Porter Airlines is a Canadian-based airline that few in the U.S. have heard about, even though they just celebrated their third anniversary and have operated over 32,000 flights. Pour quoi? It's probably because they only began flying to the U.S. in March 2008. Since then, they have expanded their service from Toronto to New York-Newark to now include Boston-Logan and Chicago-Midway. In all, Porter serves 11 destinations across Canada and the United States: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, St. John's, Thunder Bay, New York, Chicago, Boston, and seasonal flights to Mt. Tremblant, Quebec.
Porter has just three types of fares so you know what you're getting and the ticket rules don't require a Master's degree to understand. There's the most expensive Freedom fare, the heavily restricted Firm fare and in between is the Flexible fare. Depending on the fare type, options range from complimentary changes and cancellations to advance seat selection. So that means if you're purchasing the Firm fare (cheapest), which most leisure travelers do, passengers can have to spend C$15 for an advanced seat selection (per segment). What was key for me is that Porter seems to be much cheaper than any other airline flying between New York and Toronto when I'm pricing out fares. NOTE: It's best to book as far in advance as possible.
Type of Plane
Porter only flies one type of aircraft: Canadian-made Bombardier Q400. They have 15 of them and each plane holds 70 passengers. Supposedly, Bombardier Q400 is the most technologically advanced regional aircraft in the world and is renowned for its environment-friendly characteristics. The Q stands for "The Quiet One" but it wasn't all that quiet in the cabin. It was actually difficult (Note: I was seated near the wing) to hear the PA announcements and the safety demonstration, which are done in Canada's two official languages, English and French.
Toronto City Airport
The Bombardier Q400 is made not far from Porter's main base airport, which is Toronto's little-known but super-convenient Toronto City Centre Airport (TCCA). TCCA is just minutes from downtown Toronto at the foot of Bathurst Street. For public transportation, take the TTC or GO Transit to Union Station. Porter also operates a free shuttle directly to and from the airport to The Royal York Hotel, which is centrally located. (I stayed there a few years ago). The airport is on an island so it requires a free two-minute (120-meter) ferry ride to or from downtown; they depart every 10 minutes. TCCA airport is currently undergoing construction of a new $45 million passenger terminal.
Porter passengers don't have to show up hours before their flight. In fact, they recommended that passengers arrive only 30 minutes prior to flight time at TCCA or 60 minutes prior at other Canadian airports for domestic flights. When flying internationally to and from the U.S., they advise 60 minutes prior to flight time at TCCA and 90 minutes at the others. That's less than half the recommended arrival times made by most carriers.
When passengers arrive from America they don't have to wait in any long immigration lines like they do at Pearson International Airport. At TCCA, going through customs is practically a joy. Though the Canadian officials are sticklers and usually treat me like a terrorist: Why are you in Canada? Who are you visiting? Where are you staying? For how long? There are two to three agents and they spend about one minute with each visitor. Unfortunately, unlike Pearson Airport, U.S. bound passengers cannot pre-clear U.S. customs like they can there. So you will have to wait at Newark's long security line like I had to on my return. However, when the new terminal is built this may change.
The moment you arrive at Toronto City Centre Airport, you realize how special Porter Airlines is. First of all, the agents are all friendly. And they don't charge for checked bags - passengers are allowed up to two pieces with a combined weight of 50 lbs (23 kg). NOTE: No single piece can weigh more than 70 lbs (32 kilos).
The waiting area at TCCA is essentially in a normal airline's club lounge except everyone who flies Porter is granted access ... for free. Inside, it's modern with comfortable and stylish chairs, free newspapers, snacks and refreshments (including bottled water), Mac computers and free wireless Internet access. For a second there, I felt like I was in airport heaven.
Passengers board 20 minutes prior to departure and by rows 10 through 18 first. The crew is strict. I had no problems stowing my laptop bag but I had to gate check my stuffed duffel bag. The modern planes have leather seats with lots of legroom and a 2x2 configuration so there's no dreaded middle seat. There's only one class of service and everyone gets treated the same. The flight attendants, like the gate agents, are friendly and they wear retro uniforms, complete with a hat and scarf. They offer a complimentary snack and beverage service on all flights, including soft drinks, wine and beer. On my morning flight, the snack box came with yogurt, cranberry granola and a Danish. I chose one of Porter's own branded bottles of water, which are shaped like the mini Fiji bottles but these are bottled in Montreal at Blue Orchid Waters. While many airlines are getting rid of in-flight magazines, Porter has stepped it up a notch and offers a small booklet with pertinent stories from the same publisher of Wallpaper Magazine.
Porter Airlines, tel. 888/619-8622 or 416/619-8622; www.flyporter.com
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