TORONTO — With the launch of its new E195-E2 aircraft, Porter Airlines is ready to shake up the Canadian airline industry – again.
The carrier’s first jet flights start this week, and continue throughout February with a flurry of launch dates: Ottawa and Montreal on Feb. 1 (4x daily); Vancouver on Feb. 7 (3x daily); Edmonton on Feb. 14 (2x daily); Calgary on Feb. 22 (2x daily); and Halifax on Feb. 23 (2x daily).
All of these flights are out of Toronto Pearson, mind you. When Porter first launched back in 2006, the carrier set up shop at the underused Toronto Islands airport. And it was Porter’s expanding network that became the driving factor in making Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport what it is today: an indispensible gateway for Toronto’s leisure and corporate travellers alike, to regional destinations in Canada and the U.S. (Porter also flies to destinations from Ottawa, Halifax and Montreal).
Now Porter is set to galvanize the industry again with its new E195-E2 service out of Toronto Pearson, to cities already in its network plus Western Canada, and soon the western U.S., Caribbean and Mexico. It’s all part of the company’s massive expansion, first announced in 2021 and now with orders for up to 100 aircraft.
Naysayers may question whether travellers will want to make the trek to Pearson. They already do, for every other airline. Plus, say Porter’s executives, the carrier’s laser-focus on the flight experience for economy travellers – yes, economy – will be a big differentiator when it comes to the competition. Porter wants to revolutionize economy class service, building on the customer service strengths and passenger loyalty Porter has been cultivating since 2006.
“For the past two decades airlines have chipped away at the economy class experience, to the point that flying economy has become painful, stressful and in many ways, dehumanizing. We are challenging the definition of economy travel,” said Michael Deluce, President & CEO, Porter Airlines, at the Jan. 27 media preview of the new E195-E2s.
“EMBRACING ECONOMY CLASS PASSENGERS”
As Deluce noted, “economy is a segment many wouldn’t associate with Porter Airlines. And it’s a segment that other airlines shy away from.”
But the vast majority of air travellers fly economy, and while other airlines court the big-ticket business and first class passengers, Porter is championing economy. “Porter is going to be embracing economy class passengers going forward,” says Deluce.
Trade and consumer media had a chance to experience Porter’s E195-E2 offering at Friday’s preview, on a two-hour flight to nowhere out of Pearson.
Anyone already familiar with Porter’s service onboard its Dash 8-400 turboprop aircraft out of YTZ knows this is an airline that prioritizes customer service and attention to detail. Complimentary premium snacks are offered on every flight. There’s also a choice of beverages including free beer and wine served in real glassware. On the preview flight, which showcased PorterReserve, the meal box came with seven-layer Mexican dip and olive puffs, plus a choice of three entrees: soba noodle bowl; tropical salmon poke; or croissant sandwich with chicken salad.
NO MIDDLE SEATS
All Porter flights also offer a 2×2 configuration, with no middle seats, and that’s true not just for the YTZ flights but also the E195-E2 flights out of Pearson too.
The airline’s introduction of the E195-E2 aircraft also brings passengers on those flights free, fast WiFi plus in-seat power outlets.
Passengers on both the Dash 8-400s and E195-E2s will soon be familiar with Porter’s two fare classes, introduced in December 2022.
Porter’s traditional economy experience is now referred to as PorterClassic. Passengers travelling with a PorterClassic fare get 30” of seat pitch on every Porter aircraft. On the E195-E2, they may also purchase one of 20 PorterStretch seats, offering a minimum of 34” of seat pitch.
Porter’s new, all-inclusive economy experience is called PorterReserve, and comes with “all of the perks economy travellers may want for one reasonable price that is significantly lower than business class.” PorterReserve fares include dedicated airport check-in, early boarding, enhanced legroom, fresh meals on longer flights, Porter’s signature beer, wine and premium snacks, cocktails, two checked bags and the ability to change flights without a fee. PorterReserve is available on every Porter flight. On the Dash 8-400s, PorterReserve is in the first two rows with 32” of seat pitch. On the E195-E2s, PorterReserve is in the first four rows of the cabin with 36” of seat pitch. The 36” pitch is truly a revelation.
Porter’s economy class offering adds up to a product “unlike anything you will find with other airlines,” said Deluce. The E195-E2 is the best narrow-body aircraft available, he added. Porter is going all-in with the E195-E2s, in a big way. The airline has a confirmed order for 50 of the 132-passenger twin-engine aircraft, with options for more.
PLAYING THE LONG GAME
Some in the industry may remember that Porter tried to get Toronto and various levels of government onboard with jet flights from Billy Bishop Airport a few years back. When that didn’t work out, Porter continued with its Dash 8-400 service from YTZ, building its network and customer loyalty.
Now with jet service set to start from Pearson on Feb. 1, a day before the airline’s 17th anniversary, it’s clear Porter has played the long game beautifully. At Friday’s preview event, we asked Porter’s Executive Chairman, Robert Deluce, if he ever had doubts this day would come. “No, never,” he said with a smile. “As they say, timing is everything.”
INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL DELUCE
We also got a chance to talk to President & CEO, Michael Deluce, while onboard Friday’s preview flight.
Our first question: when might travel agents get word about Porter’s sun flights to the Caribbean and Mexico?
Not surprisingly, the timing for Porter’s destination announcements are still under wraps, said Deluce. “But we have 50 new E195-E2s coming in the next two years, so it’s going to happen very fast,” he told us. “Sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile the company’s map of potential Porter destinations in the U.S. includes L.A., San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Nashville, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Miami.
We also asked Deluce about Porter Escapes, long a part of the Porter product offering but not overtly highlighted in marketing messaging. Could the industry see more of a push for Porter Escapes once more sun destinations are confirmed on the map? “Up until now, we’ve seen Porter Escapes as complimentary to our regional network,” he said. “But looking at destinations like Las Vegas, Florida, and Mexico and the Caribbean, you’ll see a strong focus on Porter Escapes.”
As Porter expands in size and network, it also continues to work with travel advisors, an important distribution channel for the airline. The volume of bookings coming through travel agents is “a meaningful amount,” said Deluce. It’s a mix too, of corporate and leisure.
“We’re fully committed to the travel trade,” he added.
Main pic at top of article: Johan van ’t Hof, Board of Directors, GTAA; Doug Allingham, Chairman of the Board, GTAA; Deborah Flint, President & CEO, GTAA; Michael Deluce, President & CEO, Porter Airlines at the media preview of the new E195-E2, Jan. 27, 2023