Pret a Porter

June 18th, 2007
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Just when you thought your last air travel experience, generally on Canada’s National Carrier, would force you to remain earth-bound forever – there comes Porter. A sharper contrast with Wings Canada can barely be contemplated, not even with Westjet.

Everyone is familiar with our own cross between Air France and Aeroflot. Flight delays, micro-snacks sold for macro-dollars, Seventies fabric and colours, sub-par entertainment – and of course the staff. These are a mere echo of the legendary “servers” of yore, particularly the imperious women clearly hatched from dragon’s eggs in Quebec. They were marked by leathery exteriors, cured by decades of tobacco smoke, and hair colour not normally seen in nature. Their simultaneously superior and inattentive attitude was refined by thousands of miles traveled, both vertical and horizontal – all a foolproof cure of any nostalgia for Canada’s Soviet Seventies.

The contrast in flying Porter is so refreshing as to be a downright shock. Slick new Bombardier turbo-props, having seemingly benefited for all those tax breaks, with spacious seats and pleasant décor. The staff are something to get nostalgic about. Slender, pleasant young ladies in deep blue uniforms and the neatest little pillbox hats this side of Mary Quant. One gets a delightful snack, free drink, stiff or not, and attentive service.

But the best is yet to come. This airline takes you straight to downtown Toronto. Not that I would advise it but, if you have to go to Hogtown, this is the way to go. The plane coasts down over the lake with a magnificent view of the bluffs, you breeze past a huge smokestack, so close you could reach out and touch it, down into the charming Toronto Island airport. Through the slick, clean waiting area to a complimentary shuttle bus that whisks you to Union Station. What could be more convenient?

Of course, one man’s convenience is another’s environmental stink bomb. The airport was a prolonged source of outrage for the nimby island residents (including some TO journalists) – all on 99-year leases, basking in their own little waterfront idyll. Heaven forbid that others would like to share in the convenience by zipping into downtown, avoiding the trek from Malton (a.k.a. Pearson) through wall-to-wall traffic.

No, the city is simply to continue providing full services to the privileged island-few. They have squatters’ rights. And the offending airport should be removed as well. They’re entitled to their entitlements.

Fortunately, so far wiser heads have prevailed, the Island Airport remains, and the glory of Porter is available to any with the few sous required. A word to the wise – take advantage while you can!

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