PORTER AIRLINES REVIEW BASICS:
Airline: Porter Airlines
Aircraft: Bombardier Q400
Route: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) to Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
Seats: 13B (aisle) and 15D (window)
Length: About 70 minutes (each way)
Cheers: Everyone gets treated like they are flying first class — including free wine and beer.
Jeers: Some people might not like riding on a turbo-prop.
Overall: This is the way flying should be — and a rarity to find it on a regional carrier.
THE FULL PORTER AIRLINES REVIEW:
During a recent trip to Toronto, I had the opportunity to fly to Montreal and back using Porter airlines (disclosure: the trip was paid for by Bombardier to check out their Cseries in Montreal). Being based in Seattle and flying Horizon/Alaska quite a bit, I am no stranger to the Q400 aircraft. There have been quite a few times that when I talk to people about the Q400, I am asked if I have tried Porter Airlines. Luckily, I can now say that I have — and that is a good thing.
When flying Porter Airlines, getting to the airport was half the fun. I walked about a mile (could have easily taken a cab, bus or subway, but it was a nice morning), hopped on a shuttle bus, then took the world’s shortest ferry ride. For those that love anything that involves transportation, the experience is pretty cool. So why a ferry? Well, that is kind of a long story.
Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is located on an island in Toronto and is restricted to prop aircraft and helicopters. When Porter first began looking at starting operations there, they were under the assumption that a bridge would be built to allow easy access. There was some fun political stuff that went down and no bridge has been built. Instead, the airport runs a small ferry that can hold cars and passengers from the “mainland” over to the island. Don’t blink, because you might miss the ride — it is the shortest ferry ride in the world.
The Toronto Port Authority is in the process of creating a pedestrian tunnel that will allow easier access and reduce the onslaught of passengers that come with each arriving ferry. The ferry will still operate once the tunnel is completed (which they are expecting to be done in 2014), to handle car traffic and presumably passengers who want to get the full experience.
I was staying in downtown Toronto and decided to make the one mile walk to the Royal York Hotel, where Porter Airlines operates a free shuttle to the ferry . Even with the walk, shuttle and ferry, it was less than an hour from my hotel room to my gate, which was quite impressive.
Since all I had was a camera, it was quick and easy for me to get through security. Every time I go through airport security any place that is not in the US, I am reminded how much better it can be. I was greeted with a big smile and asked how I was doing (what… is this a trick?). I asked if I needed to take off my shoes and I was told no. He looked at my belt and said, “that might make the alarm go off,” and I explained it never had before and he let me through (very different from the barking orders that the TSA gives).
This is when things really get different. Instead of having a bunch of uncomfortable seats with bad lighting, the Porter Airlines waiting area is like a first class lounge — and a good one at that. I have been in a few first class lounges of other airlines that have been worse than Porter’s waiting area. There are free drinks and snacks, nothing major, but still impressive. There is free wifi and plenty of comfortable seating.This all comes at no extra charge and is just part of the Porter experience.
Before my flight I had an opportunity to sit down with Brad Cicero and Amanda Ashford, with Porter communications, to learn a bit more about the airline. They explained to me that Porter is looking to add some paid options in their lounge, including ready-to-go food and alcohol.
Each flight is clearly announced and people line up at one of three doors before heading to one of ten gates. With most regional prop aircraft, you have to (well “get to” for airline fans) go on the tarmac to board. This can be okay some times of the year, but winter in Toronto has a way of getting a bit cold. So, the airline helped to design a customized boot to allow an inside hallway to connect to the aircraft, keeping passengers out of the elements.
The Q400 is not known for having spacious overhead bins (although the Q400nextgen does do a pretty good job) If you have a larger carry-on, you can give it to the Porter employee at the gate and they will return it to you once you land. This is a similar service that Alaska and Frontier Airlines also offer on their Q400s.
Porter has arranged their Q400s with a 34″ seat pitch with 70 seats vs the typical 78 seat set up. All the seats are leather and the interior uses lighter color tones. It felt more like someone’s personal aircraft than an airliner. On both my flights I had a seat mate, which didn’t give me too much room side-to-side — although I am a bit bigger of a guy. I was sitting in the aisle going to Montreal and I would really have to bring my shoulder in from being hit by people passing in the aisle.
Just because the flight was only an hour doesn’t mean that passengers don’t get full service. A bit after take off the flight attendants started down the aisle giving out meal boxes and drinks. On the way to Montreal I had a chicken sandwich with pasta and on the way back was a chicken wrap with veggies. Now, these are not full meal portions, but way more than you would expect in economy on almost any other domestic airline. Not to mention you also get free beer or wine — in a real glass.
The flight attendants have classic uniforms that look professional and the four I was able to interact with seemed to actually enjoy their job and positively interacted with passengers, even though they had a short time line to complete their service.
The weather in Montreal was foggy and a bit snowy, so we did not see the ground until we almost touched down. Even sitting near the rear of the plane, it is always a quick de-boarding process on the Q400.
After a few hours in Montreal, I was back at the airport ready to take another ride on Porter. The ride back was equally enjoyable. This is an airline that seems to be in at the right place at the right time, offering the right service.
They are working towards getting US Customers Pre-Clearance in Toronto, so that they can expand routes into the US that do not have customs. Porter is also planning to bring lounges to additional airports that they serve like Montreal and Newark, sometime in the future.
Previously the airline has not turned a profit and has been around 50% passenger load. Once completing the numbers for 2011, they are hoping to show a profit and occupancy loads to be around 60%, helping to fuel future growth for this unique airline.