Flying Porter Airlines to Toronto

Flying from New York or DC to Toronto is oddly expensive. It can be nearly as expensive as between Los Angeles and Toronto. Of course, I tried using my points to help offset that cost. The redemptions were worse than paying cash, especially for the flights I wanted. My trip was just a weekend trip, so I wanted to maximize my time in Toronto without taking time off work. To do that, I preferred to leave Friday evening and return Sunday night. Airfare was so high that I nearly changed my mind and scrapped the idea entirely. As my frustration grew, I remembered a small Canadian airline that isn’t widely known – Porter Airlines. The flight times were ideal, and they weren’t much more expensive than other airlines I was looking at. Porter Airlines exceeded my expectations, and I hope to fly them again. 

Porter Airlines started operating in the mid-2000s and is headquartered in Toronto. Instead of competing at the massive and busy Toronto-Pearson Airport (YYZ), they opted to use Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ). Billy Bishop Airport is located on an island steps away from downtown Toronto. Walking from the airport to many hotels, sites, and attractions is possible. Trust me – I did it!

The exterior of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport

The smaller airport does not allow jets to fly there. Thus, Porter uses Bombardia Q400 propeller planes. Porter flies mainly to eastern Canadian cities and some cities in the United States. Currently, the longest non-stop flight Porter Airlines flies from YTZ is to Halifax, Nova Scotia, roughly 790 miles (which takes about 2.5 hours). More recently, Porter Airlines has been flying from Pearson Airport to Calgary and Vancouver using E195 regional jets.

Porter Airlines Q400/Dash 8

The Q400s that Porter Airlines fly seat 78 people in a 2×2 configuration. Six seats have two more inches of legroom (32″ vs 30″ seat pitch). I didn’t get one of those seats but still felt I had enough room. They do charge for seats. The fee is somewhat nominal, but we didn’t feel like it was necessary. Porter Airlines did seat us together, which was nice.

Boarding Process

The boarding process is a combination of orderly, humorous, and chaotic. At Dulles Airport, they basically called passengers by two groups depending on the assigned row number. But they called everyone at once when I was leaving Billy Bishop Airport. This would create total chaos if this were a larger plane or almost anywhere but Canada. The boarding process didn’t matter – both went quite smoothly.

Porter Airlines’ boarding passes with their adorable mascot, “Mr. Porter”

The overhead bins are tiny since the flights were on smaller planes. However, there is more space under the seats as there isn’t a support beam in the middle. A full carry-on still won’t fit, but Porter does gate-check bags. In fact, there’s a cart on the side of the walkway just before the plane door for the gate-checked bags.

Porter Airlines On-Board Experience

Flights between IAD and Toronto are roughly 1.5 hours. Despite having decent legroom, the seats are firm. I likely would have had to stand up to stretch if I were on a more extended flight. I am also six feet tall and just barely able to stand up completely straight on the plane.

Even with the short flight time, the two flight attendants managed to do an entire beverage and snack service. In addition to the typical non-alcoholic drinks, Porter also offers complimentary wine and beer. No matter what is ordered, the drink is served in a branded glass meticulously placed on your tray with the logo facing you. A subtle but noticeable detail that many other airlines overlook. For example, on my recent domestic first class American Airlines flight, the logo was nearly on the back of the glass.

Beer in Porter Airlines branded glass, with logo pointed at me

The airline also skips over the typical nuts/trail mix/Biscoff that you would find on other airlines. Instead, Porter Airlines has a basket with potato chips, almonds, marinated fava beans (no chianti on board), and chocolate chip shortbread. They don’t limit passengers to one, so I was able to try everything except the fava beans. The shortbread was expectedly dry, and the potato chips were impossible to open because of the pressurization.

On top of everything mentioned, each flight attendant was friendly. No one was annoyed at any request or questions from passengers. Having a good selection of drinks and snacks was an excellent addition.

Operations at YTZ

The airport is very conveniently located. As I mentioned, it is on an island very close to the mainland. Passengers have the option to walk through a tunnel or take a ferry. Walking takes less than five minutes, and the tunnel has moving walkways. Pedestrians are only sometimes allowed on the ferry for an unknown reason. Still, the ferry looked like a relaxing way to cross the small channel.

Obviously, it is necessary to clear customs and immigration when arriving from the United States. Most major airports have a good way of separating those arriving passengers from departing passengers. Thus, departing flights can board while arriving flights can deplane. However, this is not the case at Billy Bishop. The hallways that arriving passengers use to get to customs and immigration is the same hallways that departing passengers would walk through to board their flights. Notice the issue here? All departures have to wait to board for all arriving passengers to clear the hallway, which causes delays. 

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is also a much smaller airport than Toronto-Pearson, and arriving super early for departures isn’t necessary. It is also not a US Preclearance location, so passengers clear immigration at the arrival airport. We arrived about 1.5 hours before our scheduled flight and felt it was too early – especially after our flight was delayed!

Closing Thoughts

Porter’s flights from IAD are timed perfectly for a weekend in Toronto. I didn’t use points for my flights, which is okay sometimes! Porter’s flights were pricier than other options. However, the flight times and convenience of Billy Bishop Airport made it worth the premium. I enjoyed the weekend in Toronto and will likely check Porter Airlines first when I go again!

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