My first experience with Porter Airlines, flying roundtrip from Toronto to Ottawa, is a great two-way success and far easier than anticipated. From Niagara, I take the GO Bus from St. Catharines, transfer to the GO Train at Burlington, and from there, it's a smooth sail to Toronto's Union Station.
From Union Station, I navigate underground a short walk to the Fairmont's Royal York Hotel, and at the west side, a complimentary shuttle van picks me up and whisks me away to Lower Bathurst Street where a comp ferry that runs about every 15 minutes across Toronto's inner harbour, transports me on the shortest ferry ride ever, 121 metres (400 ft.) to the Island's
Billy Bishop Airport. A glimpse of choppy water provokes my new friend on the ferry to comment that "it's rougher out there than the ocean" that he recently experienced while on a Costa Rican fishing trip. He carries his rods inside a long, round case that seems suitable for transporting a bazooka. I trust that security will thoroughly examine the insides.
Upon arrival, in a few minutes I quickly realize that this small airport radiates a much warmer charm than its big rival. I move into the security lane and encounter an Asian lady with badge and uniform and a great voice as she sings a happy tune, despite dire warnings today of a major storm heading into Ontario.
Unlike competitors, Porter lounges are free of charge, and open to all departing passengers with a valid boarding pass. Inside the $50 million passenger terminal and Porter's spacious lobby, I sit on a comfortable leather chair, and opt for newspapers rather than the dozen or so Apple computers lined up at desks for easy Internet access. While waiting, I enjoy complimentary almonds, cookies and an espresso coffee before the flight.
Porter flies Canadian-built Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprop aircraft. They claim that the modern Q Series aircraft are the quietest turboprops flying today, thanks to the development of a revolutionary Noise and Vibration Suppression (NVS) System, but I beg to differ. They are noisy.
With a maximum cruise speed of 360 kts (667 km/h), the Q400 is easily as fast as most jets on airline routes under 900 km 500 miles. It's built in Toronto at the
Bombardier Aerospace plant, and the engines are designed and manufactured in Canada by
Pratt & Whitney Canada. The Pratt & Whitney PW150A engine is the most advanced turboprop engine currently in service, producing nearly twice the take-off power of older turboprop engines, with significantly improved fuel-efficiency.
The flight to Ottawa is right on schedule and even though it takes a mere 40 minutes, we are provided with a complimentary snack, a tasty whole-grain bun sandwich with two oatmeal-raisin cookies and a small piece of genuine Swiss chocolate, a real treat. Beverages include white (Jackson-Triggs VQA 2010 Chardonnay) or red (Jackson-Triggs VQA 2009 Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon) wine and beer (Steam Whistle Premium Pilsener). How civilized! I can get used to Porter.
On both flights there and back, the service is genuinely friendly with welcoming smiles that doesn't appear programmed as with your typical Wal-Mart greeter. The airline's magazine, "re: porter," is much smaller than the average airline magazine and far easier to manage like an iPad.
The only negative is the noise of the twin props, which one eventually gets accustomed to as the plane cruises through the air. There are two rows
of comfortable double seats with ample leg room, and the aisle height accommodates most basketball players except possibly a few exceptionally tall centres.
Porter Airlines posted record passenger numbers for 2011, including a December load factor of 63.9 per cent, 1.5 points higher than the previous year. Over 2.1 million passengers travelled with Porter during the year, another record compared to 1.56 million in 2010. Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines, boasts that, "Porter is one of the fastest growing airlines in North America." He's got my vote.
Now, if I could just figure out why Porter's mascot is a raccoon? My experiences with raccoons, particularly when camping, have not been as pleasurable as those with Porter! (Be sure to watch the YouTube video above.)
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Length: 32.8m (107 ft 9 in)
Wingspan: 28.4m (93 ft 3 in)
Height: 8.3m (27 ft 5 in)
Configuration: 70 seats @ 34 in pitch
Aisle height: 1.95m (6 ft 5 in)
Engines: Pratt and Whitney Canada 150A turboprop
Power: Normal take-off 4,580 shp, max power 5,071 shp
Speed: 360 kts (667 km/h)
Technology: Cabin Noise and Vibration Suppression (NVS) system - Lowest fuel
burn per seat, lowest noise and lowest engine emissions in its class