Porter Airlines' Chief Commercial Officer, Kevin Jackson

“We are really liking the numbers”: Porter Airlines CCO Kevin Jackson talks YVR routes, the importance of travel advisors and more

VANCOUVER — Even with all the airline competition in Vancouver, Porter Airlines’ YVR routes – with YVR-YYZ already well underway, and YVR-YOW launching July 26 – are already among the strongest of the carrier’s new expanding network, says Chief Commercial Officer, Kevin Jackson.

At Mr. Porter’s House Party, which took place last week in YVR at Rocky Mountaineer Station, Travelweek had a chance to sit down with Jackson to talk about everything from customer satisfaction scores, to forward bookings on Vancouver routes and more, to the importance of Porter’s travel advisor partners.

“We are really liking the numbers”: Porter Airlines CCO Kevin Jackson talks YVR routes, the importance of travel advisors and more

Jackson was in fine form, providing thoughtful and detailed answers. Here’s the full interview …

Travelweek: First up, what’s your take on this Mr. Porter’s House Party event?

Jackson: “We’re really excited about everyone who has come to join us here at Mr. Porter’s House Party. It’s an opportunity for us to immerse our travel agency partners, and many other partners, in what makes Porter different in the marketplace. Not by listening to someone stand up in a room and talk about it, but actually going around and sampling the food available onboard the aircraft, drinking the free beer and wine we serve onboard the aircraft, enjoying the free WiFi, and also enjoying our house DJ tonight who will keep people moving all night.”


Travelweek: How are travellers responding to Porter’s big expansion so far?

Jackson: “So far, we are really liking the numbers we see from customer satisfaction and net promoter scores. We’re seeing customer satisfaction well into the mid- to upper eighties. Some net promoter scores, sometimes we’re seeing them as high as 70 plus, so we know from customer reaction to the product that they like what they’re seeing.

“We like the way the markets are building right now. Every month for Vancouver specifically, month-over-month over the last five months, we continue to grow revenue, average fares and load factors. As we look into the summer, we’re probably going to be running in the mid-eighties for load factors. As we look into the fall, we’re very pleased with how fall is already starting to build in the western markets and within Vancouver.”


Travelweek: So, sounds like forward bookings are looking strong?

Jackson: “Yes, they’re actually exceeding our expectations going into the fall at this stage.”


Travelweek: Which new routes are proving especially popular?

Jackson: “Vancouver is certainly the largest, it’s the largest market in Canada, but it’s already well absorbing the five flights a day we have to Toronto. We are now going to be launching nonstop from Vancouver into Ottawa on July 26. That market is building on the same level as Toronto. So, both of those markets are doing great but, with that said, Calgary’s doing well, Edmonton is receiving us very well and we just announced Winnipeg. We’re just starting to build Winnipeg and, also, Victoria, so both of those markets will start in September.”


Travelweek: How is Vancouver performing since you started it in February?

Jackson: “Revenue-wise it’s doing very well, and on load factors it’s doing very well. We’re starting to see the passenger mix onboard the aircraft is getting more diverse. We started out very heavily focused with leisure, but we’re seeing corporate and business travel build into the market now. We’re seeing loyalty build into the market, so you can see the maturing of the market and we’re just five months into it. We’re very pleased with how it has gone.”


Travelweek: What message do you want to get out to the travel agents?

Jackson: “I know there’s a lot of competition in Western Canada and travel agents know that there’s plenty of options out there, but certainly they are not going to find any economy experience in the market quite like what Porter is doing.

“Whether you’re looking at the ultra low-cost carriers which have a certain business model, or even the legacy carriers, that exist in Western Canada today, when you look in economy, no one is working to actually elevate the economy travel experience for passengers. So, how do we do that? The fact that in economy on our aircraft there are no middle seats, there’s a level of comfort onboard the aircraft you will not find in the marketplace. Free WiFi for every single passenger. That’s free, fast, streaming WiFi for everyone. Not a selection of passengers, not slow Internet, you can have both devices connected to the Internet, your computer and your phone, streaming both. Fresh meals onboard, free beer and wine, no one is doing that in economy today other than Porter regardless of what other carrier it is.”


Travelweek: The WiFi was nice. I took advantage.

Jackson: “Did you have both devices going?”

Travelweek: I did! (laughing)

Jackson: “There are many flights where we have more Internet connections than we do passengers onboard.”

Travelweek: I was texting with my friends back home the whole flight and that was nice. Helped pass the time.

Jackson: “I do the same thing. I have both going!”


Travelweek: It’s awesome! From the perspective of a Porter insider, how would you promote Porter to your clients if you were a travel agent?

Jackson: “Number one, it’s going to be an elevated economy experience, but it’s going to be at the same price as our competitors. Why would you not fly Porter? For the same price, clients get all these other elements included in the fare, free WiFi, no middle seats, free beer and wine all for the same price. What else is there to say? The competitive environment for economy travellers right now is intense, but we’re the only one that’s differentiating ourselves in the market.”


Travelweek: Was it very challenging to open the Vancouver market?

Jackson: “Honestly, the answer is no. It has exceeded our expectations out of the gate as far as passengers. We have worked hard to work on passenger mix, which is important as you know. The mix of corporate, the mix of leisure; we’re continuing to work in that space. We’re seeing continuous improvement on that every month. We’re very pleased with that. We’re very pleased with the load factors this summer, and we’re very thrilled with how it’s going into the fall. Because as you launch in winter, build in spring and you have a strong summer, great, but the question is what’s going to happen when you go into the fall. We’re seeing really strong bookings in the fall that has us very bullish on Vancouver.”


Travelweek: How do you feel about the growth of the brand recognition out here? Some people in B.C. have never heard of Porter before because it was just out East.

Jackson: “We’ve done a lot of market research when we built the product and brand positioning, and we came out to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver and we spoke to the market. I would say in general about 30% of the population has heard of Porter, and they’ve heard of Porter because they either lived in Ontario or Eastern Canada, or they’ve flown out and have family there, so there’s a connection there.

“What’s great about that is, there is some existing brand recognition but there’s also curiosity about the brand. The brand precedes itself; we have a reputation in the marketplace even if you haven’t flown us. I can see it in the customer satisfaction results when people say, ‘I was looking forward to flying you for the first time and it exceeded my expectations.’ I know that people are aware, they don’t know the product yet, they’re willing to try it and, when they do, they’re walking away satisfied.”


Travelweek: I’d imagine there’s a large marketing campaign currently taking place in the Vancouver region?

Jackson: “Yes, we’ve got all media lit up. I mean, there’s print, there’s radio and we’re investing very heavily in digital. We’re also making a lot of investments in social media. What Travelweek is experiencing today is a heavy investment in social media because, by creating an experience, it allows people to immerse themselves in our brand. They’re going to go online and they’re going to talk about they experience that they had, and when they realize that they’re coming to an airline party that’s like no other airline party they’ve ever been to, then that must be what it’s like to fly that airline too. We purposely set out to create an experience that is like no other new airline party, and I hope Travelweek enjoys that experience.”


Travelweek: Definitely! Congrats to all of you on the initiative and ingenuity. Any final words?

Jackson: “I think the other thing that’s important for travel agents to understand is Porter Reserve. Porter Reserve is a product concept that does not exist in the market today. It’s an all-inclusive economy experience and, as travel agents, they’re used to selling all-inclusive hotels. What does that mean? It means I show up at a hotel and I get to enjoy everything the hotel has to offer, and I don’t have to pull out my credit card. I enjoy it all.

“Well, we followed that same model with Porter Reserve. It’s all-inclusive economy. It’s all of those things that people find enjoyable, whether it’s extra legroom, the meals, the extra bags, flight flexibility and, the other key thing, it’s all in one affordable fare. It has the legroom of business class, it has the onboard experience of business class with the free food, free beer, free wine, the luggage, all of that, but at a far lower price than what you’re going to see in business class.

“I think travel agents need to come out and understand Porter Reserve, we need to educate the market and we’re working on doing that. When they see the value proposition and the price relative to business class, I think there’s an opportunity to really give value to their clients.”


Travelweek: There’s some great value! Some of the prices are wild, for example Toronto to Newark.

Jackson: “I mean, you can get economy fares even into Western Canada, one-way fares for $150 pre-tax, that exist in the market very easily. Porter Reserve is only typically about $150 to $200 more than Classic, and you’re getting a lot of value in that fare.”

For Travelweek’s coverage of Mr. Porter’s House Party, click here. To learn more about Porter Airlines and all its routes, visit FlyPorter.com.           

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