Recently, I traveled with Air Canada’s new low-cost product going to smaller and vacation destinations, Air Canada Rouge. There are a couple of important points of difference between them and other low-cost carriers. First, being representative of Canada, the experience will have that nation’s health and language policies (bilingual English and French). Masks to prevent against Covid19 are still required on their flights and jetways, but they supply them free. This was my first flight post-pandemic.
Second, cuisine in the cabins and lounges feature Canadian food and beverage items, which definitely does give a sense of traveling outside the US.
Also, AC Rouge has a couple of different flight classes, including Premium Rouge. Premium Rouge tickets have a number of upgraded amenities, including access to Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounges, which I was happy to be hosted to experience.
My itinerary included Air Canada’s Jazz product, as well as Rouge: I traveled from Baltimore to Toronto to Moncton, going back home through Montreal.
Air Canada has an app to navigate its airports and a charging station at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. I still did a good deal of wandering to find the Maple Leaf Lounge, because with the pandemic, many of the landmark shops are closed and there just aren’t the number of airport personnel walking around. Maybe it’s just me . . . after several attempts, I was so close, but no cigar. The Maple Lounge for domestic flights is a good product: it deserves lots of prominent signage! Finally, I noticed a group of flight personnel waiting for an elevator and connected the dots.
Keeping an eye on time, I realized that my time to relax would be compressed, but I was determined! I understand that the US military teaches techniques for soldiers to rest anytime, anywhere, under the most improbable conditions. I’m glad I was able to check it out.
The lounge is well-designed; even though it had plenty of people, as you can see, it didn’t feel crowded. Colors are soothing and warm.
Need to freshen up? The Maple Lounge lavatory has UK’s Molton Brown upscale cleanser and hand lotion.
Food offerings include freshly made wraps, like Thai Siracha Chicken wraps and marinated cauliflower salad. I appreciated having easy to grab items, fresh and crunchy, that weren’t in prepared-God-only-knows-when plastic wrap. There were also plenty of good looking crudites. I noticed a couple of soup options, but I was a little too jumpy to manage hot liquids.
They have a neat setup for other hot items: table-side service. I was happy to find a comfy Barcalounger type chair and was looking to select between butter chicken, Parmesan spinach gnocchi or mac & cheese, along with a creme brule’, but they made an announcement that they were closing the kitchen early.
I noticed that there are no longer the racks of newspapers from all over, but instead, you have access to 7,000 titles on the PressReader app through your device. Do I miss the seat-pocket magazines and local papers? Sure. They also made great souvenirs to folks back home. But, post-pandemic, the new ways are cleaner and greener. If I had to stand in front of a tree to be felled just so I could read, say, the National Post, I couldn’t commit tree murder. Kind of the same as if I had spent the day at a petting zoo, I would probably eat a vegetarian dinner. When I was a kid, my mom wouldn’t let me take unwrapped dinner mints at restaurants. This is likely the way a lot of people feel about touching stuff that other people touched, post-pandemic. This is the new world in which we live, folks!
The lounge carried several Canadian wines from the Niagara area. But, heading to a flight that would get me into the Atlantic provinces after midnight, I poured myself a wee glass of vintage port.
Premium Rouge seats have a more width and leg room than the regular seats. They also have foot rests and plush leather upholstery. The armrests have drink holders, so you can have a beverage without getting out the whole tray situation. There are dual voltage power outlets, so that should cover you for at least a good number of countries. They have a USB port at the seats, but sometimes the ports can be finicky with your particular lightning cable, etc. If you can fully charge your device, consider that some nice lagniappe.
My flight was over 2 hours, so they serve a full meal in Premiere Rouge. I had a dinner that was kind of USA, USA, USA! Chicken breast was combined with BBQ sauce, cornbread, corn, red bell pepper, black beans and zucchini. I was glad to have a nice portion of vegetables, because I think that just makes for a healthier meal. The meal is presented in pieces, so you aren’t trying to saw a knife thousands of feet in the air. They served a couple of French wines and I found the red to go very well with the complex flavors of BBQ.
With dinner, I got to try a Canadian sparkling water beverage and fell in love with Viv Eau. It’s pure, no sugar added. Sparkling water is blended with fruit ciders for flavor and natural sweetness, without the ramifications of drinking a full glass of juice. Two thumbs up for Tart Cherry!
So, coming back during the day, I figured, when in Canada . . . so I ordered a Bloody Caesar! That’s the Canadian version of a Bloody Mary and it has Clamato instead of tomato juice or V-8. They don’t have spices on board, but do recommend “in real life” horseradish, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
For lunch, I had a vegetarian wrap with whole wheat, red and yellow pepper, yellow cheese, lettuce, carrot and couscous. Salted almonds were served as well. The meal was presented with real silverware.
Now, something happened to me that I promise, will not happen to you. The USA had a requirement to have a negative Covid test for only plane travel entrants. Cruise, car and walk-ins were exempt. So, like some sort of badass outlaw, I had to sneak back into Maine by car to get and pay for a test in Lubec, to crawl back into Canada after updating my records at appCAN, to fly home. I was seeing the same border control people from both countries over and over. We started talking about my meals, the sights that I saw, their grandkids, I even met one of their girlfriends at lunch.
Several airports promote local artists, but I thought this Montreal take on The New Yorker to be especially cute:
At Montreal, there was a cluster-blank at “Pre-Qualification”, as our negative tests, previously uploaded, were double- and triple- scrutinized. As such, I missed any opportunity to check out Montreal’s Maple Lounge! Grrrr! Hopefully, some other time. The very next day, the Feds got rid of the requirement.
I would say the upgrades are well worth it, because though I got to my hotel in Moncton in the middle of the night and had to be up early the next day, I didn’t have that spent feeling. The extra pampering, room, comfort and a good drink are all refreshing; they make you enjoy your destination more.