Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 5 out of 5
Yeah, but: How often do you rave about an airport?
The Long Version: I don't mind flying, but I dislike airports, and Toronto's Pearson International deserves a special mention as an abysmal place to spend time. It's crowded, poorly run, and inconveniently located in Mississauga. It's so bad that it's even worse than other airports, and that's really saying something.
But it's a little-known fact that Toronto has an airport located right downtown - its existence has certainly come as a shock to all of the people who have bought condos on the waterfront. There's just one single airline operating from it right now, but when it came time to book a flight to New York City, flying Porter out of Toronto's Island Airport was a natural choice.
Porter is a small airline that mostly targets short-hop business travel, flying 70-seat Bombardier Dash 8 turboprops. This is a different experience from a big jet, and it all comes down to working on a smaller scale. These little planes make money even when they're half empty, so instead of crushing through security and customs with hundreds of vacationers, imagine travelling with a small group of business-people that could easily fit in a nice motorcoach. The only downside that I found was that the ride was a little bumpier than on a jumbo-jet flying ten thousand feet higher; the cabin noise was a higher pitch, but not as loud as the normal jet roar. The flight from Toronto to New York is long enough to take off, eat the world's smallest box lunch, and land. Even if that was the entire experience, there's no question I'd be flying with them again. But it gets even better than that.
Because of political opposition to the long-running existence of the island airport, the experience starts with a 400-foot ferry ride across the Western Gap. The single ferryboat runs every fifteen minutes, and Porter has a check-in counter in the mainland terminal that can occupy some of the waiting time. Once on the island, there's an enclosed walkway to the main terminal building, and getting to the gates involves the minimum amount of hassle that's allowed by law. Instead of arriving three hours early for US-bound flights leaving from Pearson Airport, Porter recommends reaching them just one hour before the flight takes off. Travellers clear US Customs and Immigration once they arrive, but the time I saved by not having to drag out to the suburbs and then stand in line until it's my turn to be rushed to the front of the queue so that I can just barely catch my flight is immense. Even if that was the only benefit of going through the island airport, I'd do everything I can to never see the inside of Pearson International again. But it gets even better than that.
Just past the final escalator into the waiting area there's a decent-sized kitchen area with a drink fridge, snacks, and stations for making coffee or tea. I looked around for someone to pay, expecting a trap, but it's all complimentary. I can't think of the last time I was surprised by not having to pay for something relating to air travel. I may still have a packet of almonds to show for it, as well.
Off to one side of the terminal's lounge is a business centre with better than a dozen iMac computers. A waiting area that looks like the lobby of a nice hotel, free computer time, free internet access, free cans of coke - in an airport terminal.
Commercial air travel is one of those things that as been getting worse every year, and that's been the case for a very long time. It's nice to have an airline that has reset the clock and brought in a high-end service that doesn't cost any more than a comparable flight from one of the lousy airlines flying from an expensive and nasty terminal. From now on, if I have a choice, I'll be taking Porter from the Toronto Island Airport, even if I have to change my itinerary to do it. There's simply no comparison.
If there's one thing Porter loves, it's emailed discount codes. Unless otherwise noted, each code is for 30% off:
ART30 – book by 6 apr 2011, travel apr 15 - sept 6 2011
SWEET30 – book by 20 apr 2011, travel may 1 - sept 6 2011
DRUM – book by 4 may 2011, travel may 12 - sept 6 2011
SIZZLE – book by 18 may, travel may 27 - dec 15 2011
CIRCUS – book by june 1, travel june 9 - dec 15
last updated 28 apr 2011