Billy Bishop: Flying Into Toronto’s Other Airport

Toronto is a lively city with plenty of culture that should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit.  For those that haven’t been there before (and likely for some who have), you’re making the trip much more painful if you fly into Toronto Pearson Airport (YYZ).

Pearson is the dominant airport for the region.  But, the little engine that could, Billy Bishop, really does eliminate much of the stress associated with air travel.  With very few exceptions, if you’re on a plane arriving or departing Billy Bishop (YTZ), you’re flying Porter Airlines, something I did for the first time recently.

Porter is a small airline that calls Billy Bishop home.  They’re by far the dominant carrier, with Air Canada offering a small handful of flights (though none to the US).  Porter serves a number of major metropolitan US cities as well as all the major Canadian markets, and can offer a low-cost alternative to get to Canada.  Don’t expect lap of luxury flying, but they find a few ways to make up for that.

I departed Washington-Dulles on one of Porter’s Bombardier Q400s, the only plane in their fleet.

Billy Bishop Airport

Side note: they petitioned the government to lengthen the runway, presumably so they could fly the newest jet to come out of another Canadian company, Bombardier.  The government said no.  You can listen to some commentary on this here and here.  The bottom line is that it doesn’t seem likely Billy Bishop will see larger planes anytime soon, even if it does benefit the customer.

Boarding was easy with a mobile boarding pass, though they did reprint it for me at the gate after checking my documents.  They claim a more generous carry-on allowance than some other carriers, but the bin space is tiny so you’ll be picking up most bags plane-side.

It was an extra $20 for me to reserve a seat with extra legroom for my short 90-minute flight.  I did so for one of my two flights to gauge the difference.  My personal opinion is that the extra space is only worth it if you can grab the bulkhead up front, which has plenty of legroom.  I didn’t see a considerable difference between the second row and the regular coach seats.

Billy Bishop Airport

Bulkhead Seat on Porter

Billy Bishop Airport

Extra Legroom On Porter

Billy Bishop Airport

Regular Legroom On Porter

While the interiors are showing some wear, the leather seat was comfortable and the cabin was clean.  The crew was very interactive, offering complimentary alcohol selections to everyone on board (that’s standard on Porter).

Billy Bishop Airport

Upon arrival, the customs area was well-staffed with 4 agents and 3 Nexus kiosks.  Even though I had an issue using the Nexus kiosk I was through the line in a matter of minutes.  Once through I learned something I didn’t know, which is that it’s possible to rent a car at Billy Bishop.  You’ll still need to wait for the ferry to take you over to land.

Billy Bishop Airport

Billy Bishop Airport

Billy Bishop Airport

Billy Bishop Airport

But, if you’re not renting a car, you can take the easy way, the brand new tunnel that opened recently.  It was less than a 5-minute walk to the other side, and quicker than waiting for the ferry.  A quick elevator ride had me walking in downtown Toronto, just a few blocks from the baseball stadium.

Departing Billy Bishop is just as easy.  While there was a dedicated Nexus line for security it wasn’t necessary. I cleared security in under 5 minutes and took an escalator downstairs to the dedicated Porter lounge.

All Porter passengers have access to the lounge since all passengers wait for their flights to be called there.  The lounge consists of a variety of soft seating and a small business area with some iMac computers and desks for people to work at.  During my time in the lounge almost every seat was full. This was for a midday departure.  Given how many flights Porter operates out of Billy Bishop, I would imagine the lounge area is never really empty.

Billy Bishop Airport

Porter also offers a handful of complimentary snack and beverage options while you wait.  If those don’t suit your needs, there is one very small store with sandwiches and drinks for purchase.  It was closed part of the time I was there.  If you’re traveling with a family, this can be challenging in that you may need to feed your kids and the selection once you’re on the island is pretty limited.  You’re not technically supposed to bring food into the US, so whatever you can manage to get through security is supposed to go in the trash.  The free snacks and drinks offered definitely wouldn’t qualify as a meal.  This is one of the few limitations of the size and location of the airport.

Billy Bishop Airport

Billy Bishop Airport

Still, it was kind of cool to hear them make flight announcements like, “For those traveling to Washington-Dulles, your plane has just arrived on the island.”

Billy Bishop Airport

The only other downside I saw to flying out of Billy Bishop to the US was the lack of a pre-clearance facility at Billy Bishop.  Virtually all of the major Canadian airports have pre-clearance facilities for US customs.  That means once you arrive in the US you’re just like a domestic passenger, free to transfer or head home.  In the example of Washington-Dulles where a bus is required to make your way to customs.

Porter runs frequent sales on their website, but I wouldn’t refer to them as cheap.  They can sell an expensive ticket just as much as the next airline, but folks looking to save money can and will find deals on Porter.  And, a worthwhile experience.  Just no jets.  See you later, Toronto!

The post Billy Bishop: Flying Into Toronto’s Other Airport was published first on Pizza in Motion

8 Comments

  1. Porter is very good regional airline and the ability to fly to ytz can’t be beat if you need to be in downtown Toronto. There is also the free shuttle bus that will also take you to the heart of downtown (about a 5-10 min drive)

  2. Pre-clearance is being expended to a number of additional Canadian locations and IIRC YTZ will be included some time next year. This will make life a bit easier for PD flights to most US cities (BOS and MDW come to mind) but it’s unlikely to facilitate a move from IAD (the worst airport in the USA) to DCA given slot situation at the latter. What would also be beneficial to PD is if it were to get onto the TSA PreCheck list. This is a the worst part about flying PD from its US cities unless you’re connecting off a JetBlue flight. PD has recently signed a marketing arrangement with that US carrier to expand beyond distances that can be covered by its Q400s.

    1. David, didn’t realize YTZ was getting pre-clearance. That would be awesome. And, IAD is far from the worst airport in the USA (it’s my home airport so if anyone would hate it, it would be me since I’m there every week). They’ve renovated all the bathrooms in C/D and added better food choices. The fact that the UA lounges suck is really on UA. And, the A/B terminals at IAD are actually quite nice.

  3. I wouldn’t say they fly to “all the major Canadian markets” considering they don’t go further west than the Great Lakes.

      1. The plan was to start flights as far as Vancouver and LA once they got the C Series. Unfortunately, there was a change of government and the new Minister of Transport shut down the runway extension for political reasons (his party won a number of tough seats in the area around the airport and many of the locals are anti-expansion).

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