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Destinations touted to attract new Rouge flight attendants

Executive vice-president Ben Smith, left, and chief executive officer of Air Canada Leisure Group, Michael Friisdahl unveil the new leisure airline Air Canada Rouge in Toronto in December.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Air Canada's low-cost carrier Rouge is hoping that the opportunity to work on flights to the Caribbean and Europe will be enough to entice flight attendants, despite the lower pay.

When the new airline takes off this summer, Rouge cabin crew will be making less than their Air Canada counterparts, which has been a central issue in talks between Air Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representing the attendants.

Yet the draw for recruits, Rouge executives hope, is that Rouge attendants will be able to work the kinds of international flights which Air Canada attendants typically only get with more seniority.

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"One of the real selling points of this recruitment campaign is that the flying is to Western Europe and to the Caribbean. Those are highly desirable destinations to fly to, and you're doing that from day one in your career. So, that's certainly one of the factors that we think will attract some great candidates," said Renee Smith-Valade, Rouge's head of customer experience.

The applications Air Canada Rouge has received so far have clearly skewed on the younger side, and Rouge has put up notices in travel and tourism student programs around the Greater Toronto Area to attract young recruits, she added.

Executives at Rouge, a wholly owned subsidiary of Air Canada, have argued that lower costs and wages are necessary to make the airline competitive, as it takes over vacation flights to Europe and sun destinations which were unprofitable for the main Air Canada fleet.

"We need to make sure that we not only have a competitive product in terms of the onboard experience, but we need to make sure that we have a competitive cost base," said Michael Friisdahl, president and chief executive officer of Air Canada Leisure Group.

Air Canada Rouge is currently finalizing an agreement with CUPE to have the flight attendants represented by that union. The airline wouldn't disclose how much lower Rouge wages would be compared to Air Canada, and CUPE representatives declined to talk Thursday given the ongoing negotiations.

During early negotiations last autumn, CUPE issued a statement noting that new attendants working Air Canada's main fleet make as little as $18,500 annually, with the average salary at just $41,000. Rouge attendants would be earning less.

The airline's executives contend that their flight attendants' wages would be competitive compared to other discount carriers. There will be no crossover between Rouge and Air Canada flight attendants working the other airline.

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Because Rouge will cater to vacation destinations, the job notice for flight attendants gives clear hints that these will be routes with more children on board and fewer business travellers.

Recruitment in the Toronto area started Thursday with notices to submit applications online until Feb. 11, and interviews will be held on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 for the initial 150 jobs. Rouge is looking only for applicants who can be at Toronto Pearson International Airport, Rouge's hub, within 90 minutes of being called to work.

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About the Author

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

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