Passengers flying with Air Canada are often confused by its different brands. Air Canada Rouge is the most notable of these. It is a separately registered airline but a subsidiary of Air Canada. Flights are often integrated into Air Canada itineraries, but separate bookings can be lower priced. The main differences are typical of other low-cost airlines – with more densely packed seating and fewer onboard inclusions.
Other brands from Air Canada
Air Canada operates several subsidiaries and other brands. Air Canada Express is a brand used for feeder flights operated by a separate regional airline. Air Canada Jetz operates a small fleet of business-class configured Airbus A319s for private hire. Air Canada Cargo usurpingly handles cargo operations. There have also been a number of previous brands, including Air Canada Tango and Zip.
Air Canada Rouge is the largest of these subsidiaries, operating low-cost flights that are integrated into the Air Canada network. It started service in July 2013 to help the airline compete better with growing low-cost and leisure competition, from airlines including Air Transat and WestJet.
Air Canada Rouge is a separate airline but is fully integrated into the Air Canada network. Flights are technically operated as codeshares (as Air Canada Rouge is registered as a separate airline). They carry Air Canada ‘AC’ flight numbers but will be marked on schedules as “operated by Air Canada Rouge.” Air Canada is a member of Star Alliance, and Air Canada Rouge is an affiliate member. Miles are earned on Air Canada Rouge flights in the Air Canada Aeroplan scheme, and they share the Maple Leaf lounges for eligible customers.
As for routes, Air Canada Rouge mainly operates routes within Canada and to the US, Central America, and the Caribbean. On several of these routes, there are choices between Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge.
It previously operated several routes to Europe, but these were dropped when it retired its Boeing 767 aircraft. There is talk of European services resuming with narrowbody aircraft, but this has not happened yet.
Operating an all-Airbus narrowbody fleet
Air Canada Rouge’s fleet is very different from that of Air Canada. It currently operates an all-Airbus fleet. In its narrowbody fleet, Air Canada operates the Airbus A319, A320, A321, and A220 and the Boeing 737 MAX 8. It has more A220s and 737s still on order.
Air Canada Rouge now operates just Airbus, with 20 A319s, five A320s, and 14 A321s (according to fleet data from ch-aviation.com). It retired its Boeing 767 aircraft in 2020 (it previously operated up to 25 767s, mainly on European routes but also for a time to Japan).
As of September 2021, the fleet has just re-entered service. The airline suspended flights for a second time during the pandemic in February 2021 and is re-introducing some services from September. Whether all the aircraft return to active service remains to be seen.
As you would expect from a low-cost focussed airline, its aircraft are more densely configured than Air Canada’s. On the A320, for example, Air Canada Rouge fits 150 economy and 12 business class (Premium Rouge) seats. Air Canada has 132 economy and 14 business class seats on the same aircraft.
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Different onboard service and ticket inclusions
Again as you would expect from a low-cost airline, services included in the ticket and offered onboard differ between the two airlines – but are better than you often receive from a low-cost airline. In economy class, meals are available to purchase with both airlines. Both airlines have the same baggage policies as well.
Air Canada offers seatback screens on most aircraft. With Rouge, there are options to stream content from your own device.
Unlike many other low-cost airlines or subsidiaries, Air Canada Rouge offers a business class product called Premium Rouge. This is more similar to that offered by Air Canada, and you will notice fewer differences if traveling this way. They both offer larger seats arranged 2-2 and include meals and drinks.
Have you flown recently with Air Canada or Air Canada Rouge? Feel free to discuss your experiences in the comments.