Air Canada To Lay Off 80 Having Suspended Rouge Operations

Air Canada Rouge is pausing its flights across its entire network from February 8. The low-cost subsidiary of Air Canada specializes in cheap and cheerful flights down to the Caribbean and Mexico. However, with the Canadian Government asking Canadian airlines to halt flights there, Air Canada has taken the decision to suspend flights across its entire Rouge network.

Air Canada is suspending services next week and laying off 80 employees. Photo: Air Canada

“As a result of our suspension of all flights to the Caribbean and Mexico at the request of the Canadian government, we are again pausing our Rouge operations effective February 8 as these flights are primarily operated by Rouge,” an Air Canada spokesperson told Simple Flying.

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All Canadian airlines suspend flights to the Caribbean and Mexico

Aside from disrupting the travel plans of thousands, approximately 80 Rouge employees will be laid off. It’s not just Air Canada Rouge feeling the pain from the Canadian Government’s flight suspension request. Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing, and Air Transat have all paused their flights to their destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico.

“Air Canada believes a collaborative approach with the Government of Canada involving all air carriers is the best means to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially given concerns around the variants of COVID- 19 and travel during the Spring Break period,” said Air Canada’s CEO, Calin Rovinescu, last week.

After suspending operations for much of 2020, Air Canada Rouge only resumed flights in early November. Air Canada Rouge resumed flying a much smaller airline than it was earlier in 2020. Going into COVID-19, the low-cost carrier had 66 planes.

The fleet then included 25 Boeing 767-300s, 22 Airbus A319s, 14 Airbus A321s, and four Airbus A320s. As the travel downturn began to bite, the Boeing 767-300s and Airbus A319s were immediately retired. When Air Canada Rouge tentatively resumed operations in November, all but two of the remaining aircraft stayed parked.

“As leisure traffic resumes, we will progressively add Air Canada rouge to select North American leisure markets from Eastern Canada,” Air Canada’s Mark Gallardo said at the time.

Air Canada Rouge’s flights will temporarily end on February 8. Photo: Air Canada

A slimmed-down Rouge suspends flights from February 8

Those two Airbus A321s back in the air were to operate a slimmed-down schedule over the northern 2020/21 winter. On the books were flights to two Caribbean destinations, two destinations in the United States, and a single destination each in Mexico and Costa Rica.

Now, even that pared-back flying is coming to a temporary end. Despite Rouge’s problems, Air Canada told Simple Flying that Rouge remains a part of Air Canada’s overall business strategy.

The Air Canada Rouge decision comes as Canada tightens its border restrictions to keep some highly infectious strains of COVID-19 at bay. The tougher rules build on an already rigorous testing and quarantine regime in Canada.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the new variants of Covid-19 posed a real challenge to the country. “That’s why we need to take extra measures,” he said.

Air Canada Rouge retired its fleet of Airbus 319s in 2020. Photo: Air Canada

On Mr Trudeau’s radar was all non-essential international travel, particularly leisure travel to the sunshine destinations Canada’s low-cost carriers focus on.

“With the challenges we currently face with Covid-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying,” said the PM.

The suspension of these services may have been instrumental in competitor, Sunwing Airlines, snagging a CA$375 million emergency loan from the Canadian Government last week. The loan was the first direct financial assistance the Canadian Government had provided to any airline throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

There is no word on when Air Canada Rouge flights will resume. However, all Canadian airlines have agreed to pause their flight to the Caribbean and Mexico until at least April. Meanwhile, 80 Rouge employees face a tough Spring without work.