Nine months into their existence, Porter Airlines chugs along, still under the radar of most. As the Toronto Star recently reported, the young airline is still struggling to find a steady stream of regular business customers. With traffic on the 401 at an all-time high, getting to Pearson during rush hours can potentially take as long as a flight to Montreal. On a weekend getaway, the give-or-take ten hours spent traveling to La Belle Province and back are costly. And with flights available for not much more than a regular fare round-trip on VIA to Montreal, it made sense to give Porter a shot.
Flying out of the Toronto City Centre Airport (otherwise known as the Toronto Island Airport), Porter has transformed the rundown facility into a surprisingly posh terminal. The airline offers a free shuttle service to and from Union Station, although more people on this day seemed to prefer the taxi option. Billed as one of the world’s shortest ferry rides, the 120-metre trip from the bottom of Bathurst Street to the island is over in a flash. If you’re wondering, as any sane person might, why there isn’t a bridge, well, that’s politics. It’s been on the cusp of happening many times, but it just hasn’t come to fruition. The place does have quite the checkered history though, which Torontoist recently delved into.
The waiting area is essentially a business class lounge, with everything free for the taking, including wireless internet access, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. Slickest of all are the Porter-labeled bottles of water. It might well be tap water, but it still passed the better-than-Dasani test. The on-board snack even comes in a cute little box. Hey, presentation counts.
There’s a small measure of class that Porter delivers that seems to escape competitors Air Canada and WestJet. It almost harkens back to the day when flying was a luxury and not the cattle-like security-theatre experience of today. But style might not be enough to help Porter compete; their strength is their downtown location, and they’re going to need more people to be willing to break old habits. For those of us that live and/or work downtown, there simply is no better way to go to and from Montreal (or Ottawa, if you must), at least until VIA magically conjures up a Japanese bullet train. And for all the talk on this site about global warming, let it be noted that Porter’s Bombardier Q400 twin-turboprop jets are more carbon-friendly than anything in the Air Canada or WestJet fleet.
The final product is something close to revelatory. It’s akin to having your own private jet service, which is both a testament to Porter’s superior service and near-empty flights. A mural in the Island Airport terminal implies that New York City will be on the short-list of Porter destinations, and the airline was officially cleared to fly to U.S. cities as of yesterday. But this likely won’t happen until next year, if Porter is still around. If the 401 traffic keeps getting worse, they might want to think about adding Pearson as a destination.
Photo by Danu Mandlsohn.