Saturday, July 15, 2023

Up in the air: Porter’s new transcontinental service

Many people “back East” as we westerners call Ontario will be familiar with Porter Airways. They fly turboprop Q400s out of the Billy Bishop (Island) Airport to nearby points in Eastern Canada and the Northeastern US. I’ve flown them many times between Toronto and Ottawa, as well as to Halifax and Newark. Besides the ease of the Island Airport compared to Pearson, they’re known for their free booze and snacks and planes with no middle seats.

Far less known is their expansion to the West Coast with their new Embraer E195-E2 Jets, which they operate out of Pearson’s Terminal Three and an Ottawa base. Whenever I mentioned them to Vancouver friends they’re like, what, Porter flies here now?

They are really having a hard time getting the word out. I booked a red-eye flight back after spending some time in Courtenay following my cross-county VIA Rail trip in April. This flight ended up being cancelled and I was moved to an earlier flight, cutting into my limited Vancouver time. I assume because of lack of passengers. Still, my merged flight was less than half full, and I had a pair of seats to myself which was nice.

The experience was a bit uneven. I took the Canada Line to YVR which is awesome, and headed over to the domestic terminal only to find out that Porter was checking in from the international terminal. OK, fine. Not good signage when I got there though. I just had to bag drop but that didn’t seem to be an option.

Still, I’m an early bird so I got checked in, ate at Carl’s Jr. and got to my gate. They offer a Porter Reserve service with slightly more pitch and other perks, but I opted for the regular seats. Which, with no seat mate, were more than adequate.

They’re brand-new planes, still bright and shiny, seats familiar to Porter's regular customers. But in addition to in-seat power there’s also free WiFi, which was fast and easy to use. Just make sure you have your Porter frequent flier details handy. I was able to stream YouTube with no troubles. I am curious if this would hold on a fuller plane.

The roots of Porter’s service was there. There was a healthy complement of crew, and they did a drink service with the usual choice of snacks, as well as beer and wine served in glass. They also offered free selections from Porter’s cold meal service that are usually for charge, except for Porter Reserve passengers. I had the mango chicken; it wasn’t bad but wasn’t great.

But then that was it for the famed Porter service. I didn’t see most of the crew again – no idea where they went. I sat with my garbage for a good two hours. Eventually, one attendant came by to collect refuse. She did the front third, and then the back third – I was in the middle so had a long wait. She was working hard but her crewmates were MIA.

I expected much better from Porter. Air Canada or WestJet would have done two drink services – at the very least, a late flight water service. Porter needs to do better.

I few into Pearson’s Terminal Three for my connecting flight on to Ottawa, which ended up being on the same plane with a new crew. I received an op-up into their Porter Reserve seats, which did indeed have a little more pitch. This flight was quiet and uneventful.

Overall, Porter’s transcontinental service holds promise. They have good planes, and if they can provide the expected Porter service, they can capture a piece of the market less worried about chasing Aeroplan points. And right now they’re dirt cheap – I paid under $300 for one-way Vancouver-Toronto-Ottawa.

But they need to improve the YVR experience and the in-flight service and get the word out in Western markets. They’re a better bet than the shaky low-cost carriers but less well known.

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