Dear Air Canada Jazz,
I know you’re probably excited about the prospect of operating from the Toronto City Centre Airport again. I would like to be excited for you too, but unfortunately I remember how awful your prior service was.
Now that Porter has demonstrated that a regional carrier can be successful operating from the Island, let’s take a quick look at their winning formula.
- Porter has a shuttle bus to the airport. Jazz had one too, although I don’t remember much about it. Porter has two buses running at 15 minute intervals; from what I recall Air Ontario (later Air Canada Jazz) had a single bus running once every five years. I know I was only lucky enough to catch it to the Royal York once; every other time I had to call a cab from the airport’s deserted gravel parking lot.
- Porter has newer, quieter planes. Porter’s Q400s are fairly new and have not had time to get old, overused and filthy yet. This is a disadvantage for Jazz because its current Dash 8-100/300 fleet is already old and filthy, and there is no easy fix aside from new furnishings or a new fleet. The old Air Ontario birds used to carry the Ontario shield on the nose, and be named after a city in the province (i.e. “City of Sudbury”). I liked those nods to old-school aviation, but for G-d’s sake would it have killed you to vacuum and clean the cabins once in a while?
- Porter flies to many destinations. Like New York (Newark), Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Halifax, St. John’s, Thunder Bay, et cetera. Air Canada Jazz used to fly to Ottawa, Montreal, Windsor, London and Newark, but it slowly began cancelling services, and by the time it was evicted from the airport in 2006, only the Toronto-to-Ottawa service remained. The Port Authority rightly cut a deal with Porter to save the airport; Jazz was only interested in winding things down.
- Porter has spent a lot of money on infrastructure upgrades. I have flown out of all three iterations of island airport terminal buildings (four if you count the Eagle Aircraft/Shell Aerocentre FBO on the GA ramp)—the original wooden 1939 terminal (“Terminal A“), the ’80s/’90s vintage Air Ontario terminal, and now the Porter terminal. The Air Ontario/Jazz departure lounge was a dump. Rows of plastic seats attached to a single underlying metal bar, just like bus terminal seating. No complimentary food or drinks. On the mainland side, there was no place to wait for the ferry (or the seldom-seen shuttle bus, or a cab) other than an old TTC bus shelter. Try cramming 30 people in there in the rain. Porter smartly built a waiting area (with automated check-in kiosks) on the mainland side. No longer do you have to wait outside in the rain. Porter’s departure lounge has comfortable seats and free goodies. The terminal layout makes ergonomic sense. The only thing I would fault Porter on is the tiny space for baggage pickup.
- Porter’s animating philosophy is business class for everyone. They have free food and drinks in the lounge. You don’t have to get to the terminal three days early in order to complete security screening on time. Porter understands that people will pay a premium for convenience and good service. In contrast, the Air Ontario/Air Canada Jazz animating philosophy appeared to be third world economy class for everyone. Especially you, urban dwellers who might want to get someplace in a hurry. What’s the matter, Pearson’s shiny new terminal, enormous fees, and ridiculous pre-boarding wait times not good enough for you?
The opportunity was always there for a downtown air carrier to survive, if not thrive; what Jazz lacked was a fundamental appreciation of their customer base. Getting from Point A to Point B in Greyhound style doesn’t appeal to the execs and middle management that might have to make those trips frequently. The fact that Porter thrives in the same spot where Jazz failed abysmally should be an obvious and compelling object lesson to Jazz management. Let us hope they do not squander a seldom-given second chance.