Twice a year, when planning my semi-annual trips from Yucatán to the UK and Ireland, I am faced with a dizzying array of travel options. Should I depart from Mérida or Cancun? Should I go first to Ireland or England? Nonstop flight (from Cancun)? One connection? Two? Can I face connecting in the USA and going through the CBP interrogation and TSA theater of security? Often I focus on price, however am usually willing to pay a bit more for better flight times, or to avoid connecting in the USA.
Generally speaking, it is cheaper to depart from Cancun, and to go to England first, returning from Ireland where departure taxes are lower. This year for my trip in October, that is exactly the way it turned out, with a departure from Cancun, via Toronto to London, and returning from Dublin via Toronto to Cancun attractively priced on Air Canada / Air Canada rouge at US$950 in total.
I hesitated briefly before booking, since three of the segments were on Air Canada rouge (Air Canada’s new budget/leisure ‘airline within an airline’ which began service in July 2013) and a quick Google search revealed some less than flattering comments about the airline. Let’s not mince words here – most of the reviews are pretty terrible. After reading many of them however, I noted that the main item of complaint was poor legroom, and by flyers over 6 feet tall. Honestly though, how many 6 foot plus flyers feel comfortable in any economy class airplane seat? Yes, rouge’s seat pitch is a couple of inches less than ‘mainline’ carriers, but is on a par with most other budget/leisure focused airlines, and as someone (perhaps fortunate to be) well under 6 feet tall, I was not unduly concerned. I also noted that for a reasonable additional fee, I would be able to reserve extra legroom seats at the front of the cabin, and having checked the seat maps to be sure they were actually available, decided that is what I would do. Having done my due diligence, I clicked ‘purchase’ and was committed.
I was interested to learn more about Air Canada and Air Canada rouge before my journey, and sent an email to Air Canada’s media relations department contacts listed on their website. After being duly ignored for a long period I sent it again. And again. One would assume that a media relations department’s main purpose would be to communicate with members of the media – Air Canada’s apparently does not think so, and, by the time of my departure, I had still not heard from them. In fact, they never responded. While in England, I decided to make another attempt to obtain information, and asked Air Canada’s social media team, via Facebook to assist me. In contrast to the disinterested media relations department, the social media team were most helpful, answering a number of questions themselves, and then taking my email address and advising me that ‘someone’ would be in touch. Soon thereafter, I was contacted by Air Canada rouge’s Manager of Communications, who provided the information and answers I was looking for.
Air Canada rouge flights began operating between Cancun and Toronto on October 10, 2013. The year-round non-stop flights are up to twice daily. The route is operated with both Boeing 767-300ER and Airbus A319 aircraft.
So, how were the flights? My outbound flight from Cancun was delayed, resulting in a missed connection in Toronto. That was just a part of what turned into a most challenging journey (largely unrelated to Air Canada). Want to know more? You can read about it here. The flight itself though was fine – I was seated in the front economy row of the Airbus A319 operated by Air Canada rouge, directly behind the ‘Premium rouge’ seating. Having purchased extra legroom seats (“rouge Plus”) for all segments, I found the legroom to be more than acceptable; walking back through the cabin during the flight I noticed, as expected, that tall passengers did (as always in economy) look uncomfortable; everyone else however seemed to have adequate space.
Onboard service was friendly and professional; after returning home, while talking to Renee Smith-Valade, Vice President of Customer Experience for Air Canada rouge I learned that the onboard service is designed to make every flight a memorable start or end to a wonderful vacation, and that rouge crew (flight attendants) are trained in customer service excellence at the Disney Institute. In rouge and rouge Plus seating for North America and Sun destinations, Air Canada rouge provides complimentary non-alcoholic beverages; snacks, meals and alcoholic drinks are available for purchase. To get into the Canadian mood, I purchased a Caesar, and relaxed.
Later, on my rescheduled connection from Toronto to London (operated by Air Canada on a Boeing 777) I found the service to be equally as professional and friendly; free alcoholic beverages and slightly greater legroom being the only noticeable difference between Air Canada and rouge.
Three weeks later, my visit to England and the Emerald Isle complete, I boarded Air Canada rouge’s flight from Dublin to Toronto. Air Canada rouge welcomed customers onboard the first flight from Toronto to Dublin on May 1, 2014, assuming the formerly seasonal route from Air Canada and now offers year-round flights between the two cities with up to daily frequency, operated with Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. I was happy with my comfortable bulkhead seat in the first row of the economy cabin, which offered excellent legroom and space. For flights to and from European destinations, meals and non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary. I found the onboard meals to be as good as any other airline in economy class; nothing memorable, but certainly hot and tasty.
Much has been written about rouge’s entertainment system (or lack thereof); in fact, Air Canada rouge aircraft are all equipped with player, a next generation in-flight entertainment system that streams unlimited live entertainment to customers’ personal electronic devices. Air Canada rouge is one of the first airlines in North America to offer streaming onboard content. Customers are invited to bring their own fully-charged laptop or iPad, iPod or iPhone, or they can rent an iPad on board for $10. If you are planning to use your own Apple iPad, iPhone or iPod touch to enjoy player, it is essential to download the latest Air Canada app before boarding. If you’re using a laptop, it’s advisable to install Adobe Flash Player.
I overnighted in Toronto, and the following morning continued my journey to Cancun. This time the Cancun flight was operated by a Boeing 767-300ER, and I was again seated in a bulkhead seat in the first row of economy.
I was not expecting much from Air Canada rouge – in the event, my experience was positive, and I found the crew to be friendly and professional on all flights. Certainly rouge compares favorably with other budget/leisure focused carriers. Would I fly rouge again? Absolutely. Flights on rouge, and connections with Air Canada can be booked at www.aircanada.com
As mentioned, I was overnighting in Toronto on my way home; never having done so before, I was without a ‘go to’ option in my inventory. Where to stay? Browsing various hotel booking sites, I found the usual range of lackluster airport hotels, many of which had dismal ratings. At the airport itself, is a Sheraton; it was expensive however and also not particularly well rated by previous guests.
Then I noticed the Alt Hotel. I’d not heard of this company before – not surprising as it happens, since it’s a new company, with properties only in Canada. I browsed the website, and read the (largely excellent) reviews on Tripadvisor. The price was right, and the clincher was the fact that it is on airport, and the airport LINK train runs there from the terminal, avoiding the need for the always annoying shuttle buses required for most ‘airport’ hotels. I booked.
In the event, I loved the hotel; easily accessible via the free LINK train, which runs every 4 – 8 minutes according to the time of day, with a journey time of just a few minutes. Big windows allowed plenty of afternoon sunshine into my room, but were well-insulated enough to keep out airport and traffic noise. A great bathroom with monsoon shower, super comfortable bed, lightning fast free internet, great workspace with a comfortable chair, Italian Calla armchair, a great tv/entertainment system, and Keurig ‘pod’ type coffee maker completed the package. The hotel has no restaurant; rather a selection of prepared snacks and light meals are available at the ALTcetera bar in the lobby; I chose instead to ride the LINK train back to the terminal and eat at one of the landside restaurants.
I slept exceptionally well, and the following morning greatly appreciated the fact that less than 10 minutes after exiting my room, I was in line at the Air Canada check-in desk in the terminal.
I’d stay there again without hesitation. Rooms at the Alt Toronto and the company’s other locations can be booked at http://althotels.ca/en/
Stewart Mandy traveled at his own expense.
Article written: December 2014