Porter Airlines began nonstop weekly flights between Charleston and Toronto during the weekend, mirroring a business strategy the airline also deployed in Myrtle Beach in 2010.
Porter, which has a fleet of 26 Bombardier Aerospace Q400s, is offering seasonal flights to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport through May 2. Brad Cicero, director of communications for Porter, flew into Charleston International Airport last week to give a glimpse of the aircraft and into Porter’s approach to air travel.
Some Porter customers are so loyal to the brand that they plan their vacations based solely on where the airline flies, Cicero said. They get attached to the service, including free food and drinks and customer service that hearkens to the golden age of commercial aviation, he said.
The flight crew wears uniforms that look like they might have come directly from a Pan Am magazine ad from the 1950s. Cicero said that’s all part of sending a message that the airline values customers and to reflect that sensibility.
“It’s something that I think sets us apart,” Cicero said, sitting in one of the turboprop’s leather seats. “People like Porter; they like when we bring some capabilities into the marketplace. They like the attention to details.”
Porter’s business model for entering a market typically begins with limited seasonal flights to see what the market will demand. The first flight from Toronto on Saturday had 40 passengers booked, which Cicero said is a good number for an inaugural flight. The Bombardier holds 74 passengers total.
This week, Porter also resumed seasonal flights to Myrtle Beach, going from two flights a week through the end of February to five a week, and then daily flights, through the middle of March.
Cicero said Porter typically sees a combination of executives who need quick, nonstop flights and vacationers who have gotten used to the brand and like what it provides. He said both types of customers want more personalized service from their air travel.
Because Porter flies into the city in Toronto, Cicero said it’s much easier for passengers looking for leisure activities or needing to do business. He said that appeals to many of Porter’s customers.
“There really is a whole different value proposition,” he said. “It’s much easier to navigate.”
Pilot John Geronlund said the airline carries a crew of four for each flight. The Bombardier he flew into Charleston was put into service in 2011, and he said the oldest aircraft flown by Porter was manufactured around 2006.
He said he likes flying the Canadian-produced aircraft because it has a nice balance of thrust and lift, which allows it to handle well. He said it’s an aircraft that pilots enjoy flying.
Porter has 21 destinations, including seasonal flights in the U.S. to Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Burlington, Vt., and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. The airline also has extended service through a partnership with JetBlue.
The airline’s latest in-flight magazine now includes a section on Charleston.