Porter Airlines Review: Is It Worth Flying Porter?
This Porter Airlines review was made possible by the short-haul travel airline itself*, who requested I test the Porter experience in November 2011, services designed to evoke a nostalgia for the golden age of flying.
This, in spite of a last-minute flight cancellation that set off a domino effect in my affairs. A simple travel delay resulted in a lost opportunity with an interviewee and a burnt bridge with a potential business contact. According to an executive frequent flier friend of mine, cancellations happen to him about once every 100 flights so what are the odds that my very first flight with Porter could end up canceled?
Reached on my cell phone right about the time I was readying to leave for the airport, a Porter representative called me to announce the cancellation and saved me standby grief by finding me a guaranteed seat on a later flight.** I ended up leaving on one scheduled three hours later than my original booking. And yet even with that snafu, given a future opportunity, I would fly with Porter again.
What's the Cost?
For perspective, a six- to eight-and-a-half hour Montreal-Toronto bus round trip at reduced fare costs roughly $100. And a close to six-hour economy class round trip train seat factors in at about $200.
As for Porter's Montreal-Toronto one-hour flight, it varies widely. Not including seat sales, a round trip Montreal-Toronto flight landing at Toronto Island's Billy Bishop Airport could range from $175 for a firm-date-no-cancellations fare to $400 for a free-to-change-or-cancel fare. Porter offers a free shuttle bus service to the Royal York Hotel, which is footsteps from Union Station as well as some of Toronto's leading hotels, including Le Germain Maple Leafs Square, where I stayed during my trip.
The ride is ten minutes tops. All in all, landing at Billy Bishop is a very convenient airport for getaways or business trips involving downtown Toronto (the proximity of Toronto's Financial District springs to mind). You also save at least $70 on a cab too, which is what it would cost to haul yourself from Toronto Pearson International Airport to downtown Toronto.
Porter Airlines: The Service
In addition to the lineup-free breeze through check-in at both the Montreal and Toronto airports and a surreal moment involving the happiest airport security team I've ever met, a warm approach to customer interaction pervades, including the flight attendants who were all fun and attentive. In my humble world, oozing that much positive regard is what makes the difference between an okay travel experience and a great one.
Porter Airlines: The Freebies
On the way to Toronto, I was served complimentary wine and a lunch box with a tasty mini Thai chicken sandwich and fruit salad. For a one-hour flight.
On the way back, I was pleasantly surprised to walk into the Toronto Island's Billy Bishop Airport lobby where free coffee, free tea, free Icelandic glacial water, free juice, free soft drinks, free roasted almonds and free biscotti awaited passengers followed by yet more complimentary wine and snacks on the one-hour flight.
Like a kid in that proverbial candy store, the return leg of Montreal-Toronto round trip couldn't have been more pleasant.
Porter Airlines: The Flight
Having been the first time I flew in a turbo propeller plane as opposed to a standard jet, I quietly and momentarily panicked when first walking down the aisle.
The ceiling in the Q400 is only 6'5", no biggie for some, but my heels of the day had me at 5'11". However, as soon as I sat down, ceiling height was inconsequential, and leg room proved satisfactory. According to Porter, the Q400 offers "two to three inches more legroom than typical economy-class seating."
It only took about two minutes of flight to get used to the significantly heavier turbulence felt on a regional plane as opposed to, say, an Airbus or Boeing. By the end of my first one-hour flight, I was laughing with fellow passengers about the shaking as we were landing, which is fairly dramatic if you've only been on standard jets.
Notwithstanding the bumps, I did not experience motion sickness throughout both flights, able to comfortably read and write. I actually began to enjoy how much you can "feel" the sky and the pilot's maneuvering.
During the Toronto Island-Montreal leg of my trip, take off involved barely any runway to get off the ground, and was quickly followed up with an immediate sharp left turn with the plane moving 60 degrees onto its side, leading to an amazing view of the island and surrounding water from my aisle seat. It was an exhilarating moment you'd never experience on a larger regional plane, enough to make me wonder how anyone could hate flying in small aircrafts.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of flying with Porter into and from Toronto is the location of its airport. Usually, airports are an expensive cab ride outside of city centre. But Toronto Island's Billy Bishop Airport is basically downtown, a rare convenience afforded to air travelers.
Apart from concerns surrounding the environmental impact of aviation travel, which turboprop planes address by using as little as half the fuel of a regional jet, sometimes less, depending on the aircraft, potential flight cancellations would be the catch, as with any airline.
One thing to consider in the case of Porter is if the cancellation is at the Billy Bishop airport, which is a slice of short-haul travel heaven if everything is on track: the free beverages, snacks, WiFi and lounge design are delightful. However, if a flight is canceled and one is stuck on standby at Toronto's Billy Bishop for an indefinite period, there are no restaurant facilities, general stores, or magazine stands to help weather through a possible long haul.
For another take on the Porter Airlines experience, visit my colleague Jean McLean's Porter Airlines profile.
*In line with About.com's full disclosure policy, readers should be aware that Evelyn Reid was provided with complimentary airfare for review purposes, a common procedure in the travel industry. Also note that the latter gratuity has not influenced this review. For more information on full disclosure at About.com, please consult our ethics policy.
**Due to the nature of my travel arrangements and lack of anonymity, it's difficult to assess if the way Porter skillfully handled my flight cancellation reflects how customers are managed in general.