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July 14, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    NY to Toronto on Porter

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Greetings from Toronto! Last week I left off from the Big Apple, where I took a preview cruise of Norwegian Cruise Lines' Epic and did a travel segment on ABC News before flying an hour north to Toronto. I flew Porter Airlines, which is a great little Canadian airline that not too many people are familiar with. I have plenty of stories and pictures, so grab your bags and come for the ride—it's a smooth one.

I was so saddened to learn that the Yankee organization lost George Steinbrenner and longtime announcer Bob Sheppard this past week. Both of these men gave me so much joy growing up just 40 miles from the stadium. Love him or hate him “The Boss” turned the Yankees around so it somehow seems fitting that he had a massive heart attack the morning of the All-Star Game.

After the Norwegian Epic docked at Pier 88 on Manhattan's West Side, I took a taxi to Grand Central Terminal (GCT) and then a train (Metro North) to Rowayton, Connecticut, to see my childhood friends. It was the Fourth of July and a hot day, so it was the perfect escape from sweltering Manhattan. Coming back to Connecticut in the summer always makes me realize how lucky I was to grow up in such a beautiful place.

That night I watched the fireworks at Bailey Beach, which was completely packed like I've never seen it before. They used to not let anyone in from out of town, but this year they did—for a $20-per-car fee. The fireworks didn't disappoint, but the highlight for me (besides seeing old friends) was looking out over the sound and seeing all of Long Island's different firework shows as well. It was so clear that I could see explosions from both sides of the island—I counted at least 15 different displays. If I had been out a hundred yards or so in a boat I could've seen even more, including New York City's.

The following day I needed to get to Newark Airport. The easiest option would've been to take a car service ($150) or a shuttle ($60), but a car service is such a waste of money and the shuttles are frustrating, as they make so many stops. Instead I took Metro North back to GCT ($9.25 off-peak) and then jumped on one of the Newark Airport buses that depart from right outside the Terminal every 15 minutes and cost just $15. The bus makes two stops, Bryant Park and the Port Authority, before heading to New Jersey. At the Port Authority they collect or sell tickets onboard, and from there to Newark Airport's Terminal A took exactly 25 minutes (there was no traffic). It took another 5 minutes to Terminal B, which was my stop. I was on the bus a total of 45 minutes.

For an easier train trip I could've taken Amtrak from Stamford straight to Newark Airport, but last-minute tickets cost $48 (purchasing a few days in advance is just $30). Note: The Amtrak trains aren't as frequent as Metro North's.

I was flying Porter Airlines to Toronto, which I've done a few times. There was no line to check in and the agents were young and friendly. Yes, I could've checked in online and printed my boarding card in advance, but I didn't have access to a printer. FYI: Only those with Canadian and U.S. passports can check in online.

Porter Airlines is Canada's third-largest carrier and is based at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (website). The airline currently serves Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Moncton, Halifax, St. John's, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, New York (Newark), Chicago (Midway), and Boston (Logan), and also has seasonal flights to Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, and Myrtle Beach, SC. What's really nice about Porter is that they offer just three types of fares (Firm, Flexible, Freedom), so you know what you're getting and the ticket rules don't require a Master's degree to understand.

There were at least 50 people in front of me in line at security, most of them teenagers heading to Israel on EL AL. TSA did a fine job of clearing all of us; I only had to wait 10 minutes (if that).

Once through security for Terminal B's satellite B2 gates (gate 51-57) it was pretty depressing. I feel bad for the passengers flying Porter, EL AL, Jet Airways, TAP, and a few other international airlines that I noticed flying out of there. Porter usually uses gates 51 and 52, and their passengers only have access to one restaurant-bar, a makeshift concession stand, a Hudson News Store, and an overpriced duty-free shop. I didn't want to buy a $3 bagel or $9 sandwich from these non-appetizing places, and I was kicking myself for not bringing food from the main terminal. The best deal I could find was some California Naturals snacks (they weren't that healthy) for $4 a piece at Hudson News.

Unless you want to spend $3 for a small bottle of water, bring an empty bottle and fill it up at the water fountain near the bathrooms. It tasted fine and is probably better for you.

Fortunately, the old, depressing theme didn't carry over to Porter's planes. They are brand spanking new! They currently have 20 aircrafts, all Canadian-built Bombardier Q400s. They hold 70 passengers (in one class of service), and have leather seats, lots of legroom, and a 2x2 configuration, so there's no dreaded middle seat.

FYI: Porter just received two new planes; according to the pilot who was sitting next to me, they are basically the same, except the new ones have LED lighting and larger overhead bins.

The boarding process was different than it had been in the past—maybe because we were 90 minutes late, I'm not sure. They used to be strict, with rows 10 through 18 boarding first, but this time it was just folks who needed extra time or who had kids, and then it was a free-for-all. (But please keep in mind that a Canadian free-for-all is ridiculously civil.)

The friendly flight attendants wear retro uniforms, complete with a hat and scarf, and offer a snack and beverage service on all flights, including complimentary soft drinks, wine and beer. On my flight, the snack choices were Terra chips, a tasty oatmeal cranberry bar (from Dare Foods), or mixed nuts. Porter's own branded bottles of water are shaped like the mini Fiji bottles of water, but these are bottled in Montreal at Blue Orchid Waters.

DID YOU KNOW: The PA announcements and the safety demonstration are done in Canada's two official languages, English and French?

Flight time was just over an hour (1:03) and we flew right near Niagara Falls, so passengers on the left-hand side had an amazing view. I was bummed to be on the right side until I realized that I had jaw-dropping views of Toronto's skyline. I seriously had the best view of Toronto's most famous building, the CN Tower. FYI: Porter only flies into Toronto City Centre Airport (YTZ), which is on an island right in front of the city. Yes, the airport is actually on an island. There's a free ferry that goes to the mainland every 15 minutes and it takes just two minutes to cross, which is way too short to enjoy the stunning view of downtown Toronto.

YTZ has to be one of the most convenient city airports I have ever been to. The only one I know that possibly compares is the Reykjavik Airport (RKV). We had a smooth landing and pulled right up to the airport door. It was literally just two steps off the plane and I was in the building.

Porter offers one free 32-kilo (70-lb) bag or two bags totaling 23 kilos (50 lbs). I gate-checked my medium-size duffle bag so I wouldn't have to wait at baggage claim. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake, because I sat in the first row of the plane and would've been the first person in line at customs except I had to wait for my gate-checked bag to come out. You see, most domestic carriers don't let passengers deplane until the gate-checked bags are planeside, but that's not the case with Porter. However, it didn't really matter, because going through customs at YTZ, unlike YYZ (Toronto's main international airport), is a joy. So there's no need to worry about getting stuck behind a lot of passengers.

There are six stations set up for immigration officials, but there were just two agents working. Luckily, they spent only about 30 seconds with each visitor, asking: Why are you in Canada? Who are you visiting? Where are you staying? For how long? So it didn't take long to clear.

While waiting in line, I was thinking that YTZ's new terminal looks kind of dark and depressing. It turns out the city had rolling blackouts, so there was a major power outage. I will have to give you a full report on it the next time I fly from YTZ. One thing is for sure, flying from YTZ is even better, because Porter has a lounge with free drinks, snacks, newspapers, Wi-Fi, computers, and comfortable seating for all of their passengers. The only thing it's lacking is U.S. Customs for pre-clearance like YYZ offers, but that's supposedly in the works.

FYI: YTZ currently has 7 gates, but there will be 10 by the end of the year, including separate terminals for U.S. and Canada passengers.

Once through customs, it's just a 50-yard walk (indoors) to the airport's new ferry. There are plenty of taxis, and Porter also offers a free shuttle that goes to The Royal York Hotel, which is centrally located.

Porter is such a good airline that the Queen (yes, Queen Elizabeth from England) has chartered them to whisk her around Canada on multiple occasions, including last week. I missed her by just a few hours. Shucks!

Porter Airlines, Tel: 416-619-8622 or toll-free 1-888-619-8622.

P.S. While I was in Toronto I not only hung out with Natalie and her family, but I was a guest on CTV's Webnation program hosted by the talented @AmberMac. To view my segment, click July 7 (Part 3).

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Porter Airlines

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


2009 WS Game 6




Metro North


Rowayton, CT


Bailey Beach


Newark Airport


Porter Agents


EWR B2 Gates


Jet Airways/EL AL




EWR Snacks


My Plane




Porter Tail


Porter Crew


FA Boarding


Porter FA


Inside Porter's Plane


View from Rear


Porter Snacks


View Landing


Better View


Porter Taking Off


Porter Plane at YTZ


Old Terminal


View From Terminal




Free Drinks in Porter Lounge


View From Ferry


YTZ's Entrance


Porter Bus


Next Week


  • I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your very informative newsletters, no, I don't read all of them, but when I do, I love the very honest information provided. NCL has been my cruise line of choice for many years and I'm very interested in cruising on the EPIC as soon as the budget allows, I feel you give me the most comprehensive information as anyone out there, and I can trust you, thank you! Karen F - Minneapolis MN

  • Loved your Concorde piece! That Concorde on the Intrepid is part of my legacy. British Airways had to have one here in NYC somewhere - and it was my idea to put it on the Intrepid. With the help of a journalist friend of mine, plus the Intrepid people being totally gung-ho for a Concorde to help bolster admissions and attendance at the Intrepid, it all worked back in late 2003. John L – New York

  • I got a chuckle out of your (thoroughly enjoyable) column, when you wrote about the Norwegian Epic. You said " I was able to witness Reba McEntire christen the ship with a group of other invited guests." I always thought they traditionally used a bottle of champagne... PS: I think you've got the best travel website going! Steve K -

  • My daughter and her family are going to Cabo and I'm not sure what food can be taken on a plane and through TSA check point. She likes to take things for the children to eat. Do they have to buy stuff after going through check? Thanks, Lea Ann – Chicago, IL. REPLY: Lucky them! They can bring snacks on the plane but just nothing with liquid like yogurt or milk. Keep in mind you can’t bring foods or fruits that are not "company" packed and sealed into Mexico so make sure they eat it on the plane. Here’s TSA’s requirements and Mexico’s.

  • You are a lucky man Johnny. Robert H – Switzerland

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