Quick Take: Air Canada Rouge Premium Economy (LGW-YYZ)
Air Canada Rouge - Premium Class
London Gatwick (LGW) - Toronto (YYZ)
Being frequent flyers on Air Canada we were keen to sample Air Canada's so-called leisure offering - Air Canada Rouge. We purchase a heavily discounted one-way economy class ticket and upgraded to the front section for about US$250.
Configured in a 2-2-2 design, the front cabin is pretty much a Premium Economy cabin. Seat pitches on the aging Boeing 767-300 are limited so don't expect to get anywhere near the lie flat experience of full fare, trans-continental Business Class (37 pitch; 18.5 width). Overhead baggage storage is limited. (AC Rouge also operates newer, single aisle Airbus A300 series aircraft on shorter routes). Online reviews of the economy class section generally present a poor picture, with most complaints about uncomfortable seats and sub-standard food and beverage.
Before take-off passengers are offered bottled water. A hint of the type of passengers who patronize AC Rouge came through the pre-departure take-off announcement: it included a warning that no duty free alcohol can be consumed on board. Hmmmm....
During the 7-hour plus crossing we were offered two meals - a hot lunch with two choices and a heated wrap two hours before landing. Beer, wine and spirits are complimentary but the wine selection is no where near what Air Canada offers on its mainline services. In fact wine is served in small miniature plastic bottles. The lunch portion was enormous, but taste-wise nothing even close that David Hawksworth - the celebrity chef who partnered with Air Canada - would ever put his name to. (see photo).
Our main complaint is the inflight entertainment system. As these are older aircraft they do not have installed screens so passengers in the premium cabin are offered iPads which stream movies and other content from the Rouge entertainment system. We found it difficult to watch off an iPad, especially during meal services when table space is at a premium. What we also found particularly enjoying is having to watch at least 5-minutes of ads each time we switched between content (come on guys!). As for the movie selections, expect to find mostly chick-flick content that one might desire after a long vacation away in Mexico.
The service was generally attentive, and the style more casual (a la WestJet). However Air Canada is the only airline we know which discriminates between full fare and upgraded passengers. If you booked a last minute paid upgrade that means you'll be last in line to choose your main course. On full flights this could mean being denied a Premium Class meal. This practice can create awkward moments - for example if you're travelling next to a colleague or loved one you could end up receiving different treatment based on your fare category.
Generally speaking AC Rouge B767 aircraft are in desperate need of a refresh. We spotted broken overhead lighting panels and ancient washrooms interiors (there's even a disposal bin for razor blades in the loo!).
Overall we give AC Rouge premium class a passing grade but we might think twice about returning, especially on long-haul flights. As one Air Canada mainline check-in agent told us: "I wouldn't fly them..I haven't heard anything positive from passengers about them."