TIME magazine: why Toronto’s island airport isn’t taking off

It is always interesting to read articles or see news clips about Toronto from international media outlets. Sometimes the facts can be wrong, but it’s usually the wide generalizations writers make that I find amusing. In a recent Time magazine’s article on Toronto’s island airport, the lead paragraph describing the city states, “Once affordable middle-class neighborhoods such as family-friendly High Park and artsy Annex are suddenly seeing homes sold for as much as $900,000…” and that one of the reasons Torontonians hate raccoons is because they “treat TV antenna towers as a ladder.”

Anyway, the article, titled “Why a Downtown Airline Isn’t Taking Off,” outlines the problems Porter Airlines faces: poor marketing (“The airline is elegant and upscale, so why go with a Disneyesque marketing approach?”), unpopular destinations (“If there is one thing I do not want as a Torontonian, it is a one-way ticket to Ottawa,” Time quotes Toronto Star columnist Joey Slinger), and low ticket sales (“there were never more than 15 passengers on the Porter flights I’ve taken — the airline’s Bombardier Q400 jets seat 70. I’ve heard similar head counts from other Porter passengers I know.”).

photo by Brian Snelson


  1. Not making a statement on what I think of the airport, or porter, at all, but, it is fascinating to see an article in a magazine like TIME that could be so baseless and assumptive.

    The reporter makes a big claim up front (that the airport is in some sort of trouble “not taking off”) but does nothing at all to back that up. No annual report from the airport operator, or evidence of a cut back in porter’s schedule, nothing.

    Nobody, even we opposed to the airport, should accept the anecdotal evidence of “15 people on the plane when I was on it, and I have heard the same from others” and such a shallow article.

  2. As much as I hate myself for saying it, I would fly Porter if they went to New York. As much as I want to boycott the island airport, I need to go home sometimes.

    The only choices now are American and Air Canada, whose tickets have seriously drained my wallet after Westjet stopped flying there. There is no such thing as a cheap flight to New York anymore.

    If Air Canada objects, then start lowering fares from Pearson!

  3. It is always interesting to read articles or see news clips about Toronto from international media outlets.
    Is this in Time’s US print version, the Canadian version, or just online? Nothing against Slinger, I have always seen his columns as the guy sitting on the patio with a beer shooting the breeze. Is some of the article true? Perhaps with the reported low load factors. But it seems to be a hackish deadline beating article at worst, and minimally research “he said, she said” journalism at best. Using such a puff piece as moral justification for the airport opposition cheapens the opposition.

    Does Porter serve a purpose? Well if I may add to Kevin’s comments above on a flight to New York.

    For a weekend trip it’s cheaper for me to:
    1) Rent a small car at the weekend rate for 2 days (really early Saturday – early Monday return)
    2) Drive to Buffalo & back – with the costs of gas
    3) Pay various tolls in the Buffalo area (whichever of the 3 bridges has the least traffic, plus the Grand Island toll when applicable)
    4) Park in the long term parking at the Buffalo airport
    5) Fly to New York/Newark (with pretty much any of the airlines leaving from Buffalo area – I just picked jetBlue since I like their service)

    than to fly from Pearson.

    Tell me there’s not something just a bit out of whack with that picture and that there isn’t predatory pricing going on. It’s often as cheap to fly from Pearson to Dublin as it is to Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver. I wish like mad that I could be able to bid on Canadian flights using Priceline, rather than be subject to Air Canada and Westjet’s ‘discretionary’ pricing.

    I’ve booked a flight with Porter for June to Montreal, since it’s time sensitive and the train is not going to get there in time (or leaves early enough). And it’s about $100 cheaper with Porter than flying from Pearson – “seat sale” or not.

    If VIA still ran their sleeper service to Montreal – i.e. leave at 1130pm and get in around 630am, I would be all over it like white on rice. I used it before and loved it.

    As for financial solvency – we’ll see how long Mr Deluce can still run an airline before it goes belly up if the load factors continue this way.

  4. Those articles in magazines like Time, Newsweek and even The Economist (which has a Toronto section on its website) are so generic and use such unreliable sources that you really cannot use them as a reliable source of information, but it is always interesting to see what outside people have to say about our city.

    I detest the Island Airport, to me it is a huge waste of space. I once saw a rendering of an architect that suggested cutting the airport into dozens of islands divided by canals and connected by pedestrian/cycling bridges. The islands would have new mixed neighbourhoods with decent portions of social housing geared towards artist and students, parks and piazzas and would all be car free (except for cargo trucks at certain hours of the day). I loved it, but alas, it is nothing but a dream…

    The Island Airport would not be needed if Pearson had proper transit connections (and forget about the blue 22 line crap). A subway or rapid transit line along Eglinton or even the West Rail Tracks going into Pearson (why not both?) would bring Pearson International closer to the city.

    As for the air fares we pay from flights leaving Toronto you can blame the lack of airline competition and the obscene rates the Federal government charges the Greater Toronto Airports Authority to use the federal land on which Pearson is located, the GTAA then passes the cost to the airlines which in turn pass the cost to the consumers. Pearson is just another Toronto cash cow for the Feds. The GTAA pays more crown rent to the federal government than the authorities in Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton combined.


    I do not know if Spacing Magazine already wrote an article about this, it is another interesting sad aspect of our city.

  5. I’m hoping that Porter will be permitted to expand their list of destinations. From an urbanist’s perspective, the major carriers shouldn’t block operations at the Island, at least until Toronto gets a proper transit link to Pearson.

    With any luck, the major airlines will soon realize the need for proper airport transit, and start lobbying for it.

  6. There are several issues here.

    The first is that yes, it is way cheaper to fly through Buffalo, making it quite ridiculous in some cases, such as posted above, to rent a car and park it there for a New York weekend. I just got back from California yesterday. I took a bus to downtown Buffalo from Toronto, then took a local bus (fare US $1.75) that goes right into the terminal, even that being fairly quick as it goes along blighted Genesee Avenue. It would have cost me almost three times as much to fly though Pearson. So if time is not at a premium, it makes sense to do this. I’d consider this to get to NYC, and forget the car rental.

    One reason for this is because the US government subsidizes air travel, the Canadian government does not. Security fees are lower, taxes are lower, there isn’t the hated NAVCAN fees, nor the outrageous airport fees. Also, there’s more competition – I found from BUF to LAX, I could choose between Alaskan, American, Continental, Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest, or United (Delta had the best fare and times for my trip). The US airlines get much more aid as well, while here, the federal government will stand by as Canadian Airlines gets eaten up, and Canada 3000 and Jetsgo die. I’m surprised Coach Canada or Greyhound or anyone else hasn’t tapped into this potential market by offering direct runs to BUF from Toronto.

    I had the chance to take advantage of the brief period where WestJet was offering the YYZ-LGA flights, which was very reasonable and convenient.

    I’ll say it again – Blue 22 is a terrible curse inflicted upon us by Ottawa (up there with other such Liberal curses like the Toronto Port Authority). It has prevented reasonable use of the Weston corridor for real transportation, including the full Railpath and a more pragmatic transit service, which is badly needed in places like Brampton, Pearson, Rexdale and Weston. As long as it refuses to die, we can’t do anything with that corridor.

    And I have a guilty desire to try Porter, though I am against it for its own practices. It’s no angel – it had Air Canada kicked out of the island airport too.

  7. I also miss the Enterprise, the VIA night service. I’ve used it twice, because if you share a bedroom with a companion, it was quite reasonable, and gave you a whole day in Montreal. The problem was that this service was not marketed well at all, and allowed to wither and die by an indifferent government and a cash-strapped VIA. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s night services, like the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited, is popular and marketed decently enough.

  8. What would kill Porter, along with a lot of the Westjet/Air Canada traffic, is a TGV/Shinkansen line with hourly service from Toronto to Ottawa and on to Montreal on a segregated track (maybe through Peterborough) that would not be blocked by CN freight. Because it would be targeting airline users, existing VIA services could continue on the Lakeshore routes.

    (Note to Deseronto First Nations, if you want to cause the feds pain blockade the road to Ottawa Airport, don’t blockade the railway which few MPs take).

    TGV services in France, powered by that country’s almost 60 nuclear plants, have decimated internal flights in that country and have serious market share in the Paris-Brussels-London triangle.

    At 4 hours plus each way I have tried and tried to find a way to go VIA to Ottawa for business trips, but must always fly to avoid the cost of an overnight/second travel day.

    @Kevin B
    Air Canada (and Continental and US Airways) have filed objections to Porter’s application to USDOT for flights to New York. The stated reason is “non discriminatory access” to Toronto City Centre Airport. I know a lot of disappointed Torontonians who have heard about how Porter treat their passengers and who are all too familiar with customer service on the “established carriers”.

    @Carlos – the one thing about GTAA is that they have found the money for T1, the T1 car park and the cablecar to the long stay park but damn all for transit.

    The feds should offer the GTAA a refund on the rents but only as a co-payment on a link to the nearby rail line, a GO/VIA station similar to Dorval’s and upgraded GO/VIA service west to Guelph and Kitchener and retaining existing GO stops at Weston and Bloor. If the feds give back the rents without condition they will be used to pave over Pickering fields.

  9. Best of all would be high speed inter-city trains connecting TO-NYC-MTL. Downtown to downtown would shave a couple hours of most trips not to mention the savings in cabs/transit. Who wants to take the train to NYC as it is now – 12+ hours when you could drive it in what – 6 or 7?

  10. mobius – the problem would be the US Federal Railroad standards whose incredibly high crash standards means their “high speed” Acela trains are much heavier and have suffered many serious breakdowns. Additionally the US has failed to fund rail and shows little sign of changing. Canadian high speed trains should adopt existing, proven European and Japanese standards and vehicles.

  11. Photo and article for publication:

    Hazardous-Materials Depot Dumped Deep Inside Toronto-Islands Park

    The Toronto Island-Airport has built a Hazardous-Materials Depot deep inside the Toronto-Islands Park, under the cover of the off-season when few visitors are there to protest. This expansion of the Island Airport intentionally and aggressively exposes Toronto’s lakeside citizens to high-risk toxic jet fuel spillage. The in-park site of the three large aboveground tanks is directly in the path of planes landing and taking off. All refuelling trucks will now have to make a long round trip the length of the airport runway to access the relocated jet-fuel storage area, as far away as possible from the planes at the terminal and hangers (unless the rumour is true that shallow underground pipes will relay the toxic danger.)

    The busy Hanlan’s Point Ferry docks (transporting GTA kids to the Island School where they learn about the environment and how to protect it) are targeted, as are thousands of park users, those on the tourist boats and recreational boats who float along the canals or pass to access the neighbouring camping docks or marinas. There may likely even be a supply pipe cutting under the canal and island parklands, linking the marina fuel station to the airport jet fuel tanks.

    Why are the Island-Airport planners arbitrarily sending jet fuel back and forth across the full length of the airport, when the storage tanks could have remained inside the already industrialized zone near the hanger and terminal? Do they intend to set up Hotels and Condos on the Island Airport, so they place the dangerous Hazardous Materials Storage Depot as far away as possible, at the far south end of the airport, deep inside the park zone. The Island Airport has insultingly transferred their extreme risks from their backyard to ours, our collective backyard of the Toronto Islands Park.

    This is the meanest level of payback punishing the people, the lake-park environment and the vast wildlife of the neighbouring Islands Park and Toronto Harbour, by dumping the Hazardous-Materials Storage Depot into the Toronto Islands Park and by sending the dangerous jet fuel on a long dangerous senseless detour. The Island Airport demonstrates their worst intentions to revenge their ‘honour’ for Toronto stopping their bridge project. This goes beyond ordinary bad corporate citizenship; it is a vicious pitbull attacking us all.

    How could Island Airport planners think that the citizens of Toronto would accept this aggressively vindictive attack on our public safety, security and parks? How did any government politician or public servant (Toronto Public Health treated it like an ordinary gas station; three above ground tanks?) give the environmental-assessment O.K. to such a toxic worst-case scenario for this busy public park and waterway? This is just the first assault in Toronto Airport’s war on Toronto. Where do they plan to strike Toronto next?

    Ross Bowden Ross.Bowden@xtra.ca

  12. I live in montreal and visit toronto on a regualr basis. I fly with porter about 2 times a month. With their bulk ticket price, I pay only $100 and am only in transit for 45 minutes. I am one of those 15 people on that plane. vive porter.

  13. http://www.communityair.org/Hot_News.htm

    On March 29, 2006 we caused a briefing memo to be sent to the Transport Minister and copied to Mayor David Miller, Olivia Chow, M.P., Michael Ignatieff, M.P., Jack Layton, M.P., Maria Minna, M.P., Bill Graham, M.P., Peggy Nash, M.P., Councillor Pam McConnell, Councillor Martin Silva, and others and which was published on the website of Community Air with companion commentary.

    The memo and associated commentary on the web-site made statements about the Toronto Port Authority, its officers and directors, and in particular Henry Pankratz, Lisa Raitt and Alan Paul which reflect adversely on their competence, honesty, responsibility, and regard for the law. We acknowledge that there is no foundation for those statements, and that they should not have been made, nor circulated. We further acknowledge that there was no improper motive in the bringing of this lawsuit.

    We unreservedly retract these statements and apologize sincerely to the Toronto Port Authority, its officers and directors, and in particular to Henry Pankratz, Lisa Raitt, and Alan Paul.

    Community Air Impact Review

    William Freeman

    Brian Iler

    John Bessai

    Pam Mazza

    Jerry Shiner

    Allan Will

  14. (sigh)

    Once more, for the physics-impaired… Toronto receives ten medical flights, patient transfers, organ shipments, every day. We have to have an airport for these flights to go. Why not Pearson? Because airplanes, like boats, leave wake. Only an airplane leaves wake in the air, meaning you can’t see it. Unfortunately, that only makes it more dangerous. If one of the small aircraft, such as a Lear 45, used as an air ambulance hits the wake turbulence of a 747, it can roll right over. That means everyone on the plane, pilot. copilot, sick kid from Iqualuit, all die.

    That means the regulations require a three minute separation between large aircraft and smaller ones. Attempting to run medical flights into Pearson would disrupt passenger flight operations. And when planes have to wait for a runway, they go into a hold, a racetrack circling pattern, where they burn tons of fuel.

    So, put simply, we need an airport for medical and educational purposes. Right now, and for the forseeable future, Toronto City Center Airport can best fill that role.

  15. I flew Porter to Ottawa yesterday and back today. 64 Passengers on board on the way there (I asked the FA) and over three quarters full back today.

    15 passengers? My eye.

  16. I walk by Porter’s shuttle bus pick-up every day and look to see how full the bus is. I either see 0, 1 or 2 people on it at any one time. That’s it! And the trend is not getting better!

    I’m glad to see that the morality and character of Torontonians is superior to that of Porter’s CEO and investors. On principle, the people of Toronto are not using Porter. They care about their city, their waterfront and the 14 million people who visit the waterfront every year. Porter and its backers, incredibly, are raising their middle finger to those 14 million people and will now receive an expensive lesson in crossing those people.

  17. For anyone who does not think that Porter poses a problem for Toronto’s waterfront, I ask you to go down there and see for yourself how loud the planes are – taking off and taxiing. Go for a few hours and see how much noise you hear. Now, Porter is operating only 4 planes and has initial plans to operate 20. (with plans for even more.) So…now take that noise you hear and multiply it by 5.

    If you do that math, I am willing to bet that you’ll have less desire to go to the waterfront when Porter is operating 20 planes.

    For those that think it won’t be a nuisance, I assume that you regularly pack a picnic lunch and lawn chairs and head out to the perimeter of Pearson for the afternoon!

  18. Environmentally, do we really want the projected 35 000 flights a year over Toronto that Porter wants to have in the near future?

    When do we, as citizens of Toronto, have a say in the quality of our air and water when an airline attempts to expand at the cost of our public health, and flies directly above millions of people? Need I point out that we have tremendous air pollution problems already, particularly in the summer, and these flights will add to them substantially?

    We voted against the airport bridge because we did not want this airport. We did not want to have this airport because the environmental cost per capita for carbon emissions per passenger is very high in short haul flights, and we want to try to protect the quality of air and Lake Ontario’s water for ourselves, and future generations.

    That the Toronto Port Authority, through the federal government, is supporting this private enterprise at the cost of the health of Torontonian taxpayers and residents angers me to no end.

  19. I live right on the harbourfront at the bottom of York Street. I also go back and forth to the islands in the summer, and I have never been bothered by the noise. The Q400 turboprop planes are designed to be quiet – take off and landing are both well under 100 decibels (so, quieter than a garbage truck). I haven’t run into a single person who has complained about the noise. The Gardiner is noisier and a far more significant contributor to air pollution than those planes are. As well, I wasn’t exactly impressed that Community Air Impact Review (CommunityAIR) cited Wikipedia as a reference in one of their documents.

    I trust peer-reviewed research, and there is currently nothing suggestive of a link between the TCCA and negative impacts on human health.

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