Air Canada rouge ‘just keeps upping its game’
Questions & Answers with Jon Turner, president, rouge Operations, Air Canada rouge
1. Can you update agents on what’s been happening at Air Canada rouge since you took over as its president in June 2019?
The biggest challenge that we’ve had since I got here was adding capacity. The reason we had to add so much capacity was to help Air Canada out with the overall 737 situation and the grounding of the  MAX . So, our focus has been, and it will continue to be into 2020 – is how do we ramp up the operation. We’ve brought in close to 400 cabin crew, several hundred pilots last year  to fly all the additional hours.
That’s really a departure from what rouge was meant to be when it started … [when it started] it was very focused just on leisure. Obviously we keep the leisure as our prime reason for being, but we’ve also been flying other routes, just to help out in the big picture with Air Canada.
2. What do travel agents need to know about Air Canada rouge to help them to better understand what the airline is all about?
In truth, what I’d like them to know is we’re really putting a lot of focus on service; on providing consistently good service across all of our markets. Personally. I think we have come a long way on that front. What we’re trying to do is to make it a very good experience [for customers] and [one that] aligns well with the Air Canada product.
3. So you’re not hearing the kind of complaints that were around when rouge was originally launched?
No, I think it’s very different [now]. The market understands the product better, and we’ve put a lot of effort into upping our game here, too. There’s been a lot of focus on the crews, on crew training and that interaction with the crew and the customer – that’s where I spend a good part of my time.
4. How does Air Canada rouge differentiate itself from its competitors?
Well, I think we have a lot of things to differentiate ourselves. Number one – our relationship with Air Canada is huge. I think that’s an important one for our customers. Obviously, we’ve got Aeroplan. We’ve got access to the Air Canada network. And we have the strength of Air Canada to get through things and move capacity around and do all the things [we need to do] to provide a better network for our customers. So, I think those are probably the biggest [differentiators].
Within Air Canada rouge itself, where we try to differentiate and where we put a lot of emphasis is, again, on the crew and the experience of the customer – trying to make [that experience] personal; trying to make it something different; trying to make it something that they’ll remember. So, it comes down to network, Aeroplan and customer service.
5. You mentioned it earlier that people’s perception of Air Canada rouge has changed. What kind of reaction or feedback are you getting from agents and their customers about the product that Air Canada rouge is offering today?
Rouge has been tremendously successful for Air Canada. It has allowed Air Canada to get into all kinds of markets, all kinds of destinations that Air Canada traditionally never could do. I think the initial reaction was kind of just the growing of the airline [when it was launched], and it was a different product, but customers, when they saw Air Canada, they expected the full Air Canada product.
So, my perception is that two things have happened. One is that customers, agents – everybody – now understand the rouge product better. Secondly, we’ve put a lot of emphasis into doing everything that we can to improve service levels. I think the two [service levels and consumer expectations] have kind of intersected – that’s how I view it – and we’re going to continue to do things to improve service as we go on.
6. Have there been any fleet expansions? Have there been any new routes added to the network since you took over in June?
Since I took over, we brought in a lot of airplanes. We brought in eight A321s – the ex-WOW airplanes; some A320s, we’re still bringing a couple in; and we’ll be at 64 airplanes in 2020. So going from zero to 64 airplanes in not even seven years – six and a half years, is pretty impressive.
Some of them we’re still working on to get into our full, standard interior because our priority was to get the seats into the market and provide the lift, provide the service. So, we have a little bit of catch-up work to do there on a few of the airplanes to get the right configuration on the airplanes. We have a few all-economy A321s out there which is not our product, but we’ll be fixing that starting in early in 2020.
7. What about new routes – are there any new destinations on the horizon for rouge?
There is nothing I can announce or tell you right now. Our network planning group will do that all in due course. We let them set our network. Over the last year, you saw us in more domestic markets, which was a departure from what we’d done in the past and really that was a 737Max contingency. I don’t think we’ll see a lot of new things, we’ll just see adjustments to existing service.
8. What’s going to surprise travel agents and their customers about Air Canada rouge in 2020?
I hope what surprises them – and what we’re going to put the effort on to surprise them – is the high level of customer service, especially from a leisure carrier. We have fantastic, well-trained cabin staff, and we will continue to focus on making our product and service consistently great across the board.. There are a lot of unknowns in 2020 and whatever I tell you today will be all different I’m sure, by mid-2020 as it was in 2019. In the meantime, our focus is on really standing out on the customer service side.