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Trip Report: Porter Airlines’ Inaugural Vancouver Round Trip
Porter Airlines marked the beginning of a new chapter with its inaugural flights between Toronto Pearson International Airport and Vancouver International Airport and I had a chance to experience the special occasion.
Since its inception in 2006, Porter has operated a fleet of De Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400 turboprops from its base at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport but the airline is in a midst of a bold expansion. In July 2021, Porter and Embraer announced an order for 30 Embraer E195-E2s, making Porter the North American launch customer for Embraer’s E2 jets.
Towards the end of 2022, the airline announced that its first jet routes would connect Toronto Pearson International Airport with Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport, Montréal–Trudeau International Airport and Vancouver International Airport. These new routes not only signal the start of jet operations for the carrier, but also mark the beginning of Porter’s operations at Toronto Pearson International Airport. The announcement of its Vancouver route was particularly significant as it is the carrier’s first transcontinental route after having flown short-haul flights throughout eastern Canada and the United States over the past 16 years.
Along with the introduction of the Embraer E195-E2 to its fleet, Porter is debuting a revamped onboard product. Porter has long attempted to distinguish itself from other airlines by offering an elevated economy class experience, with offerings such as leather seats and free beer and wine served in glassware. With its expansion into transcontinental flights, the airline unveiled what they call a new “all-inclusive economy experience,” called PorterReserve. Its existing economy class product is now known as PorterClassic.
The big day for Porter came on February 7, 2023 when the first flights to and from Vancouver were to take place. I was on board both flights to see what Porter had to offer in both PorterClassic and PorterReserve on its new transcontinental flights.
Toronto Pearson: Porter’s New Base
Porter Airlines began operations in 2006 with a small fleet of Dash 8 Q400s operating out of what was then known as Toronto City Centre Airport. The airport is located on an island off the shore of downtown Toronto. Porter currently operates 29 Dash 8 Q400s to destinations throughout central and eastern Canada as well as cities in the northeastern United States such as Chicago, New York and Boston. Jet aircraft are not allowed at the airport though, and Porter has started operating out of the much larger Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Porter operates out of Terminal 3, which is also served by WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing, along with a number of Canadian low-cost carriers as well as some foreign carriers. Porter’s check-in area is located near the center of the high-ceilinged check-in hall, right beside the entrance to one of the security screening checkpoints. The check-in area has an area with self-service kiosks, a row of counters and a baggage drop area.
I had checked in online and had a boarding pass on my phone already. Porter doesn’t have a mobile app but I received my boarding pass via email. For the first flight to Vancouver, I was seated in PorterClassic. I would be seated in PorterReserve on the way back to Toronto.
I was quite early, having arrived at around 7:30 a.m. for a 10:15 a.m. flight. The Porter check-in and bag drop area was pretty quiet but I imagine that it will be busier as the airline adds more flights out of Toronto Pearson. I had no bags to check so I headed straight to security.
Toronto Gate Festivities
Porter’s inaugural flight to Vancouver was leaving from Gate B39. Since I had lots of time, I took a walk around the terminal. In addition to standard airport seating at each gate, Terminal 3 also has several lounge-style seating areas with power plugs and tablets for ordering food.
Around an hour and a half before departure, our aircraft was towed to the gate. The Embraer E195-E2 that would be taking us to Vancouver today was C-GKQJ, a brand new jet that was delivered to the airline in December and had entered service a week ago when Porter began its jet flights. The aircraft flew a few flights in January, presumably for flight crew training and ground crew familiarization.
At around the same time, Porter staff began setting up the gate area for the inaugural flight. There was a table with coffee, tea and cookies.
Beside the refreshments table, there was a small booth where there was a locked box and a rack of keys. Passengers could line up to pick a key and try to open the box. Porter staff continuously replenished the keys until a passenger opened the box and won a pair of roundtrip Porter tickets to any destination in their network.
Porter had also set up a special Vancouver backdrop for photos. There were no speeches but Porter Airlines Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Deluce was on hand to speak with employees and passengers and take some photos. I had the chance to chat with him briefly and he hinted that some more route announcements would be coming very soon. He was also on both inaugural flights.
Boarding started around five minutes early but ended up taking approximately 40 minutes, pushing our departure past the scheduled time of 10:15 a.m.
Cabin and Seats: Sleek and Modern
Porter’s Embraer jets are fitted with 132 economy class seats in a 2-2 configuration. The airline proudly states that it has no middle seats since both the E195-E2s and the Dash 8 Q400s have four across seating.
On Porter’s E195-E2s, the first four rows are PorterReserve seats with 36 inches of pitch. All seats on the plane are 18.3 inches wide, a fairly decent width for economy class. The seats also feature an adjustable headrest.
PorterClassic seats are upholstered in grey and have 30 inches of pitch. Rows 5-7 and the two overwing exit rows have 34 inches of pitch and are called PorterClassic Stretch seats. There is an extra cost to select these extra legroom seats.
Each seat had a seatback pocket and a literature pocket that included the WiFi connection instructions. The seatback pocket had an air sickness bag, a copy of Porter’s inflight magazine, a safety card and a buy-on-board menu, which I will explore later.
The overhead panel had a reading light, air vent and flight attendant call button. Each pair of seats also had two universal power plugs located between the two seats under the seatback pockets.
I noticed that many rows, including both rows that I sat in, had misaligned windows. On both flights, I had to either turn my head backwards or lean forward in my seat to look out the window. However, I realize that this isn’t really in Porter’s control but is rather an issue with how far apart the windows are on the E195-E2.
Departure from Toronto
Our flight ended up departing around 15 minutes late due to the boarding delay and traffic at the airport. We took off from Runway 23, leaving wintry Toronto behind for warmer weather.
WiFi and Entertainment
Porter’s E195-E2s offer free WiFi for all passengers. Members of the airline’s frequent flyer program, VIPorter, get free uninterrupted WiFi after watching a 30-second video advertisement. Those that don’t sign into a VIPorter account still get free WiFi but will need to watch an advertisement every 30 minutes to remain connected. Passengers can also sign up for the free VIPorter program while on board.
I tested the connection speed three times over the course of the two flights and found download speeds ranging from 18.3 to 44.4 Mbps. I had no issues streaming videos, using email or browsing social media. On my first flight from Toronto to Vancouver, my tests showed upload speeds of 0.04 and 0.07 Mbps. I had some issues sending and uploading photos during that flight, with single photos taking up to an hour to post on social media. On the return flight though, I measured an upload speed of 0.32 Mbps and I was able to post photos within a minute.
Porter also offers free streaming entertainment through its Wi-Fi connection. I counted approximately 80 movies and 60 television shows, with anywhere from 1 to 8 episodes per show. For some reason though, I was unable to get the streaming entertainment to work. I tried it on both flights and used my phone and laptop but the content player would not start the video. Porter also provides a copy of its in-flight magazine, re:Porter, at every seat.
Porter does not have seatback entertainment screens. However, there are significant cost and weight savings that result from the decision not to install screens and the free Wi-Fi and streaming entertainment should be more than enough to keep passengers occupied during their flight. Even without the streaming entertainment, the ability to browse the internet and stream videos on YouTube kept me entertained while on board.
PorterClassic Food & Beverage
Porter has long been known for offering a premium food and beverage experience. The airline provides free wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages. On past Porter flights that I have taken, all drinks were served in glassware. On these flights though, it appeared that wine and beer were served in glassware and non-alcoholic beverages were served in paper cups. However, during one of the drink services I received ginger ale in a glass.
As part of its revamped economy class product, Porter has introduced snacks for purchase (in addition to their free snack selection). Passengers seated in PorterClassic can also purchase fresh meals. These meals are included for PorterReserve passengers, but I will cover that later in this report.
On our inaugural flights, PorterClassic passengers were offered a free meal entrée. On the flight to Vancouver, it was a breakfast meal service because the scheduled departure time was before 10:30 a.m. We were offered the choice of a raspberry chia smoothie bowl or a croissant breakfast sandwich. I chose the chia smoothie bowl and my seatmate lent me their breakfast sandwich for a photo. I found the smoothie bowl to be fresh and tasty. The portions were small but I’m not sure if they were small sample sized versions of the entrées or the actual ones that will be sold.
Inaugural Flight Goodies
During boarding, all passengers were handed an envelope that contained a welcome letter, a keychain and a 150 Canadian dollar flight voucher. Having taken both flights, I received two of these envelopes.
Porter’s E195-E2s have two lavatories: one at the front of the cabin and one at the back. Throughout the two flights, I used both. The lavatories were both fairly small and the one at the back of the aircraft is located within the rear galley space.
Arrival into Vancouver
It had rained heavily that morning in Vancouver but by the time we arrived, the skies had mostly cleared. There were lots of people on the ground at the gate, with many taking photos and videos. Most of them were on the right side of the aircraft so my photo doesn’t show the full crowd on the ground.
Our plane pulled into Gate B27 around 25 minutes behind schedule.
Vancouver Gate Celebrations
The pre-departure function in Vancouver was a much grander affair than the festivities in Toronto. I got off the plane and saw a lineup of television cameras and lights facing a podium with a Toronto backdrop. Vancouver International Airport puts on a show for each of their inaugural flights and today’s flight was no exception, with music, Toronto-themed decorations, refreshments and even a special cake.
There were speeches from a councilor from the local Musqueam First Nations band; Porter CEO Michael Deluce; and Andy Margolis, Vice President, Airport Capacity & Systems Design at Vancouver International Airport. The speeches were followed by a photo op and a media availability.
Boarding commenced soon after. Although the key and box activity was not replicated in Vancouver, the gate agents did announce that one passenger had been randomly selected to win a pair of roundtrip Porter tickets.
PorterReserve seats are upholstered in blue and have 36 inches of pitch. Aside from the color, the seat itself is identical to PorterClassic seats so I won’t go into the seat features again.
In addition to the premium onboard experience, PorterReserve passengers get perks such as priority check-in and boarding, two pieces of checked luggage and free seat selection.
Departure from Vancouver
We took off from Runway 26L slightly behind schedule. I love looking out the window when flying in and out of Vancouver. The views really show off the beauty of the Canadian west coast.
PorterReserve Food & Beverage
As I mentioned in the introduction, PorterReserve passengers have meals included in their fare. Service started around half an hour after takeoff with the snack basket. Immediately afterwards, the meal service began. The menu had been handed out during departure and was part of a card that also included a postcard.
I first received a box, which opens to reveal the two appetizers and a chocolate truffle. There was also cutlery and a paper phone stand. I then had to fold open the front portion of the box to reveal spots for the entrée and a drink. The concept is creative and aesthetically pleasing but the flight attendant had to stop and explain the box opening sequence to each pair of passengers before serving them their main entrée.
For the entrée, I chose the mango chicken. The presentation of the food was excellent, with a sleek look and vivid colors. The entire meal and all entrée options were served cold. The food quality was also very good. It tasted very fresh, but I felt that the Korean cauliflower and mango chicken would have been better served warm. The Korean cauliflower and cheese puffs were both quite tasty. The chicken was well-seasoned but I found the rest of the entrée could have used more seasoning or salsa. Until I looked at the menu again to prepare this report, I didn’t realize that the rice was supposed to be coconut rice since it simply tasted like plain white rice. Overall though, I was quite impressed with Porter’s meal box.
The food and beverage service flow was also a bit awkward. I had barely finished my snack before the meal boxes came around. Then after everyone received their meal, the accompanying drink service didn’t come around until people were finished or almost finished their food. I didn’t have anything to drink during most of my meal and my seatmate had finished his food before he got a drink. We then waited nearly an hour after eating before the meal boxes were collected. Service was also fairly slow on the outbound flight from Toronto to Vancouver.
Quite frankly though, I thought this was understandable and forgivable. The flight attendants were used to working short turboprop flights with a quick snack and drink service and were adjusting to the new onboard products and procedures. The flights that I took were the first two passenger flights that Porter has operated with a meal service, and I am confident that the service flow will improve greatly over time. As Porter continues to develop its E195-E2 product, I’m sure that the procedures will be refined over time and the airline will consider further improvements such as warm meals.
Aside from the understandable challenges with the service flow, I found that the service was fantastic. The flight attendants were caring and attentive and fit well into Porter’s image of being a friendly airline. In addition to delivering the new meal service for the first time in the airline’s history, they had to serve an almost full flight on the first leg and around 100 passengers on the second leg. They had a challenging job working this inaugural roundtrip and they definitely rose to the occasion.
Arrival into Toronto
After the meal service was complete, the sun began to set outside and the crew dimmed the cabin lights.
A second drink service was offered about an hour and forty-five minutes prior to landing and we soon found ourselves descending back into Toronto for a landing on Runway 24L.
We arrived around 20 minutes behind scheduled and taxied towards Gate B6. There was a slight delay before pulling into the gate as we waited for the ground crew to be ready. Gate B6 is located in a satellite building and required a walk through an underground tunnel to the main part of Terminal 3.
Overall, I was very impressed with Porter’s new jets and service. Although there were some hiccups such as the service flow and streaming entertainment, Porter has clearly developed an excellent product. With no middle seats, free Wi-Fi for all passengers and revamped food and beverage offerings, Porter is well-positioned to deliver a competitive onboard experience.
With PorterReserve, the airline has created a unique product in the Canadian market. Priced between economy class and premium economy/North American business class offered by competitors, there isn’t really anything directly comparable. PorterReserve will therefore offer a creative new onboard option for Canadian travelers.
Porter has begun a new chapter in its history. The homegrown regional carrier operating turboprops out of the small downtown airport is now starting to fly jets from Canada’s largest airport to destinations throughout North America. Additional jet destinations that have been announced from Toronto Pearson include Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta and Halifax in Nova Scotia and the carrier is looking to expand to the United States and the Caribbean. It is an exciting time for Porter Airlines and I am looking forward to seeing what they have in store.
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