Porter Airlines outlines what’s next while celebrating 15-year anniversary
Porter Airlines has come a long way since launching in 2006 with two aircraft flying between Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Ottawa. Today, the airline flies to over 20 destinations with 29 aircraft in its fleet and orders for up to 80 Embraer E195-E2 aircraft to usher in the next chapter of growth.
To commemorate the airline’s 15th anniversary, Travel Courier caught up with Michael Deluce, President and CEO of Porter Airlines, to find out more about what the future holds, the role of travel advisors and much more.
Congratulations on the 15-year anniversary. Can you give us an overview of how the airline has grown from then to now?
We started modestly in 2006 with two aircraft and one route between Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Ottawa. Growth occurred quickly from that point with aircraft and destinations being added at a steady pace. At the same time, we were focused on revitalizing Billy Bishop by introducing a level of service and adding infrastructure to help achieve its potential as what we believe is the world’s best urban airport. We built the airline over the years to include 29 aircraft in our fleet, over 20 destinations and 1,500 team members delivering a ‘Flying Refined’ philosophy that provides all passengers with a distinct, premium level of service.
Let’s get into the next chapter. What’s new, exciting and in the works for Porter?
The biggest news is our order for up to 80 Embraer E195-E2 aircraft. We’ll continue serving regional routes with our existing fleet, but the E2 gives us the ability to become an airline that reaches all of North America. There are opportunities to develop routes focused on Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto Pearson. We’re in all of those markets today, but Pearson will be a new airport for us. With these launch points, we can operate into western Canada for the first time, throughout the U.S., and even traditional sun destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean.
The last 15 years have laid the groundwork for us to take this step. We’re confident in doing so with a strong brand, loyal customers and a team ready to take on the challenge.
How is the restart going? Are travellers, especially Canadian travellers, ready to fly again?
We started flying again in September and have recalled about 90% of our team. The operation is running smoothly, with better reliability than we had prior to the pandemic and excellent customer satisfaction. The flight schedule built up over the first month to bring back all of our year-round destinations, which was an important milestone, but that’s at 50% to 60% of our usual capacity. So, all routes are operating, just not as frequently.
Many Canadians do want to fly and it’s been proven that this can be done safely with the right protocols in place. There are others who aren’t quite ready, so it will take more time for them to feel comfortable. Leisure travel is doing well overall; it’s business travel that’s lagging behind and we don’t expect that to trend significantly upward until sometime next year.
The Canadian government recently lifted its advisory against non-essential travel. Can you give us a reaction or share the impact this could have on the recovery of the travel industry?
It really speaks to the two categories of people who I mentioned. The travel advisory was in place for so long that it started losing its effectiveness as a deterrent for a lot of people. As opportunities to travel opened up, many took advantage of this very quickly. On the other hand, some people took the advisory quite seriously, so it’s an important psychological barrier that’s been removed. Hopefully changing to a targeted country-by-country travel advisory approach gives more people confidence to plan trips. Every little bit helps at this stage.
Why are you optimistic about the future?
You can’t overlook what the pandemic has done to our industry. Companies have closed, people lost livelihoods and personal lives were upended. It hasn’t been easy for anyone, but it’s also remarkable how many organizations and individuals have made it through this. When we committed to restarting flights earlier this year, I noted the commitment, engagement and optimism of our own team. These characteristics are an important part of what got us to this point and what will help carry us forward. I believe that’s also the case for much of the industry that has worked incredibly hard for nearly two years.
As much as we wish this never happened, it did give us the opportunity at Porter to reconsider what we want the airline to look like in the future. We would have grown one way or another, but the plan we announced to effectively serve all of North America is bolder than anything we previously considered. We’ll hire thousands of people and introduce service to dozens of communities, so that’s another reason to be optimistic.
Many of our readers are travel agents. Would you be able to share some insights into the benefits of your TA program and how you work with the trade?
We have strong relationships with corporate and leisure agencies in the regions we serve today. As we enter new major business markets and begin expanding within the leisure segment, our agency network will also grow.
We have competitive commissions that vary by product and are available for registered Canadian agents. There should especially be more opportunities with our Porter Escapes packaged vacations group. A number of traditional leisure markets are on our radar for growth that will be a nice fit with this product.
On the intangible side, Porter is known for taking care of its passengers in much the same way as agents are known for doing. If we work together to create a great experience for people, from the beginning to end of a trip, everyone wins.