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Air Canada Rouge unveils new thrifty uniforms

Models show off Air Canada Rouge's new uniforms in Toronto on Monday, May 27, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The newly unveiled uniforms for Air Canada's subsidiary Rouge are pared-down versions of traditional flight-attendants outfits, exemplifying the cost-cutting approach of the new discount carrier.

Despite the small fashion show to give a peek at the outfits at John Fluevog's trendy shoe store in Toronto's Distillery District Monday, the uniforms are all about stretching savings. The very basic burgundy knitwear tops and grey slacks are going to be around for the next five to seven years, airline executives said.

The most fashion forward element are the grey shoes for women and grey brogues for men made by Vancouver-based John Fluevog Shoes. Most of the pieces are Canadian-designed. The overcoats and grey pants are from Montreal-based Nicci Uniform and manufactured domestically, while the knit tops are from Cobmex Appeal in Markham, Ont., and made in Mexico.

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"From a cost approach, we look at every single dollar we spend," said Renee Smith-Valade, vice-president of customer experience. "Every single item you looked at today is at or below industry costs, relative to our competition. It's very trimmed down. There are much fewer elements than you would traditionally see in a flight-attendant uniform. It's simple, it's trimmed down, it's clean."

In addition to their training with Air Canada, Rouge attendants are also receiving customer-service training at the Disney Institute in Florida. The idea is not to foster a folksy atmosphere on the flights, as is the style among many discount carriers and popularized by Southwest Airlines, but more of a family-oriented, vacation feel.

For example, attendants will have their hometowns printed on their name badges to encourage conversation. "That's really what Disney does well. They train on how to engage with people, whether you are a 10-year-old, or five-year-old, or a 70-year-old, or anything in between," Ms. Smith-Valade said.

Air Canada is in the middle of heavy cost-cutting, with a company-wide push to quickly trim $50-million in expenses in the current quarter. The launch of Rouge on July 1 and the hiring of new Rouge staff are not affected. Executives say that Rouge is instead an investment to shift less profitable flights to Europe and the Caribbean from mainline Air Canada to the new discount model, in which attendants make less money and services are less oriented to business fliers.

"Some of the routes that we are assuming from Air Canada have not been making very much money or have in fact been losing money in some cases. But putting on Rouge airplanes, we'll be able to now operate them profitably. This is very much an investment in the Air Canada future, as opposed to being a drain," argued Michael Friisdahl, president and chief executive of Air Canada Rouge.

Industry watchers have recently been concerned about the added capacity and greater competition likely to come with Rouge and with WestJet Airlines Ltd.'s new regional subsidiary Encore. But Mr. Friisdahl said that it is necessary to grow in order to take advantage of the continuing expansion in passenger demand.

"It is a very intense and highly competitive business, and that's never really changed. So I don't think it's going to be any different looking ahead. I think it will continue to be very competitive, and I think consumers will obviously benefit from that competition," Mr. Friisdahl said.

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Rouge plans to ultimately fly 20 Boeing long-haul 767s and 30 Airbus 319 airplanes over the next three to five years. "It really depends on demand," Mr. Friisdahl said.

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About the Author

Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More


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