One-on-one with Kevin Jackson
In celebration of an immensely transformative year, Porter Airlines recently threw a party in Toronto complete with a live set from DJ Marsh. Since establishing itself at Billy Bishop Airport 17 years ago, the airline is now serving even more of Toronto through new routes out of Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Back in May, Porter launched its first-ever routes to Western Canada—Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. “All of them are doing very well and we’re very pleased that during the summer peak, those routes were running over the 80 per cent load factor,” says Kevin Jackson, chief operating officer, Porter Airlines, noting that through the fall, the load factors never dipped below 70 per cent.
From Toronto Pearson, Porter also recently launched jet service to Eastern Canada, servicing Ottawa, Halifax, Montreal and St. John’s. “Those have always been historic core markets for Porter so by putting the aircraft at Pearson and going off to the east, we already had a well-established customer base there and those routes are doing quite well.”
In August, Porter introduced its West Coast U.S. routes to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco, with flights starting in the first quarter of 2024.
Growing, growing, gone!
Most recently, Porter introduced several flights to Florida, with service to five destinations, two of which can be accessed from Ottawa. Flights to Tampa Bay and Fort Myers are now live, and Jackson says in the coming week the airline will launch Orlando, then Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, coming online in early December.
“We’re already seeing nice builds for the spring and winter season,” Jackson says. “We’re just getting started on Florida, but so far the response has been overwhelming.”
Jackson says that for 2024, the airline is focused on growing out of Ottawa, with 10 new destinations and 14 non-stop destinations currently operating out of Ottawa International Airport. Routes include service to Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary.
“You’ll start to see us expand that Ottawa service to the west as we go through 2024 and you may also see some new destinations,” he hints. Jet aircraft are also coming to Montreal and will service Western Canada. “Other areas you’ll see us focusing on next year are airline partnerships,” Jackson says. “This is part of expanding our network beyond our North American footprint, but also being able to serve markets across North America that may not be in our plans for quite some time.”
As Porter continues its record growth trajectory, Jackson says that travel advisors are more important than ever. “Travel agencies are mission critical for us,” he says. “As we’re expanding into new markets, travel agencies are a great way to introduce the Porter value proposition to new customers. It’s important across Canada and in the U.S. as well.” Jackson notes that as the airline continues to grow, so too does its travel advisor community.
“Earlier this year before we launched our jets, 35 per cent of our passenger revenue came from the travel advisor community, and we’re now at 45 per cent and continuing to grow,” he shares. “Travel advisors are embracing what we’re doing and they’re spreading the word.”
During COVID, Porter secured 100 additional aircraft, paving the way for a suitable expansion across North America. Porter chose to focus on improving the economy class experience for travellers, after conducting extensive market research and analyzing common “pain points” amongst flyers. “It became clear to us very early on that economy was the space we needed to focus on,” Jackson says.
From poor boarding experiences, including confusing zone assignments, to not enough legroom, Jackson says for the most part, over the years, economy class passengers have found the entire flying experience quite “dehumanizing.”
After toying with the idea of offering a business class option on its intercontinental and cross-border flights, the airline opted instead to create a premium product that every passenger could enjoy, regardless of their booking parameters. “We knew this was a space that we could conquer, because we’d already done it for regional air travel,” Jackson says.
Along with the abolishment of the dreaded middle seat, one of Porter’s other bestselling product attributes is its free onboard WiFi. “When we look at the number of internet sessions on board our aircraft, there are more internet sessions than passengers,” he says. “It’s so good that you can go find whatever you want online and also use your phone, because we allow multiple devices per passenger, just as you would at home.”
At the Porter party held at Evergreen Brickworks earlier this month, industry personnel were able to experience the elevated economy perks offered onboard its aircraft including complimentary beer and wine.
Recently, Porter introduced a selection of healthy meal options for its guests—all of which are served chilled. “Nobody enjoys a reheated meal. That food is cooked in a kitchen somewhere, brought down in a refrigerator, moved onto an airplane, and reheated,” Jackson says. “We wanted our meals to be healthy and delicious, which is why everything we chose was designed to be served fresh.”
Vegetarian meals are always available, and Jackson says the majority of entrees are made from rice, allowing gluten-intolerant guests to also feel included. Porter also works with Canadian producers to source a selection of its snacks and meals, including Nadege Patisserie for its all-day croissant sandwiches and The Cheese Boutique for its cheese platter.
All guests have access to the same entrees, snacks, wine and beer options, regardless of ticket. The same goes for the WiFi. “We’ve gone to great lengths to never make one passenger feel more valued or more important than another,” Jackson says.