Porter Airlines vs Air Canada: Flying to and from a reopened Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport

Earlier this month, Toronto’s central Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport re-opened for the first time to travellers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the airport’s primary commercial carriers, Porter Airlines, resumed domestic services.

The airport – which I’ve previously called one of the world’s most convenient – is unique due to its location and size. Its complete commercial closure was also a rarity on an international level – though given the length of the pandemic, Porter’s decision to shut down services completely (not just at this airport) proved a sound decision.

My flight out of Billy Bishop Airport on opening weekend though was the sole Air Canada route out of the terminal, YTZ to YUL (Montreal, Quebec).

The flight to Montreal was an easy affair – just minutes through security, with no notable differences to the experience pre-pandemic. Surprisingly no vaccination checks, and no temperature check (as I recently experienced on a trip to Vancouver) – though sanitisation stations are everywhere as are mask reminders – the latter being a feature both in the lounge and on board Air Canada’s Bombardier Q400.

The departures terminal – which no longer features complimentary snacks and drinks as it did once upon a time – had a Balzac Coffee shop and a Newsagency open for the 10am flight post security, and a bar would open later in the day. There’s ample, comfortable seating in the lounge, and plenty of room for social distancing.

With small capacity flights and limited services at present, it’s a great time to fly – the airport was very quiet. It’s also worth mentioning that Domestic and International travellers are separated both through the security process and in at the gates themselves.

Domestically, I believe this is the only service where Air Canada will provide alcoholic beverages free of charge, to match the service offered by Porter on the same route. They’ll make you a Caesar, serve beer or wine, or a number of other spirits – plus tea, coffee, soft drinks and juices. I daresay the wonderful staff go so far as to encourage the Caesar at 10am, which I was not complaining about.

They also provide Miss Vickies Potato Chips or Kit Kat Chocolates amongst a small selection of complimentary snacks. A packet of sanitizer and masks are also handed out as you board – something they’re doing across all their routes. The flight was on time, and a wonderful experience.

My return flight with Porter Airlines was actually their first returning to the Quebec City (YQB) – Billy Bishop (YTZ) route. Quebec City is about three hours out of Montreal, and a wonderful city to visit whenever you get the chance. The flight from Billy Bishop to Montreal is a little over an hour, while to Quebec City it’s closer to 90 minutes.

At Quebec City Airport, we were greeted to an almost empty airport as well, and the flight, which had only resumed service that day, was almost empty as well. Staff were fantastic though, and I felt very looked after. Seats are comfortable, but don’t recline on the De Havilland Dash 8-400, which like Air Canada’s Bombardier Q400 operates in a 2-2 layout throughout the whole cabin.

Shortly after take off, wine, beer and soft drinks were served, with chips, almonds or cookies. I enjoyed a lovely red wine. Unlike with Air Canada, no masks or sanitizer were handed out on the Porter flight, though I’m sure they would have given you some if you’d asked. And to top it all off: the flight arrived well ahead of schedule.

Something worth mentioning with Porter, is that if you want to have a carry on (something that doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you), make sure you pay for that when you buy the ticket – it gets more expensive in the leadup to the flight. Air Canada include this with your ticket, but Porter do not.

No vaccination checks were made on either flight, or at either airport, which was confusing given the recent federal mandates*. It left me wondering if it’s a staggered arrangement with airlines and terminals, or if some just haven’t gotten their act together in time? Given how important these mandates are on restoring consumer confidence in a country that has an almost 85% vaccination rate, here’s hoping they figure that out.

Final Verdict

Comparing these two airlines is a tough one, as the service was nearly identical. Air Canada slightly outshined Porter thanks to the complimentary spirits, but don’t expect that on any other Air Canada flight. Where as beer and wine are a given on all Porter routes. The inclusion of carry on baggage in your ticket also gives Air Canada a point over Porter – but the prices remain comparable all the same.

The service from both airlines was professional, friendly and the experience was a comfortable one from start to finish. It helped that the airports were both exceptionally quiet as well – meaning it was a breeze at all points of the experience. Not something to expect at all times, of course.

I would highly recommend flying on either airline in or out of Billy Bishop – if you can avoid the madness of Toronto’s primary airport (Pearson, YYZ), you absolutely should.

International flights to and from the USA resume for Porter have also resumed this month, and once again Billy Bishop will serve as the preferred entry point (over the crowded Pearson) for visitors crossing the North American border (which recently re-opened to non-essential travel. So definitely check out Porter Airline’s website for all their routes.

The only confusion really was over Vaccinations. For all this talk of Quebec & Canadian vaccination requisites, I didn’t get checked at Toronto City nor Quebec City Airport, nor by Porter or Air Canada. I do wonder how this process will develop over time – after all, the current plan is to require all domestic travellers are vacccinated. But after this trip, it’s hard to know exactly how this is currently being implemented.*

*Editor’s Update: 7th October 2021 – It’s been confirmed that the vaccination requisites begin on October 30th. To date it’s been up to the airlines. More details reported by USA Today HERE

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.