For a medium-sized airline failure, the end of Canjet's scheduled service on Sept. 10 didn't make all that much of a splash. Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canjet served eastern Canadian and several U.S. destinations with middling fares, leading the Financial Post to sniff that "CanJet's departure will not have much impact on the competitive environment in Canada because it does not offer prices dramatically lower than the competition."
Canjet's disappearance didn't cut off many options for U.S. travelers to Canada, but a new airline, Porter Airlines, will open up some intriguing new ones. Porter, which is based at Toronto's City Centre airport, is following the Midwest Express model: more comfortable service at the same prices as the competition, with the added punch of an airport that's far more convenient to Canada's biggest city than the one other airlines are forced to fly into.
Who Cries For CanJet?
CanJet served Toronto and Halifax from New York and several Florida cities, with connections to other eastern Canadian cities like Moncton and St. John's. Compared to the dominant Air Canada and WestJet (Canada's answer to Southwest), it didn't offer much help for cross-border travelers, according to University of Toronto management professor and airline industry watcher Joseph D'Cruz.
"The major competition to Air Canada for cross border traffic comes from the large US main-line carriers, American, United, USAir and Delta as well as Northwest," D'Cruz said.
The Toronto Star's Kevin McGran took a gloomier view. In a Sept. 6 article, he says that "CanJet's announcement is a devastating blow for Atlantic Canadians" and that "If history is your guide, consumers know what's coming. In the wake of JetsGo's [earlier] demise, Air Canada's and WestJet's stock price rose. So too did the cost of flights."
And Halifax is hurting. Air Canada's lowest "tango" fare doesn't even exist on the New York-Halifax route we checked, leaving fares for the short 600-mile hop as high as $492 round-trip, even with a 3-week advance purchase.
But now that the smoke has cleared, CanJet's disappearance hasn't bumped up fares across Canada much, according to analysis from research firm Desjardins Securities. In a September 26 report, analysts Nadi Tadros and Chris Couprie say that since the middle of 2006, "lowest airfares have alternated between modest year-over-year increases and declines, with this week's survey being no exception."
Porter, The New Transporter
And where one airline falls, another rises to take its place. Porter Airlines, which started taking reservations last week, has an unbeatable hook: where most airlines land miles away from downtown, Porter's planes will set down practically at the foot of Toronto's iconic CN Tower.
Porter uses Toronto's little-known City Centre Airport, which is on an island in Toronto's harbor, 400 feet away from the mainland. Their fleet of 10, 70-seat Bombardier propeller planes will land in front of a newly renovated terminal, where a ferry will depart every 6-8 minutes to bring people to terra firma. At the ferry dock, you can catch public buses or a free Porter shuttle to Union Station, Toronto's main train station a few blocks away.
Yes, I said 70-seat prop planes. These things aren't the bumpy little puddle jumpers you think of when you think "propeller." They're the monster truck of prop planes: Bombardier Q400s, capable of flying 400 miles an hour at 25,000 feet but using significantly less fuel than regional jets, making for lower operating costs. The Q400s can travel 1,500 miles, but Porter is focusing on destinations within 500 miles of Toronto. Ottawa came first, but soon travelers should expect flights to Montreal, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, Porter president and CEO Robert Deluce said. In each of those cities, Porter will be looking for smaller, closer-in airports, except in New York where Newark may be the first airport served, he said.
Porter will be aiming to serve each city with many flights per day, as opposed to Canjet's one-or-two-a-day strategy. Their core market is business travelers, who will want frequent schedules. But the close-in airport location also works for leisure travelers looking to have a quick, fun weekend in Toronto.
"Competitive fares and a good variety of flight times provide a very attractive offering," Deluce said.
Porter isn't a low-fare carrier, but they're trying to give you more for your money. That's why I compare them to Midwest Express -- with its home-baked cookies -- rather than to spartan Southwest. Porter's planes will have two-across leather seats with extra legroom, "premium snacks" and one glass of free beer or wine per passenger; the terminal will have Wi-Fi, "nice lounge furniture" and a cappuccino bar. Yet their lowest fare right now, a C$120 one-way to Ottawa, is only $3 more than Air Canada's lowest Tango fare. (It's more expensive than the train fare, though; VIA RAIL runs three trains a day making the four-hour trip for C$69.)
For the $3 difference between Porter and Air Canada, Deluce notes, you save an hour's worth of travel to Toronto's outlying Pearson International Airport. While you can get to Pearson by public transportation (I've done it several times), it's a haul.
"This gives leisure travelers a chance to upscale a bit for a pretty attractive price," Deluce said. "Who wouldn't want to ride in a nice new airplane with spacious leather seats and a premium snack?"
Check out Porter Airlines (tel. 888/619-8622; www.flyporter.com) and keep an eye out for new routes throughout 2006 and 2007, including flights to the U.S.
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