Flying With Porter, North America’s Most Civilized Airline

Filed Under: Other Airlines, Travel

Yesterday my mom and I flew from Toronto to Newark on Porter Airlines. Porter is a Canadian airline operating about 30 Bombardier Q400 aircraft, primarily out of Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport, which is just a short ride from the city.

I had heard a lot about the airline, but boy, what a pleasure it was to fly with them. You’d think there’s not a whole lot an airline could do to make a flight on a turboprop in economy enjoyable, though Porter puts effort into the experience.

First of all, Billy Bishop Airport is tiny, and there was almost no one at security, so the whole check-in and getting to the gate process was quick.

Porter has a “lounge” for all their passengers. Don’t get too excited, this isn’t the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, but it’s a bit nicer than most other gate areas. Porter’s departure area has a bunch of privacy partitions, and it has complimentary coffee, tea, cappuccinos, soft drinks, and shortbread cookies. This reminds me a bit of Bangkok Airways, which also has “lounges” for all of their passengers.

The plane itself was surprisingly comfortable. As far as turboprops go, the Q400 is as nice as they get, and Porter has a generous 32″ pitch, and well padded seats.

And the best part? Porter has free beer & wine, and they serve it in real glassware. I’ve never been served drinks in glassware in economy before. They also offer snacks (you can choose between nuts, chips, and cookies).

The flight attendant taking care of us was also spectacularly friendly — she was professional and constantly smiling and having fun with passengers. So I can’t guarantee that’s always the case at Porter, though based on my one experience, I’m very impressed by the service.

While I don’t think Porter can take credit for this, the sunset view on our 70 minute flight was breathtaking.

Bottom line

It’s amazing how much of a difference little touches can make in the overall perception of an experience. Free soft drinks in the gate area, free beer & wine, and glassware costs the airline maybe a couple of dollars per passenger at most. However, it makes such a difference in the perception of an experience.

What a cool little airline Porter is. Ultimately they have the benefit of having Billy Bishop Airport almost to themselves (Air Canada just flies to Montreal out of there), though they don’t take that for granted, and really have quite a lovely soft product as well. Never did I think an economy flight on a turboprop could feel so special.

If you’ve flown Porter, what was your experience like?

  1. We flew them last Dec Toronto to Newark. Exact same experience Lucky. They are a wonderful gem in the North American skies!

  2. I used to take a porter flight twice a week between EWR and YTZ.

    @lucky, when you left the airport, did you take the 30 second ferry or the new underground tunnel that goes from the airport to toronto.

  3. The only downside to Porter is not clearing US CBP on the Canadian side. This is fine for many of Porter’s destinations, but imagine the MESS that CBP can get at airports like EWR, IAD, BOS, etc at certain times of the day. I doubt Billy Bishop has the real estate to erect a Pre-Clearence facility anyway, but it is something to consider.

  4. Can you please tell us the price you paid per ticket?

    Flights intra-Australia/trans-Tasman even in economy tend to be much better than U.S. domestic (actual food on flights!) though their pricing is way, way over what we would expect – i.e., you get what you pay for.

  5. with the “mobile pass” app clearance in the US is easy peasy for Canadians. They don’t even ask you any questions… lol

  6. Porter kinda owns the terminal, which is why Air Canada has limited slots and only flies to YUL. Air Canada is pushing for more access to YTZ but no luck so far.

  7. @Dave It’s incredibly ironic for the Canadian govt. to invest so much public money in the CSeries program, only to prevent Porter from buying it because of the whiny rich condo owners downtown…

  8. Porter is a great experience. I’m in Canada frequently, but I don’t fly them much because of the tragic and avoidable Air Ontario accident in Dryden, Canada. Everyone deserves a second chance, but they should never have cut safety corners like they did in Dryden and I’m highly reluctant to support Porter as a result (the owner of Air Ontario sold it to Air Canada and started Porter Airlines)

  9. Don’t forget the most important benefit of Porter: you can walk to the airport from essentially anywhere downtown, whereas Pearson is a solid hour at a minimum during rush hour (and the UP train is only really convenient in a couple neighborhoods).

    Porter also (naturally) codeshares with Jetblue…

  10. I had a flight from Windsor to Ottawa on Porter in October. The price was approx. $99 USD each way. Great flight and excellent service. The view flying into the Toronto Island Airport at night is pretty exciting. Love this airline.

  11. great airline… except because they are small if IROPS you are screwed. my work partner had to scramble because low loads = cancel

  12. Porter is great until you hit IRROPS. Small planes, limited frequencies and lack of spare aircraft mean there are few options. Often you can’t even get out the same day. My company has an informal but widely followed policy not to fly Porter to the US once winter hits because we’ve missed too many meetings over the years.

  13. Porter is a pretty consistent experience. I’m almost at my 100th flight with them, mostly between YOW and YTZ, but also sometimes connecting to EWR, BOS and MDW.

    It is great that you can literally walk from downtown Toronto to the gate. There is also a free shuttle bus from the Royal York hotel, across from Union Station, the main transit hub.

    With Global Entry, the lack of preclearance is a non-issue for me. My only complaint is lack of TSA Precheck when returning from the US.

  14. Lovely airline. Flew them on 3 occasions. Very nice service every time. Flights departed punctually on 4 out of 6 flights; a bit of rain before the other two led to delays (opinion in the office was that one flies Porter only in the summer). Made the mistake of visiting the toilet on one occasion: tight fit; carefully choreographed entry and exit – never again! Still, highly recommended; shuttle bus service between the airport and downtown Toronto was very convenient.

  15. Ive been meaning to fly them. The “lounge” reminds me of what VARIG used to have in Brazil. Same concept, the shared gate area had free drinks and pastries for all passengers, at least at Congonhas, which is the equivalent smaller airport.

  16. My biggest issue with flying them ex-US is the lack of Pre-Check, especially considering most of their US destinations are larger int’l airports. For flights to Canada other than Toronto, I usually pick another airline because the fares are so competitive and need a connection anyways. Plus YYZ T1 connections are much easier than YTZ connections.

  17. I fly Porter all the time between Toronto and Windsor Ontario (just across the river from Detroit). Many US flyer are now flying to TorontoPorter rather than Delta as the price is much, much less (almost 1/2). Not only is the service better on the aircraft but the ease of getting through either terminal is quick and seamless. No customs issues either as you have cleared customs crossing the border by either the Bridge or Tunnel. Porter often has fare sales so the price between the cities it serves can be fantastic. E.g. Between Toronto and Newark as lost as $100 each way

  18. I’ve always said Porter is GREAT, esp. for those of us who find ouselves commuting to Toronto for several weeks at a time.

    Warning: For those on “consultant’s time” there can be a serious lack of seating inside the lounge at YTZ (I’m looking at YOU Thursday afternoons).

    Oh, and noise-cancelling headphones are verboten during takeoff and landing.

    @Don – the only way it works for this DC denizen is with Global Entry at IAD, without it I’d consider DCA/non-Porter.

  19. @John

    If I refused to fly on any airline that had a crash in the past ~30 years attributable to poor decision making, there wouldn’t be many airlines left for me to fly on.

  20. @JJJ – I believe you meant TAM not Varig. Varig never had a lounge for all passengers in any airport. TAM had a lounge with snacks, drinks and even a pianist for all passengers in Congonhas (Sao Paulo central airport) until 2001.

  21. So easy to get to downtown Toronto for the day from Manhattan via Newark and Billy Bishop airport on Porter. I do it 4 times + each year and with the pedestrian tunnel and Global Entry its a breeze. I too love Porter!

  22. Love flying Porter! Flown them to/from YUL, BOS, IAD, and MDW. Ease to getting to downtown Toronto can’t be beat, I found the ferry to be a fun experience, and always had a very hospitable crew (esp when seemingly every passenger needed to borrow a pen to fill out customs forms). When I was based in DC, Porter was the only reason I dared to venture to IAD — taxi back home was frequently more expensive than the ticket!.

  23. I flew Porter back in 2012 between YHZ and YYT and return – other than a small delay on the outbound, it was a good experience for many of the reasons outlined in this post.

  24. Great airline. Flew r/t from BOS at the beginning of the year. Experience on both flights was similar to this review. Loved being able to walk to our downtown hotel upon landing. Apparently they are taking steps to put preclearance in at Billy Bishop.

  25. Love Porter, but hate the Newark route. Especially since you’re pretty much guaranteed a delay if you’re flying in the evening on Friday or Sunday. If they can get the deal for US preclearance facilities installed at Billy Bishop done, perhaps they could start flights to LaGuardia then it’d really be much more attractive. Until then I’d rather take the reliable and comfortable 25 minute UP Express from Union Station to Pearson to get to LaGuardia than have the convenience of Billy Bishop completely stomped out by the inconvenience of Newark.

  26. Good airline, great airport – arriving to Toronto here is an infinitely better experience than Pwarson.

    You wrote “as far as turboprops go” implying they are intrinsically inferior to turbofan aircraft. I’d suggest that’s just prejudice. The Q400 is a delightful aircraft but, like all planes, the overall experience does also heavily depend on the fit-out specified by the airline.

  27. Porter’s great

    If you arrive into a remote stand during the rain, the cabin crew will open and hand out umbrellas to each passenger as they disembark. No other airline bothers with that kind of attention to detail.

  28. I love them too, Billy Bush airport is a dream and sometimes I fly them to Mt Tremblant, which is very convenient to the resort.

  29. The one time I took it we were diverted to Pearson. Seems weather can close the Billy Bush airport more readily.

  30. Porter is absolutely the best way to hop across the border. Preclearance at YTZ is in the works, and the real estate for it is in their current construction plans. And just to be sure, it isn’t just the nimby condo owners that don’t want jets out of YTZ — Air Canada has lobbied hard against anything that damages their transborder monopolies. I’m hopeful that once they get preclearance, they’ll switch to DCA from IAD.

  31. If you subscribe to Airways Magazine, I’ve written extensively about Porter, Bob Deluce (their CEO) and Billy Bishop airport. You should check them out.

  32. @ Nice Paul

    I can’t speak for Lucky but turboprops I’ve flown tend to have a lot more noise inside the cabin than the larger turbofan aircraft but I wouldn’t consider the noise a deal breaker. I’d give them a try.

  33. I used to fly Porter frequently YUL-YTZ (now based in YEG, where Porter can’t fly). As I recall, they offer a more substantial snack around mealtimes. Beer is from a Toronto microbrewery. Used to be Steamwhistle, but I think I read that they were changing. One of those attention to details things is that if you gate check a bag, when you arrive you will find it ready to go with the handle extended. Just grab and roll without having to break stride.

    The lounge in Billy Bishop used to be nicer, as Porter had the whole terminal to themselves at first. But when Air Canada moved in and they had to share, the lounge got downgraded. Still nicer than any other gate area.

    As for turboprops the Q in Q400 stands for quiet. They have some noise cancelling technology built into the engines. Still a little noisy, but not like your grandmother’s turboprop.

    I’d fly Porter again in a heartbeat given the chance.

  34. I’ve flown Porter from Toronto – Chicago – Toronto, Toronto – Montreal – Toronto, and Toronto – Boston – Toronto. All were elegant yet friendly and informal with excellent service. The free drinks and snacks were top notch, and everything about it was streamlined but not rushed. In other words, excellent. The only problem I had was that I wished that the flight was a little longer.

    I hope they begin flying the CSeries, I know they said they would move their jet operations to another nearby airport, likely Hamilton or London. Less convient than Toronto City Airport, but still better than not expanding Porter’s excellent experience across North America to cities like Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, as they outlined in their route expansion plan. I hope they go through with it. They’ve made the Q400 a better aircraft than it already is, and with the CSeries offering more comfort than any other narrowbody, it would be amazing to see what Porter would offer on an already great airplane.

  35. I had an excellent experience flying between MDW and YTZ on Porter. I found clearing CBP at MDW to be easy, since there are so few international passengers arriving at this airport. I also appreciated the Steam Whistle beer that the airline served.

    I just wish that Porter had a better frequent flier program. If there was a way to transfer points from any major bank’s currency to Porter, it would make the airline much more attractive.

  36. Chicago used to have a lakefront airport, Meig’s Field..
    Which was closed without Notice, by a former
    Mayor who lived nearby, but was afflicted with paranoia post 911..
    As ORD and MDW start bulging with pax and planes…
    I think it would be beneficial to reinstate it for Airlines such as Porter…
    Just don’t sail a high rigged sailboat too near the southern runway

  37. Happy to read this mini review and see the branded glassware full of red wine(?) enjoy reading your reviews and wishing you a safe voyage to Israel. I hope Porter can secure those C Series Bombardier aircraft to access western Canadian destinations!

  38. Porter is the class of the Toronto based airlines and we in Western Canada wish it would expand.

    However in the West we have Horizon (a part of Alaska Airlines) which flies short routes such as SEA-YVR, SEA-YLW or SEA-YYC with the Q400. The Q400 is very quiet and comfortable for a turboprop and has the same transit time as a 737 on short routes such as those above. Very efficient for the airline.

    Horizon actually also serves for free either a glass of wine (plastic) or beer on their short flights with some awful pretzels. Since their flights are only 35-45 minutes normally there is not usually enough time for a second glass.

    So second best to Porter is not that bad. But then the prices are main-line Alaska prices so there is a difference there unless this is your connector.

  39. @ Donna

    Not all turboprops are equal. Just like turbofans – there are noisier and quieter models. The Q400 is quieter inside the cabin than some (though not all!) turbofans. It’s a rather good aircraft.

    And I rather like the nostalgic feel of flying on something where I can see some moving parts – it’s as if I can understand why it is actually flying!

  40. Just flew Porter YTZ – DUL – YTZ. Really great service, and the employees were all very helpful and kind.
    I was on a Graduation trip with many other students, all of us being slightly rowdy and boisterous. Despite this, the stewardesses were very patient and kind, and several of the even joked around with us and joined in the hilarity. The flight back was through a thunderstorm. Despite the fact that we were constantly lurched around and that the aircraft was hit by lightning several times (I saw this happen twice), the crew were very calm and professional.
    The landing was expectedly rough, due to the fact that the winds were high. Kudos to the pilot though – I’ve never seen anyone spark rubber tires before.

    Sorry to anyone on those flights with us… it can’t have been easy.

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