Saturday, November 11, 2006

Porter 245

Just back from Ottawa on a day trip for work, flying from Toronto Island Airport with Porter Airlines. Those who have read my previous posts about the airport, the airline and the Mayor will know that I am generally supportive of the airport but this was the first time I had a chance to fly from there without it costing more and at less convenient times than equivalent flights from Pearson as it was in the bad old days of Air Canada Jazz.

I picked the cheapest flights available that gave me enough time to complete my business - the 0700 leaving Toronto and the 2030 leaving Ottawa. This cost $333 ($109 out, $142 back and the rest in charges and taxes), the same as Air Canada (although taking flights reflecting the longer travel time from East York to Pearson) and more expensive than WestJet ($298) but without the taxi ride I would have undoubtedly taken to get to Pearson for an early flight. I have taken TTC to Pearson but for an evening flight with plenty of time to spare.

I had checked in 24 hours before online, although the need to go through credit card verification was puzzling as Porter only charges for seat assignment at the lowest fare before 24 hours from flight time.

I decided to use my Metropass to get to and from the airport. This is where I ran into my first snag. In order to be at the airport on time means travelling between 0500 and 0600 - the Bloor Danforth subway is not open at Coxwell until 0551 and the 300 night bus has its last departure from there at 0447, leaving a "transit dead zone" of an hour on that corridor, which also would concern Pearson passengers since the 300A is one of the few TTC services to Pearson and thus unavailable from 0417. A similar dead zone occurs between 8 and 9am on Sundays.

I took the 22 bus to Queen and the 501 streetcar to Queen & Bathurst, arriving at 0607 - tight but not too bad. With 1.6km to go, I started walking south just in case a Bathurst streetcar (the 511 allegedly operates "frequent service" from 0539) didn't show up - which it didn't until I had reached Queen's Quay under my own steam and the streetcar turns west anyway. Next time either the 0830 flight will have to do or else it will have to be a taxi.

By the time I reached the ferry dock it was 0627 but seeing a few other people arrive I felt I wasn't alone in my tardiness. The ferry terminal, being recently built concurrently with the refurbishment of the airport terminal, is bright and new and the overhead signs are harmonised so it feels like you have already entered the airport. The upper level waiting area has a short protruding section which when the door is opened by ferry crew allows level boarding with the ferry. The ferry also carries cars using a ramp on the dock which can be raised and lowered to match a short ramp from the ferry.

The security area is part of the waiting area so the walk from the ferry to the gate is probably no more than 50 metres. Like VIA Rail's VIA1 lounges, beverages are available as were the Post and the Globe (oddly not the Star) but I didn't have time to try the advertised free Wi-Fi. Boarding was called at about 0650 for the six passengers (out of 70 available seats) travelling and the Q400 aircraft was right outside boarding from its own airstairs.

Internally the aircraft is clean with white interior, beige seats and blue trim. Announcements are given via prerecorded tape which is fine on the ground but with the engines running the inflight ones are hard to hear, something Porter should consider fixing.

We took off to the west on the 4,000 foot runway 26. One of the points opponents have harped on it is whether the runway is long enough, given that a standard runway length for the Q400 exceeds that. Porter and Bombardier have noted that since Porter only use 70 out of a possible 78 seats and the sector lengths are well below the maximum 2,522km range (351km to Ottawa) that the aircraft doesn't need more than the 4,000 feet available. With such a light load it was one of the quickest takeoffs I've ever had, we were airborne before crossing the northwest-southeast runway 15/33 which left us a big margin as one can see from an overhead view. (MS Live Local - Google Maps would be better but for some reason it's not working for me today.)

Inflight service was coffee (in a proper cup) and a snack box with granola, yoghurt and a muffin. With low cloud over most of the region there wasn't much to see until we were on approach to Ottawa. The buzz from the propellers was not overly annoying (being in row 5 I was just ahead of them) but with no cover and being high-mounted even the Q400's noise suppression system can only do so much.

We were at the gate by about 0755 and I was out of the airport (including a trip to an ATM which didn't allow withdrawals - not much use at an airport) by about 0801. A 97 bus ($3 to the City) was waiting and since I wasn't in a hurry I decided to use public transit again. The transitway was very quick once the bus actually left - in fact the bus overtook the O-Train which may be why the city council is so convulsed about upgrading and extending the latter. The bus left me two blocks from the office which was extremely convenient.

The difficulties in using early morning transit notwithstanding, using the Island airport itself was a stress-free experience and the flight was of comparable speed and price and arguably of higher quality of service. The return trip will be for a later post.
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