Now I'm not really sure why I have "YYZ" by Rush stuck in my head as I write this trip report. YYZ was only a minor part of this trip, a necessity to get back home after my flight on Porter. Nevertheless, Rush's Morse code tapped out on finger cymbals and electric guitar is stuck on repeat in my head as I write this report...
This circuitous adventure started as a daydream as I browsed the FlyerTalk forums a month ago. Stumbling across a post titled "Porter Airlines?", I read a new member's inquiry about the small airline, he asked how their service was, where they flew to, and how much their flights typically cost. I've heard plenty of good things about the airline, and sharing my last name with the airline I was inclined to reply in support of Porter. But I stopped myself. I couldn't write an airline review about an airline I've never tried myself, no matter how cool their name is! With that, I headed over to Porter's website to see what I could find.
...what I found were some very, very affordable fares. Porter flies eight daily round trips between New York Newark Airport and Toronto's Billy Bishop City Airport (recently re-named from the Toronto City Center Airport after Canada's first military flying ace). Base fares for the trip start around $90, but I happened to stumble upon their website in the midst of a summer fare sale. Searching a random weekend in the future, I found that I could buy a one-way trip from Toronto to Newark for just about $60, a little more than a 45% discount from the base fare! Considering the fact that Porter offers free booze and snacks on board, operates only Turboprop equipment, operates into a cool little island airport, has the same name as I do, and has a raccoon mascot (my favorite animal as a child), I decided that I had to go for it!
Since I live in neither Newark nor Toronto, I had to deal with the small matter of getting from Atlanta to catch my flight. Both Newark and Toronto (YYZ) are served by Delta, and luckily for me as a non-rev Delta charges absolutely ridiculous fares into both airports. Since both ATL-EWR and YYZ-ATL are unpopular with revenue travelers, I was confident in my ability to find standby seats to and from my destinations. In the end I was able to snag seats on an MD-88 up to Newark and a CRJ-900 back down to Atlanta. I'll include the highlights of these flights to remind everyone that not all North American domestic travel is as awesome as Porter Airlines...
This trip report will include ATL-EWR in Y on DL, EWR-YTZ in Y (well, lets call it Y+) on PD, and YYZ-ATL in domestic first on DL. Without further ado, on to the flights!
Flight # DAL 2242
Equipment:McDonnell Douglas MD-88 (N935DL)
Scheduled Departure: 17:55 Actual Departure: 18:00
Scheduled Arrival: 20:45 Actual Arrival: 20:15
Holding a confirmed ticket for a 12:10 Saturday departure from EWR, but only having a standby listing to get to EWR I found myself in a small predicament. The first flight of the day on Saturday would get me to EWR at 11:00am, giving me just enough time to catch my flight. Missing the morning flight would also mean missing my Porter flight and my paid ticket. After much debate and carefully watching the flight loads to Newark I decided to give myself a safety net and fly up to Newark the night before. The cost of my trip went up by $50 for a very seedy hotel, but at least I got to see some of scenic Newark before my Porter flight!
Leaving work a few minutes early, I parked my car, hopped on a shuttle, and made it through security (surprisingly quickly) to my gate by about 5:15.
My ride up to Newark, arriving about ten minutes behind schedule.
The summer travel season has begun in the US, meaning crowded airports and very high load factors. Delta does a big favor to its standby passengers at most hub airports, posting the actual standby/cleared lists (including the actual number of seats available) on the gate information screens. Walking up to the gate I didn't like what I saw... Sitting at position #11 for seven available seats it didn't look like I'd make the 5:55 to Newark. I began to formulate an alternate plan - it looked like my best bet would be the 6:30 flight to LaGuardia, followed by a public-transit adventure across Manhattan at night.
I had just about talked myself into the prospect of going to LaGuardia when I was shocked to hear my name called. It turns out that a family of four was ahead of me on the standby list, but only one seat was available. The family wasn't able to split up, so I was assigned the last seat! Win!
For the load-factor gurus out there, this flight was 100% full (I know, I was the last 0.58%). I was assigned seat 14C, an aisle seat on the left hand (3-seat) side of the aircraft. With no windows I wasn't able to take many pictures, but the DL MD-88 is hardly the point of this trip report...
Working the crossword puzzle (almost had it finished before rotation this time!)
Simple snack service. Soft drinks and a choice of peanuts, pretzels, or cookies.
Despite a very circuitous descent route (landing to the South on 22L) we made it to the gate well ahead of the padded scheduled arrival time.
Oh hey, a Porter Q400! I'll be seeing much more of you tomorrow...
Delta's very polished airside concourse at EWR.
I had reserved myself a room at the Newark Airport Howard Johnson. After a ride on the Newark Airtrain (a quasi-monorail type people mover) and the hotel's deceptively clean shuttle van I checked in for the night. The fact that the hotel seemed to be falling apart didn't really bother me - I'd made it to Newark and I'd be flying Porter in the morning!
Never mind the holes in the wall and the stains on the ceiling...it's a cheap hotel room, I'll survive.
The following morning I was able to actually sleep in before heading back to the airport. I hadn't quite scheduled myself enough time to see the scenic downtown of Newark, so I just headed straight to the airport.
KEWR - CYTZ
Flight # PD 130
Equipment:Bombardier DHC-8 Q400 (C-FLQY)
Scheduled Departure: 12:10 Actual Departure: 12:10
Scheduled Arrival: 13:30 Actual Arrival: 13:15
Normally, Porter's operation in Terminal B would be a quick ride on the AirTrain away, but on this Saturday morning the train was down for maintenance between the terminals. I took a quick ride from the shuttle drop off to the airport train station and back just for fun.
Looking out the front of the monorail.
Not a bad view. I believe this is where my aircraft arrived last time I was in Newark.
Is it just me, or are these trains really funny looking?
An airport shuttle bus ride dropped me off at the curb for a very deserted terminal B at around 9:50, 2:20 prior to departure. It turns out I probably could have shrunk that time to just 0:20 prior to departure and still made the flight, but I'm not one to complain about extra time at the airport.
Porter's check-in area.
I joined the check-in line with two people ahead of me. After a wait of no more than 30 seconds an agent was free to help me. As I walked towards the counter the agent greeted me "Good Morning! Your last name please?" "Porter" I responded. The agent looked at me, slightly confused. "Your last name sir?" I again responded "Yes, Porter." I could see the gears turning in the agent's head as he realized that I had been giving him my last name, not just blurting out the name of the airline. "aaahh, right. Cool. The 12:10 to Toronto, correct?"
I was handed a classy looking blue-and-white boarding pass (actual cardboard stock, not the flimsy receipt paper most airlines have moved to these days) and pointed in the direction of security. Before heading on my way I asked about the possibility of doing a same-day standby or change to an earlier flight. It turns out that Porter offers free changes to passengers flying on their "flexible" fares, but my cheap "firm" fare would cost $150 to change. Since the total cost of my ticket was only half that price I decided to wait it out...
I was the only passenger at the security checkpoint when I was screened. The ID-checker was one of the friendliest TSA agents I've ever interacted with. The gaggle of screeners running the milimeter wave scanner seemed quite bored and very curious about the T-shirt I was wearing. I was wearing a shirt printed with Keep Calm and Don't Blink in the style of the famous WWII Keep Calm and Carry On propaganda posters. I explained the reference to the Doctor Who episode "Blink", but the reference went straight over the TSA screeners' heads. One of them loudly stated "Well I don' know 'bout you, but my mind totally went somewhere else when I read that!"
Completely deserted international airside.
Porter's flights dominated the departures and arrivals board for their airside in the morning. The rest of the carriers making use of this concourse operated only once daily international flights, arriving and departing in the late afternoon. Porter's hourly Q400s hardly filled the large concourse.
The lack of operations also meant very few aircraft to watch. The occasional CO/UA aircraft taxied past on its way to terminal C, but the area outside was generally very quiet. The entire ramp was almost perfectly backlit (and hidden behind double panes of glass) as well, making photography less than satisfying.
Finally some Porter aircraft! Two of them at once at that.
The competition, headed to Toronto Pearson.
Only widebody action of the morning, a Continited 767-400 arriving from LHR.
The 11:10 flight, headed off to Toronto.
Almost half of the concourse was blocked off (under construction) and Porter's waiting area windows were blacked out with sheets of brown paper. While there was plenty of space to sit, I chose to camp out at Virgin Atlantic's gate. I had about 200 seats to myself and a decent view of the taxiways and runway.
At about 11:20 I caught sight of a Q400 in the distance. Newark is probably one of the biggest Dash-8 hubs in the US, with Continental Connection's Q400s and Q200s combined with Porter's Q400s. Zooming in with my camera, I confirmed that yes, this was a Porter plane on final, my aircraft right on time.
Now that looks like a PD Q400 in the distance!
My ride up to Toronto taxiing in, DHC-8-400 C-FLQY.
Taxiing past the Empire State Building.
After the aircraft taxied past I made my way to the gate to see if I could see any of the plane at all. Unfortunately, no, the under-construction gate area offered none of the views or amenities of YTZ's terminal. Next time I'll have to fly out of YTZ as well, to experience Porter's chic passenger lounge.
Hidden off in a corner, Porter's gate area.
FIDS. Porter dominates this airside concourse until much later in the day.
Sitting in the dark gate area, I recalled seeing a window on my way in, near security. A quick walk away I found a window at the entrance to British Airways' first class lounge. A better view than at the gate area, but unfortunately plagued by the same window-dots that cover the Detroit terminal windows.
Found a window!
...unfortunately spoiled by Detroit-dots.
Porter Airlines offers advance seat selection for $15 extra on their cheapest "firm" fares, otherwise assigning seats at the airport at check-in. Porter's website allows a selection of preference (window or aisle), but offers no assurance for any type of seat. I had invested the $15 for a window seat at the back of the aircraft, just in case.
Back in the gate area I did a quick head count. In the immediate area I saw about thirty people, plus a number more lingering back in the main concourse rotunda. Porter's Q400s are configured for 70 passengers, so I was hoping for a light load and some space to spread out.
At about 11:55, pre-boarding was called. Five minutes later, general boarding for all passengers was called. I made my way down the jetway and onto the plane. I had reserved seat 13D, but somehow on the nearly empty plane someone had already poached my seat. The seat poacher had been assigned 13C and reluctantly complied when I asked to take my seat.
I had barely put on my seatbelt when I heard the sound of the jetway pulling away. After waiting a couple minutes to confirm that everyone was really onboard, I hopped up and claimed the empty row behind me, settling into 14D and allowing the seat poacher to have my seat back. Looking around, there were empty seats everywhere, probably only 30 or 35 total passengers on the flight.
Not a bad view from 13D.
Ah, even better in 14D. Ample leg-room.
Despite the very prompt boarding and the light load we sat at the gate for another 5 to 10 minutes before the cabin door was closed and we pushed back, maybe five minutes behind the scheduled 12:10 departure. During the delay I took a couple minutes to explore the seatback contents. Compared to Delta's typical stacks of magazines, advertisements, safety cards, etc, Porter's pockets were clean. The seat back pocket contained only a safety card, a single "re: porter" magazine, and a plain white airsickness bag.
Porter's Q400s are configured with only 70 seats, compared to the 74 typical for the Q400. I've heard rumor that this reduction is due to weight restrictions at YTZ, but regardless it means more seat pitch for everyone. Porter's seats are configured with 34" pitch, compared to 29-32" typical on most US domestic carriers. The extra 3-4" really did make a noticeable difference in personal space. The empty seat beside me didn't hurt either.
Safety card. (No, I didn't steal it, despite having my name written all over it...)
Safety card, continued.
Route map, in the re:porter magazine.
Aircraft information, in-flight service information, and a really cool ad for the Q400.
Dash-8 stylized seat belt buckle.
I quite like Porter's branding. While not as crisp and professional as some airlines, the graphics and typeface convey the image of a classy, respectable airline. The raccoon mascot and the comic style of the airline's advertising make it clear the Porter isn't a typical US domestic carrier.
Looking down the massive nacelle towards the prop.
Not much of a view while on the ground. I'm still surprised by how massive this nacelle is...
As I noticed on my previous Q400 flight with Continental, the Dash-8's engine nacelles are HUGE. The large cowlings block most of the view outside while on the ground, but the high wing affords great views of the ground once airborne.
Once the engines were started we had a very quick taxi to Runway 11. A single ERJ departed ahead of us before we turned onto the runway and were underway. The engines were almost totally silent throughout taxi, but shortly before pulling onto the runway the engine noise noticeably increased as the engine condition levers were pushed forward. The engine noise remained a consistent drone throughout takeoff and flight, still much much quieter than any jet.
Lined up on the runway, ready to go, I laughed to myself as I thought "How aboot takoff power, eh?" At that, the aircraft surged forward and seemingly leaped off the runway. I was thoroughly impressed - probably the first time I've ever experienced a true short field takeoff in an airliner. Compared to YTZ's 4000' runway Runway 11 at EWR offers plenty of room, but these pilots didn't use a foot more than they needed.
Rotate, positive rate, gear up.
Still in transit...
Gear up and locked, all well before the end of the 6800' runway.
After takeoff we made a turn Northbound, parallel to the island of Manhattan, before another left turn to the West-Northwest.
Turning northbound on course, away from the port of Newark.
Island of Manhattan coming into view.
Lower Manhatttan and the new World Trade Center building under construction.
Further North, including the Empire State Building.
Above the scattered cloud layer, well on our way up to a cruising altitude of 20,000ft.
As the aircraft passed through 10,000ft one of the two flight attendants made the typical welcome aboard announcement, with a couple of interesting parts I'd never heard before. Apparently Porter's policy is that all electronic devices are prohibited on board by default, only flight attendants may approve the use of other devices upon request. Additionally, the flight attendants announced that they would be coming through the cabin before beverage service handing out Canadian customs forms. In my experience most US airlines hand out the forms as an after-thought on approach.
Some pre-meal reading, Canada's massive customs arrival form.
It's a beautiful Saturday in June, boaters are out everywhere on the lakes of New York State.
Meal service (yes, you heard me right meal service on a 45 minute flight from the US) was served by the two flight attendants from a cart. The flight attendants were dressed in what I can only describe as "retro" uniforms, including pillbox hats that looked as if they were straight out of the '60s. One flight attendant distributed snack boxes containing the meals throughout the aircraft before returning to the cart to help with beverage service. With a very very light load onboard it didn't take long at all.
Simple and classy presentation of the meal on this short flight.
Contents of the snack box: a grilled chicken and cheddar sandwich, mixed bean salad, and a butterscotch brownie (plus some napkins, a spoon, and a wet-wipe.)
For beverages Porter offers the typical soft drink offerings as well as a number of wines and Steam Whistle pilsner lager. Steam Whistle is brewed in Toronto, just across from the City Center airport, and I'd heard nothing but good things about the brand, so I decided to give it a try.
The flight attendant serving me asked if I just wanted the can, or if I wanted a glass to pour it in. It took a few seconds to settle in, but I realized that, yes, I'm being served a beverage in a real glass, made of actual glass...in coach! "Yes, sure, I'll have a glass!"
Full meal with free booze, served in...what's this? A glass made of glass in coach?
They even had it etched with my name just for me...
The lunch was small, but quite tasty. The sandwich featured a piece of grilled chicken, a couple slices of white cheddar-like cheese, and a tangy mayonnaise on a wheat roll. On the side was a cup of mixed bean salad (string beans, kidney beans, and some chopped pickled vegetables) and a butterscotch chip brownie. The brownie was actually the same brand type served with Delta's domestic first class meals.
For the "Identify This: Airports" folks over in the Tech/Ops forums. Any ideas?
All the standard placards in English and French, even on the "coat hook."
Cabin view. Very light load on this flight.
By the time I finished my meal and beer it was almost time to begin the descent into Toronto. The flight attendants came around with trays to collect the used service items (can't really just drop the glasses in a garbage bag I suppose) and asked everyone to be seated as we passed 10,000ft. Our route brought us directly over Niagara Falls, unfortunately offset slightly to the right. The left hand side of the aircraft got an excellent view of the falls, I could see some rapids...
Niagra Falls International Airport. Some C-130s of the 914th Airlift Wing are out on the ramp.
The mouth of the Niagara River, opening into Lake Ontario.
After passing through 10,000ft the remainder of our route was over Lake Ontario. The airport briefly came into view on a wide right base to Runway 08 before we turned a long final. Out the right side of the aircraft the only view was water; no land was in sight. It felt as if we were skimming just feet above the water for a few seconds before the airport threshold came into view.
Billy Bishop City Airport coming into view, hidden behind the opening gear door.
Gear down, over the water.
The closest I ever want to be to the water in a non-floatplane.
Well, it would appear we made it to Toronto!
After a short taxi (there are no long taxis at YTZ) we pulled into a hard-stand at Porter's terminal. Porter doesn't use jetbridges in Toronto, deplaning using the inbuilt airstairs (the way it should be with any prop plane). A couple of hallways led me to the customs hall, where I was through to Canada in maybe ten minutes.
Deplaning down the airstairs.
One last look at the aircraft before heading off to customs and immigration.
Despite being sent off to secondary screening the Canadian border officials were polite and helpful through the entire process (one even offered some things I should see during my short stay in Toronto). Without realizing it I found myself boarding the ferry to the mainland. The terminal at YTZ is just as compact as the airport, I hadn't even realized that I'd exited the main terminal and was already "landside". Next time I fly with Porter I'll need to make a connecting flight so I can experience the lounge, free food, and other fancy things that are offered to all Porter passengers at YTZ.
Porter's not the only interesting thing at YTZ. Assorted GA and a couple of Dash-7s!
Toronto's Billy Bishop City Airport isn't connected to mainland Toronto at all. The only method of getting to the city is via ferry, advertised as one of the shortest scheduled ferry routes in the world. The boat runs approximately every 15 minutes, carrying passengers and cars across the channel (I don't know why anyone would drive to the airport, it's literally ten feet from the ferry to the terminal on foot...) The ferry is free, and certainly a unique method of accessing the airport. A pedestrian tunnel is under construction, a connection that's been debated in Canadian politics for decades now.
Boarding the ferry to the mainland.
Underway across the channel.
Aaand, we're there. Shortest scheduled ferry route in the world...
In addition to the amenities onboard and in the terminal, Porter offers a free shuttle bus to downtown Toronto every 15-20 minutes. Stepping off the ferry I took another dozen steps or so and noticed the brightly painted bus with Porter Airlines advertising written all over it. Another ten minutes on the bus and I was in downtown Toronto...not that I was planning on staying very long.
Boarding the free shuttle to downtown. I could go for some Poutine right now...
One of Porter's destination ads on the bus. The raccoon mascot kind of creeps me out in this one.
Quick glimpse of downtown Toronto.
Union Station and the CN Tower, about to hop on the subway.
Since the purpose of this trip was solely to fly Porter, I hadn't scheduled myself much time in Toronto. I theoretically had two hours to spend sightseeing, but after spending twenty minutes searching for an ATM that wasn't closed (who closes ATMs on weekends?) I decided it wasn't worth the risk of missing my flight out of Pearson and found my way to the subway. From downtown to Pearson airport I had to do a little bit more traveling than just a free shuttle bus. Catching the subway at Union Station I took a quick hop to St George Station, where I caught a Bloor-Danforth line train all the way to the end of the line, before hopping on an express bus to Pearson terminal 1. At terminal 1, I found my way to the terminal connector train and took a ride to terminal 3 to check in for my Delta flight back to Atlanta. Lots of public transit to enjoy, but I had no idea how long it would take. Google Maps put a conservative estimate on the trip of about 1:40, which turned out to be just about right.
Subway arriving. Wish I could have ridden it all the way out to Downsview, where the Dash 8 and the Global Express are manufactured.
I reject your reality and substitute my own...