Flight Review: Porter Airlines (Bombardier Dash Q400) Economy From Newark to Toronto
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Why fly Toronto-based Porter Airlines? Because when you get a chance to fly an airline that has a suave-looking cartoon raccoon as a mascot, you take it. Porter launched operations in 2006 and has since gained a reputation as a small carrier with great style and generous service. Did it live up to the hype? Let’s see.
Porter flies to 16 cities in Canada and seven in the US, serving Newark (EWR) in the NYC area. It operates out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ), so you’re landing less than three miles from downtown Toronto and in a quieter airport than the bigger Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). Off to a good start.
The company operates a fleet of 29 Bombardier Dash Q400 planes that seat 74 passengers. There are 68 standard seats and six premium seats in a 2-2 configuration. There are only two differences between the premium and the economy seats: a 34-inch pitch versus the 32-inch pitch in economy and a $40 fee.
Porter offers three types of fares: firm, flexible and freedom. The freedom fare has more benefits (like same day changes and complimentary checked bags) but the difference in price between flexible and freedom can be quite substantial, often between $100 and $200 US.
Since we didn’t need to check bags and our schedule didn't allow for flexibility so it was unlikely we'd change our flight, we went with the firm fare. If you want to pick your seat in advance of check-in, you’ll have to either buy a flexible or freedom fare or pony up between $20 and $23.
We booked two economy seats from EWR to YTZ using the Citi Prestige credit card, earning 3X points on airfare, plus the card offers travel insurance in the case of flight delays. We booked these flights before the Platinum Card from American Express offered 5x points for airfare purchases, but if I were buying this ticket today I'd certainly use that card.
Porter does partner with JetBlue, Qatar, El Al, Emirates, Icelandair and SATA but there don’t seem to be any reciprocal points benefits.
Check-In and Lounge
Check-in was pretty easy on a Sunday morning. There was no one in line and plenty of agents ready to help. When we originally checked in online (Saturday at noon for a Sunday 8:55am flight), the only seats available were premium seats (for $20) or the last row (which doesn’t recline). At the airport, we asked the agents if there happened to be any seats available and they re-seated us in row 1, seats A and B. Premium seats! It pays to ask.
Unfortunately, Porter doesn’t participate in TSA PreCheck. However, it operates out of Terminal B at EWR, which is mostly international flights. At 7:00am, there’s not a ton of international traffic, so we were through security in five minutes. If your flight is scheduled for international rush hour (in the late afternoon), you might want to give yourself some extra time.
Once through security, we headed to the Porter lounge. One of Porter’s benefits is that all passengers get to access their lounge. At EWR, the lounge was basically a roped off area next to Gate 51.
There's complimentary coffee, water, juice, and sodas and snacks (crackers). They also offered free Wi-Fi.
Overall, the lounge was a pleasant enough place to hang out: comfortable seats, a real espresso machine, plus a few snacks — all for a short economy flight. It's not a full lounge experience by any means but stop by if you have a few minutes. On future trips, with more time before my flight, I’d most likely use my Priority Pass Select membership (a benefit of my Chase Sapphire Reserve), though it is pre-security.
Cabin and Seat
Boarding was pretty easy: passengers who need assistance, followed by premium passengers, followed by rows 10-18, then remaining passengers. Since you’ll have to gate check your suitcase anyway, there’s no rush to get on the plane to snag overhead bin space (bins can only fit jackets and small handbags).
Inside, the plane was small but made good use of space. There was one lavatory in the front and a small coat rack. The two flight attendants used part of the overhead bin of row 1 for galley space.
We had seats 1A and 1B in the first row of the plane, and while you have plenty of space to stretch your legs, you are giving up under-seat storage. I found this a little annoying as that meant that I had to get up multiple times to grab and then stow my laptop and magazines. You did, however, get two coat hooks that you could use in-flight (you’d have to stow the coats for take off and landing).
The bathroom was tiny, easily the smallest airplane bathroom I’ve ever seen, with barely enough space to make it usable. Again, however, it was enough for such a short flight.
There’s no Wi-Fi or seat back entertainment on Porter flights, but for what’s basically a commuter flight, I didn’t find it necessary. They do have an adorable in-flight magazine called Re:Porter that I definitely suggest flipping through or taking with you.
Once in the air, the pilot announced on the PA that Porter was celebrating their 10th birthday and in celebration, they would be giving away a voucher for a free future flight to a passenger picked at random. He announced the lucky winner to a round of applause and the purser immediately walked back into the cabin to present the passenger with a gift certificate.
The flight attendants then came through the cabin with branded cookies for all the passengers (before starting the regular service). It was a cute and fun way to celebrate the airline.
Food and Beverage
For the regular in-flight service, you have your choice of complimentary coffee, soda and local wine and beer (served in real glasses!), as well as light snacks. There’s no food for purchase, and you can’t request special meals of any kind. We had apple chips and banana bread, as well as Lavazza branded tea served in a Starbucks cup and a local Steam Whistle ale.
Unfortunately, the flight attendant, who was otherwise extremely helpful and courteous, forgot about the beer and didn’t bring the can until after the service had finished. He also didn’t provide glassware. But he was apologetic and did let us know we were welcome to hold on to our drinks until we were on the ground.
Overall, I found the snack choices were generous and appropriate for the early morning flight and the service was prompt and friendly, though we were bummed we didn't get real glasses.
One of the main draws of flying Porter is that you land in downtown Toronto and get incredible views of Lake Ontario and the Toronto islands through the initial descent and all through the airport.
The landing was smooth. A quick deplane, a few minute wait for gate-checked bags and we were off to customs. We seemed to be the only arriving flight, and customs and immigration took only a few minutes.
The airport is easy to navigate and beautiful, with a fair share of real estate devoted to Porter.
Once through customs, you have your pick of transportation to get to the mainland: an underground pedestrian tunnel connecting the island to Toronto or a free ferry ride (touted as the world’s shortest ferry ride).
We opted for the ferry, which runs every few minutes given that the ride to town is indeed only about 90 seconds. Then you're free to hop in a cab or take public transportation. We opted for Porter's free shuttle downtown.
For what amounts to a commuter flight across the border, Porter is a great option. They have friendly and personal service, thoughtful (if simple) perks and an unbelievably great location in the heart of downtown. I would fly them again, though next time I'd skip the lounge and pick a seat with more storage.
Have you flown on Porter Airlines yet? Tell us about your experience, below.