) on the seat as well as a menu. A pre-departure drink of either water or orange juice was offered. The overhead's provided plenty of space for a Rollerboard (rollaboard). The cabin has four rows in a 2x2 configuration. I elected to sit in the bulkhead window (1A) which can be a risk with some airlines and while I was unable to fully stretch my legs, the leg room was enough that I did not feel cramped (plus I didn't need to worry about the seat reclining in front of me). The one downside, as with most bulkheads, is the seatback pocket was small. The seats had a power plug and USB port (that actually worked) in front of the center arm rest. With 37" of pitch, 5" of recline and 21 inches of width the Premium Rouge seats compare similar to Air Canada's Business Class on their Airbus narrow-bodies and US carriers domestic First Class. I can't remember if a newspaper was offered and there was no amenity kit.
Luckily, I read to downloaded the Air Canada app if you wanted to access their inflight entertainment as their planes do not have any seat-back or overhead Inflight Entertainment (IFE). But a nice iPad was handed out to Premium Rouge passengers prior to departure, so I guess I didn't need to do that. You would however, if you were in Economy. All entertainment is through wireless streaming to your own device or these iPad's. I was happy I was able to use the tablet they provided despite it taking me a few minutes to figure out how to get it to stand (I am not the most proficient with these type of things). For curiosity's sake I tried to access the IFE through my tablet (Samsung) and my phone and while I was able to do so and the content is the same, theirs just seemed to be easier to navigate. There was plenty of content overall, however, the movie selection was a little sparse and most movies were older, with only a few recent releases (I watched Tango & Cash). They made up for this with several International movies as well as French speaking movies and a much larger choice of TV programs. The music selection was quite good as well. The iPad tablets are free for Premium Rouge passengers and can be rented for a $10 fee in Economy (don't think this is available to Economy passengers anymore). There is no charge for accessing the IFE with your own device in any cabin. Despite having the ability to stream this entertainment, Wi-Fi was not available onboard. Currently the A319's are being equipped with Wi-Fi and the A321's will be later in the year (they do have it now for a cost). The speed and ability to access the menu on the tablet was great. The programming even paused when the pilot or flight attendants made an announcement.
Shortly after take-off the flight attendant came around and took the meal order (just asked chicken or pasta?) and then came back with a very nice hot towel (may be suspended due to Covid). There were four flight attendants with one servicing the Premium Rouge cabin. All were young and dressed in much more casual uniforms. I had read some negative comments about Rouge's flight attendants, but this crew, while not overly enthusiastic, were friendly and available. Drinks were served after the towel along with a small packet of surprisingly very good almonds. The entire lunch was served at one time. The Mesclun Salad, warm roll, the entrée and the Tiramisu were all served on the tray. I had the Chicken in a Maple Aleppo Pepper Aioli Sauce with farro & rice. The portion was very generous and to my delight hot and very tasty. I was a little hesitant because the menu said Chicken Thigh. But the meat was very tender and flavorful. The salad was ok as was the bread. I am not the biggest fan of Tiramisu but I ate the whole thing. The other option (pasta) was Cheese Cannelloni in a Primavera Sauce, which also looked appetizing. The menu said snacks were available at any time, however, I never saw any sign of them. I did sleep an hour and when I went to use the lavatory the flight attendant did ask if I wanted anything else (which I said no to).
Announcements were in both English and French and kept to a minimum. It was nice that they waited until only 10 minutes before landing to pick up the iPads. Our flight time was just a little over 4 hours and we landed a few minutes early giving me more than enough to time to clear passport (I didn't need to go through security again :)) and enjoy the Maple Leaf Lounge at Toronto Pearson before my Turkish Airlines flight.
Overall, I was very pleased with my Air Canada Premium Rouge experience. It is certainly not a discount carrier and is very comparable to flying First Class within the US. The seats are comfortable and the meal was excellent. Being able to use the iPad to watch movies is always a plus and again something you would expect these days flying within the US or Canada. The real difference between Air Canada and Rouge is there is 2 inches less seat pitch in Economy (31" to 29") and there is no seat-back entertainment. From what I could find the seat pitch for Premium Rouge and Air Canada's Business Class (on their narrow-bodies) is about the same (37 inches). They both have buy-on-board for meals in Economy and they have the same baggage guidelines in Economy and Business Class (Premium Rouge). I think where you will find the biggest variance would be flying to Europe, South America, or Asia where there is no comparison between the products. In fact, I think they even call Premium Rouge, "Premium Economy" on long-haul flights. But for flights within, or to and from Canada and the US, Caribbean, or Mexico (or as in my case connecting to an international flight) I would not hesitate to fly Rouge again and was happy I choose this route to Moscow.