Flight Report : PD2939 Toronto Billy Bishop - Boston
27 January 2023

Porter is the rare Canadian airline that hasn't gotten a bad rep. It's actually hard to find bad news about them in the media. They manage a small operation out of downtown Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport, touting a better experience and convenient regional connections, although that was about to change as they would imminently launch Pearson services.

With hope of finding an escape from snow, I came across them while looking for a long weekend getaway. Boston came on the radar, a place I last visited almost 20 years ago. Porter runs 4 flights a day, a very decent frequency. Redeeming on Air Canada wasn't economical, with devaluation and a lot of extra charges to top up.

Like many North American airlines, fares are unbundled and I picked the cheapest "Basic" fare, which only allows a backpack, with a proper hand-carry costing extra.. With 4 flights a day and free snacks for the short flight, the return trip came out to CAD $327.85, of which $147.85 was for various taxes and surcharges. Like flying out of Pearson, the fare is usually just a fraction of the total price.

My day began next to the Fort York Hotel across from Union Station, where the free airport shuttle bus makes the 15 minute journey to the airport's waterfont entrance. The shuttle is not big but there is a big section of luggage racks.

Formerly the Island Airport, it used to require a ferry ride across the small channel to reach the actual terminal building. The ferry is still here but a tunnel has been built so we can walk across.

This airport is mainly used by Porter, with Air Canada having a very minor presence. I've flown the flag carrier in from Montreal years back, but this is my very first time flying out of here, and also on Porter. Notice this airport caters to short-haul flights only, because it is quite small and the runways are too short even for a more sizeable regional jet.

The departure hall was empty at such an early hour. As part of my cheap fare, I could check in online but needed to go to the counter to pick up my boarding pass. I didn't see any kiosks that could do this, so I guessed it's to check I really don't have a hand-carry to bring on board. After a short wait, I reached a manned counter, where I tried my luck to get a window seat. The online check-in automatically assigned an aisle seat to me while any other selection would have costed extra, which is similar to what Swiss does although BA and Cathay allows any available regular seat to be picked. I had searched a few times after online check-in and noted my neighbouring window remained empty. The staff kindly confirmed this and moved me over for free.

The agent also kindly reminded me where to go for security. US departures leave from just next to the counters and there was no line to go in. I was out within minutes and indeed this was a very pleasant experience. However, the downside is there is no immigration pre-clearance here, so I would arrive like any other international passenger in Boston and get processed there.

As I exited security, the windows opened up to the skyline.

Heading downstairs, all gates leave from the ground level. There were plenty of seats and a few shops were already open with the typical expected fare such as a coffee shop.

I think part of the reason why flying out of here is less stressful is because there actually aren't too many flights out. The US departures section sees a flight about every hour, with only Chicago leaving before us. However, why even have a separate US section when there is no pre-clearance? They could have combined with the domestic area and share the amenities.

As I relaxed with plenty of time to spare before boarding, the grey sky suddenly opened up.

Boarding was timely and we walked down a covered corridor to the plane. While the Dash-8 is a really small plane requiring to go up a short staircase from the ground, that final section is also wrapped into the gate so passengers don't need to be exposed to the elements. The standard hand-carry is too big to fit into the overhead bins and can be checked at the gate just before the stairs. There were 2 staff there to intercept you.

The seats are comfortable although a bit narrow given we all had our winter jackets on. Being a small plane, the windows are a bit low compared to the widebodies I'm used to flying on and I had to slouch a bit to capture the views outside. Legroom was really good though.

We fired up the propellers and pushed back a few minutes early and it didn't take long before we took off towards the west.

With a cloudy sky below, I peeked through a few gaps to see a snowy landscape below. There are no televisions mounted on the seats but I got a lot of good entertainment from just looking out the window.

The crew came by with a basket of goodies. I picked the cookies which tasted good and there were also drinks on offer afterwards.

The clouds gave way as we neared Boston and snow became more elusive. A beautiful day lies ahead.

With a right window seat, a perfect skyline view came up as we looped around for landing.

We landed ahead of schedule at the huge airport, and took a while to reach our gate at Terminal E.

Since there is no pre-clearance at Billy Bishop, we need to go through immigration screening just like any other international flight. It was a quiet morning here and didn't take long to get processed.

Getting to the city is quite interesting here. The airport is very close to the city and the Silver Line bus ride into South Station takes only about 15 minutes and is free. However, I was heading in the opposite direction to Chelsea, where my hotel is located. It would require a free terminal bus to the Blue Line's Airport station to catch another bus. It is also possible to take the Blue Line into downtown Boston from here.

Flying Porter and out of Billy Bishop is indeed quite pleasant and felt vastly different than the chaos of Pearson and Air Canada. I enjoyed this flight, which is not usually the case when flying in this country, and would not hestitate to choose Porter again for a regional getaway.

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