Don’t #FlyPorter

Porter AirlinesPorter Airlines,

I was a passenger scheduled for your Friday, 25 March flight from Mont Tremblant at 9:05am, ultimately landing in Washington, DC at 3:40pm. Our flight from Mont Tremblant didn’t leave until after 3pm. Despite reassurances from the airline at 8am that the flight would leave as scheduled despite light snow, our flight was repeatedly delayed until it was ultimately cancelled. Since Mont Tremblant requires visual landings and snow was forecast for most of the day, Porter should have planned for a delay, alerted passengers, and prepared a contingency plan.

Mont Tremblant airport is about a two hour drive from the Montreal airport. With the forecast, Porter should have dispatched a bus to Mont Tremblant to take us to the better equipped Montreal airport. All the Porter passengers were flying to Montreal, even though many of us were continuing on to other destinations. Even if the nearest available charter bus had to come from Montreal, Porter could have easily had a bus to Montreal by 9:30am if they had begun a contingency plan at 7am. Passengers would have been in Montreal before noon and many would have made their connections. Other passengers were originally supposed to fly out Thursday and had their replacement Friday morning flight cancelled as well. Since there had been Thursday problems resulting in cancelled flights as well, Porter should have been more prepared for Friday problems since the forecast was largely the same as Thursday.

I tried to call the reservation center (an international call for me), but was disconnected after 33 minutes without speaking to anyone. I figured they might know something and couldn’t hide on the other side of security, like the gate agents appeared to be doing. It doesn’t appear to be Porter’s fault I was disconnected, but the call will still cost me about $7 for which I got nothing but hold music.

Had we been passengers during peak ski season when flights were fuller, I’m sure Porter would have sent a bus or added a flight. Instead, we were rebooked on the afternoon flight which was scheduled for 2:20pm and was later delayed (the forecast was for snow and ice most of the afternoon). All passengers could be rebooked to Montreal, but my understanding from talking to other passengers is not everyone headed to Toronto was able to get a Porter flight Friday. Frustrating when the roads were clear and we could have been driven all the way to Toronto in less time than it finally took is to get to Montreal. I got more helpful information from Genevieve, part of the security staff, than anyone from Porter – it seemed the gate staff was hiding from customers!

In my case, Toronto wasn’t our final destination. We were flying to Washington, DC, which has limited service from Porter. We left Tremblant after our flight to Washington had already departed Toronto, so we clearly missed this connection. The next flight to Washington wasn’t until Saturday afternoon. However, of the three of us travelling together, only one was rebooked on that flight. The other two of us were booked on a Sunday flight. We did make it to Toronto Friday night, but we were unable to get any help from the Montreal gate staff, who knew nothing and was also rude to us.

In Toronto, agent Scott did a good job of taking care of us. He had hotel vouchers ready for us shortly after landing at the great Fairmont Royal York hotel. The 1929 hotel is a sight to see by itself with comfortable rooms and a great location. Scott also helped us figure out how to get our dinner and breakfast reimbursed and had transportation to the hotel arranged as well. While not able to solve all our problems, he was able to help us work through several alternate arrangements and got two of us on standby for the Saturday flight.

My alternate plan was to fly to Newark at 8:55am if I was still on the standby list in the morning. From there, I’d rent a car and drive the three hours to Washington-Dulles. I even had made a car reservation. Before turning in Friday night, I checked and saw that our reservations now showed a 26 March departure with no indication of standby status. I went ahead and checked in. The call center was closed, so I set my alarm for 6am when they opened and called to confirm as soon as the call center opened.

Just after 6am, I called the reservation center. I gave my information and talked to a lady who appeared to be very helpful. I explained the situation and asked her for an update on our standby status. She confirmed multiple times that we had tickets and even though we didn’t have seat assignments, we would get them at the airport and definitely had seats. I specifically asked more than once if we were standby and the answer was no. Reassured, I went back to sleep instead of going to the airport. Later we had breakfast and headed back to Billy Bishop airport early to make sure we got our meal reimbursements and seats resolved.

At the airport, we checked in to discover we were still on standby despite our earlier reassurances to the contrary. We worked with Melinda, who is a rock star and did everything in her power to resolve the situation – she should win the customer service representative of the year award hands down. She made some calls and was able to get me on the flight. However, our third traveler was unable to get onboard and had to take a car service to Toronto Pearson airport to catch his alternate arrangements, which he barely made and thankfully hadn’t cancelled. We were prepared with alternatives, although not as good as being on the flight, but the bad information we received from the call center made it hard to use them. The two of us on standby did receive $200 vouchers good for six months, but when one of us didn’t even fly home on Porter, that’s not a great substitute for the contracted service.

Being a holiday weekend where I had family in from out of town that was staying at my house, I was anxious to get home. Planning to be home two days before the holiday should have been plenty of time to get home, but the updated plans Porter provided wouldn’t have had me home until the afternoon on the holiday. Porter could have put me on another airline or covered a one way car rental from a different US city, but the only options we were offered were flights on different days. Not a good solution when I’m the host for the holiday lunch and my sister who I only get to see once or twice a year is visiting for the weekend. After ten days away from home, we were all ready to be back too.

Our Porter experience also included a repeatedly delayed and eventually diverted flight at the start of the trip. Our flight was delayed over two hours, circled waiting to land at Billy Bishop for longer than the scheduled flying time, and eventually diverted to Toronto-Pearson due to rain and fog. We were bussed back to Billy Bishop airport and then put on a flight on to Montreal. For our trouble, we received a $100 voucher good for three months, but it seems like Porter could have had better contingency plans of landing at Pearson sooner, since I believe Billy Bishop requires visual landings and Pearson doesn’t. Also, Porter had five planes on the ground at Pearson so it seems like we could have been rescheduled from there instead of being bussed to Billy Bishop and having to wait for the weather to clear before we could continue on.

We almost drove for this trip instead of flying. Flying was roughly double the price but we decided to go for it to have an extra day at our destinations. Our route would have been 24 hours of round-trip driving in total. Surprisingly, each of the three segments we flew (Washington-Montreal, Montreal-Tremblant, and Tremblant-Washington) would have been faster to drive when including time required to arrive at the airport before the originally scheduled departure. That’s a terrible record for an airline!

Your selling pitch seems to largely be convenience, but on this trip, it was anything but. Your communication needs help. Your operation plans need even more help. You have some great features including the lounge at Billy Bishop, your onboard experience, and your staff at Billy Bishop, but I have never had so much trouble traveling, even as a frequent traveler for both business and pleasure, domestically and internationally. When driving is faster, flying is a tough sell!

I stand by my recommendation: don’t #FlyPorter.