canadian press file photo


In this file photo, the first Porter Airlines plane does a fly past at the city centre airport in Toronto, Aug. 29, 2006.


One step into the luxurious Porter Airlines lounge at Toronto’s City Centre Airport and it’s clear this is no ordinary travelling experience.

Tastefully decorated in navy and taupe, the lounge features comfortable leather chairs, fresh flowers, subdued lighting from standing lamps, a business centre with numerous — and free — high-speed Internet terminals, and a kitchen where travellers can help themselves to espresso, tea, juices and snacks.

Jazz music plays discreetly over the PA system. Free newspapers are everywhere. It’s so inviting, in fact, it’s almost a shame when a Toronto-to-Montreal flight leaves on time, which it almost invariably does, weather permitting, since Porter Airlines is the only commercial carrier flying out of the contentious airport on Toronto’s westernmost inner harbour island.

Getting to the lounge from downtown locations is relatively effortless: After hopping out of a cab or shuttle bus, the Porter passenger takes a two-minute ferry ride across a narrow Lake Ontario channel.

Then it’s a quick check-in for travellers, if they haven’t already printed off their boarding pass or checked in electronically at a Porter kiosk at the airline’s new terminal at the foot of Bathurst Street.

Make no mistake: Porter Airlines, with its mission to provide travellers in Canada’s busiest hub with fewer headaches and more pampering as they fly between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal — and starting in June, to

Halifax — has not been without serious controversy.

Toronto Mayor David Miller, NDP Leader Jack Layton, countless environmentalists and residents of the Toronto islands have been vehemently opposed for years to the “island airport,” as it’s known to locals, and consequently to Porter Airlines, which launched from City Centre last October.

Some green-minded travellers refuse to fly the airline. “I just don’t see why we need the airport on the island — it just doesn’t seem to fit in with a downtown environment,” said Peter Groves, 58, a Toronto human resources consultant. “For the people who live down by the waterfront, it must be awful.”

Groves refuses to fly Porter on principle. “I had to go to Ottawa for a course about a month ago and I was given the option of flying with Porter Air and I just said: ‘No.’ And I went first-class by Via Rail. The service was fabulous, and it was cheaper than Porter. It probably took me longer to get there, but that was fine.”

But some Porter-lovers scoff at such concerns. “I wouldn’t fly anything else if I could help it,” says David Jones, a senior vice-president at the Toronto public relations firm Fleischman Hillard who regularly flies Porter to and from Ottawa.

“The speed, convenience and the top-notch service is amazing, and they aren’t even charging a premium for it. I would gladly hand over the $100 I have to spend in taxi fare getting to and from Pearson (International Airport) to Porter just for the convenience and the travelling time that it saves me, but I haven’t had to.”

Jones also questions why environmentalists aren’t embracing Porter. “Those planes (Porter’s Bombardier Q400 turboprops) use far less fuel, and you’re using a lot less gas to get to the airport, and it’s getting people off congested, over-worked highways,” he says. “And if Porter is getting one half-full jetliner out of the sky, that’s a good thing.”