Air Canada VS Westjet VS Porter – A Canadian Airline Comparison

The Canadian Airline industry has never been all that friendly to its consumers wallets. Sure they might give you a free coffee & juice on a flight, they might even include some Bits & Bites if you’re lucky. But complimentary service aside, sometimes it doesn’t feel like they have the “people’s interest” in mind. Recent headway made in the way airlines are able to promote flights without including taxes & surcharges should help regular folks like us out a bit, but at the end of the day, flying within Canada is and always will be expensive. In an effort to make it easier to decide which Canadian airline deserves your precious Bobby Bordens ($100 notes), I’ve decided to put together my thoughts, along with the thoughts of some fellow Canadian travel bloggers into the ultimate Canadian airline comparison. Let it begin!

porter-airlines

Porter Airlines

I’m starting with the little guy first. If you don’t recognize the name Porter, chances are you’re from Western Canada. Porter is a regional airline headquartered out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. They’re hands down the smallest airline in terms of size and numbers. This can be seen as either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on where you’re trying to get to. Porter operates primarily in Eastern Canada and parts of the United States. So if you’re looking for flights anywhere west of Thunder Bay, Ontario you’re better off looking at the other two airlines. However, if you’re after friendly service, competitive rates, and the opportunity to fly into (or out of) downtown Toronto like a rockstar, Porter could be for you. Did I mention there’s free liquor served on board?

 

Pros

  • If you’re in downtown Toronto, you can walk, take the TTC or better yet the FREE Porter shuttle. This saves a lot of money on cabs out to Pearson.
  • Regular seat sales can save you up to 50% off!
  • Complimentary snacks in the Downtown Toronto Airport lounge (Starbucks Coffee, tea, water, juice & cookies)
  • Complimentary WIFI in the Downtown Toronto Airport lounge
  • In-flight liquor is FREE!
  • Complimentary meals
  • Friendly Stewards & Stewardesses
  • Stylish staff uniforms
  • Planes offer plenty of leg room
  • VIPorter for Frequent Porter customers

Cons

  • If you’re a nervous flyer, the smaller planes might freak you out
  • Less luggage space compared to Air Canada & Westjet
  • No food outlets in Downtown Toronto Airport
  • Propellor Planes are noticeably louder, especially if you’re sitting in the mid cabin.
  • Single Seat Class (Sorry business tycoons, you have to sit with us smelly normies)
  • No in-flight entertainment

Here’s what other Canadian Travel Bloggers have to say about Porter Airlines:

Jodi Ettenberg Legal Nomads
I love flying Porter. I confess that I was initially drawn to them due to the sheer adorableness of their mascot, but even without the cute-factor, they’re a great airline. Free WiFi and snack lounges at many Canadian airports, available to all Porter clients (not a business class-only lounge), food box on the flight and a big glass of wine too (if that’s your thing).”
Brock Groombridge Backpack With Brock
If I had the choice between Air Canada, WestJet & Porter, I would hands down fly Porter. Living in downtown Toronto I can literally walk to the island airport. But that’s just icing on the cake. Their staff are incredible – making you feel very welcome, comfortable and important even if you are paying the lowest fare on the plane. The planes are sleek, they have LOADS of sales so if you are willing to wait for a sale you can often get a substantial discount and as Jodi explained, you never go hungry (or thirsty for that matter). I think they’ve done a commendable job branding themselves with a clean cut, trendy image.”

 

westjet-airlines

WestJet Airlines

Westjet is the second largest airline in Canada, providing flights to 71 destinations across Canada, The United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean. They’re headquartered out of Calgary International Airport in Alberta, but also have a hub in Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario. Westjet is a non-unionized airline, which means strikes are practically unheard of. The same thing can’t be said for Air Canada…*Cough..Strike Much?..Cough*.

Westjet is known across Canada as being the “funner” of the three airlines. Stewards and Stewardesses are encouraged to show some personality and have fun on the job, which ultimately leads to a more pleasant flying experience. Flying has become such a sterile activity in recent years, its a refreshing change to see real people behaving like they would with their friends.

While I have nothing but good things to say about Westjet’s people and service, they’re entertainment consoles are sucky in comparison to Air Canada’s. Their satellite TV’s tend to drop often, and don’t even bother turning them on if you catch a redeye flight. Infomercials and News on Repeat will be all that greets you. Not their fault, I know, but if you can’t sleep during the night flights, you might as well gauge your eyes out.

If Westjet were to ever upgrade their entertainment units they could totally drop to one knee and pop the question, and chances are this guy would say yes!

 

Pros

  • Friendly & Fun Staff
  • In-flight Entertainment (Satellite TV)
  • Customer Service that cares (They actually reply via Twitter)
  • Free Coffee, Tea, Pop, Juice, and their famous Bits & Bites
  • More legroom than Air Canada
  • Westjet Dollars to help save on future flights

Cons

  • Satellite TV is occasionally out & if you’re catching redeye flights expect infomercials.
  • Movies are Pay-per-view
  • Less destinations throughout Canada

Here’s what other Canadian Travel Bloggers have to say about Westjet Airlines:

Doreen Pendracs Travel Diversions With Doreen
When flying in Canada, I normally try to fly with Westjet. Why? Because the staff is friendlier, they’re more helpful and efficient, and you need to be at the check-in just 30 minutes prior to boarding. I really feel valued as a customer, and now with the Westjet dollars they give you for flying with them it’s even better! I haven’t flown Porter yet as they don’t service my city (Winnipeg) but I’ve heard nothing but good things about them as well.
Jeannie Mark Nomadic Chick
Despise Air Canada. Always fly Westjet if I can. They were horrid when my ex’s father died. Instead of being helpful, they offered a flight to Winnipeg. My ex is from Saskatchewan. Nor did they offer bereavement rates. Westjet pulled thru, so they had me at “hello”.”
Gillian Duffy One Giant Step
I also prefer Westjet over Air Canada. Friendly, funny staff who act like real people who just want to help you out. I like the personality. Air Canada is too corporate in their image.”
Dustin Main Skinny Backpacker
A little bit of an echo in here now, but in the past I have preferred Westjet because they staff were typically more friendly and laidback than Air Canada. Now that points are involved in my life and I’m traveling outside of Canada so often, Aeroplan and the Star Alliance win me over. I just ignore the staff anyways.”

 

Air Canada

Air Canada is Canada’s largest airline, currently providing service to 178 destinations. They’re headquartered in Montreal, QB and were one of the founders of the Star Alliance Program. For those not in the know, the Star Alliance Program is a network of global airlines, created to offer customers a smoother travel experience when grabbing international flights. While Air Canada remains the most travelled airline in Canada, it’s had a bumpy past. In 2003 Air Canada had to file for Bankruptcy protection, and it seems there’s always talk in the news of its financial difficulties or of an upcoming strike.

This might sound bleak, but if you’re anything like me, smiles and fun personalities won’t entertain me longer than a few minutes. Air Canada‘s on-demand entertainment consoles make those long flights a breeze. They may not win the most awards for happy faces and fun memories, but they get the job done.  I like to compare Air Canada as sort of like ordering a burger & fries. You know what you’re getting every time. It might not be the best item on the menu, but it’s good enough. Seeing as Air Canada has the most destinations, a good points system (if you know how to use it!), and reasonable rates, I see nothing overtly wrong with saying Air Canada is pretty okay!

 

Pros

  • On-Demand Entertainment Consoles on most flights. (Free movies, tv, and music)
  • Largest number of destinations across Canada
  • Frequent Seat Sales
  • Star Alliance Partner
  • Free coffee, tea, juice and pop
  • Aeroplan Rewards for Frequent Travelers

Cons

  • Not the greatest customer service
  • Occasional union strikes
  • No complimentary meal on domestic flights
  • Aeroplan Points Expire so read the fine print or talk to a customer service representative.

Here’s what other Canadian Travel Bloggers have to say about Air Canada:

Candice Walsh Candice Does The World
Westjet has the best customer service, in my opinion. Air Canada, however, has the best rates out of Newfoundland…and beggars can’t be choosers.”
Ayngelina Brogan Bacon Is Margic

If Air Canada and I were dating, our relationship status on Facebook would say – it’s complicated. I can’t really decide how I feel and every time I feel like breaking up they win me over again.

Leigh McAdam Hike Bike Travel
I will usually fly on whoever is cheapest. As much as I find the folks at West Jet friendlier, I find the AC planes, especially on longer flights more comfortable and I like their entertainment system better. Also points eventually add up with Air Canada and I find their Aeroplan program to actually be pretty good. West Jet now offers an improved frequent flyer program where you get West Jet dollars – I forget the percentage of every fare – maybe 2%. Then you can you use that money towards a flight at anytime. The only downside is the credit takes almost a month to post to your WEst Jet account. If I lived where Porter flew I’d be trying them.”
Nicole & Cameron Wears Traveling Canucks

We fly out of Vancouver a lot and, unlike most of the responses in this thread, we love Air Canada and avoid WestJet. We has some bad experiences with AC many years ago, but in the past 5 years we have been very impressed. We really like the newer planes that Air Canada has and find its entertainment much better than WestJet. I need a little more than a smile to be satisfied with an airline’s service, expecially on long haul flights.

We also like the fact that Air Canada is a part of the Star Alliance and Aeroplan. We have Aeroplan credit cards, so often times we can double dip the points when purchasing flights and hotels using our credit card. For us, WestJet’s lack of partnerships globally has almost pushed us exclusively to Air Canada.

canadian-sky

So who should you fly with in Canada?

It’s clear there is no right answer. When it’s all said and done, it comes down to what type of things are important to you during air travel. Do you need good customer service, a warm smile to greet you boarding you on the plane? Then you might be best suited for Westjet, or Porter if you’re out east. If you’re an entertainment junkie who partakes on flights longer than a few hours, and just so happens to be an airline points hoarder, Air Canada’s probably your best bet. Regardless of whomever you decide to go with, Canadian Airlines are after all…Canadian. Expect apologies when your flight is delayed, expect a helping hand if your flight is cancelled, and one of my fondest memories, expect an open liquor cart when your plane has technical problems that require a couple hours of mechanical work before departure.

Special thanks goes out to the Canadian Travel Blogging community who helped bring their two cents to the table!

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  • http://www.returnofthecarrot.com/ Krystal

    I’m a Porter-fan myself.  If only they had more destinations!  They have the best customer service, reasonable rates, and convenience.  I always choose them over the other two, granted that they fly to the location I need to go to.

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

      I’m with you. Wish they had more destinations. Its funny how few western Canadians even know about Porter. Granted, I was one of them too until I moved out east.

  • Claire

    Porter if they fly where I’m going, otherwise the cheapest of the other two. Anything to avoid the hike out to Pearson.

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

      I hear ya. That drive out to Pearson is mayhem. The day teleportation kicks into reality I am so retiring my neck pillow.

  • http://www.baconismagic.ca/ Ayngelina

    People make fun of me for this but I won’t fly from the Toronto Island, I don’t agree with the environmental impact it has so I haven’t flown them yet.

    However after Jodi raved about them so much I would consider flying with them as long as it’s not in and out of Toronto.

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

      I feel bad now, because I definitely didn’t even consider the environmental impact on the area. Are there studies being done on the area? Hopefully regulations keep it a viable habitat!

      Greenpeace aside, I highly recommend trying out Porter. Perhaps next visit back to Haliwood?

    • Anonymous

      You are mistaken about the environmental impact.
      The Q400 Bombardier planes that Porter and AC use, are extremely quiet and frugal on gas.  They offer no more pollution then, say, a truck!
      Do you remember Porter’s startup a few years ago when the airport at the island was full of protesters complaining about the noise?
      Several protesters were being interviewed as a Porter Q400 took off and they didn’t even hear it!

      I would suggest taking a flight from the island.  You will be impressed.
      And by the way, the cabin is no more noisier than a jet in flight .

  • http://darylfritz.com Daryl Fritz

    I’m a huge Porter fan. The only improvement I could suggest, if anything, would be free in-air Wifi.

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

      I hear ya Daryl! The first Canadian airline to get on the Wifi train will no doubt score a ride from this guy. If we complain loud enough maybe Richard Branson will hear us and bring some of his fancy Wifi equipped Virgin planes into our neck of the woods.

      • Edavey

        actually, air canada has started to offer wifi on their some of their flights! (it isn’t free, i’ve heard it can be 80$ for 5 hours) but its a start!

  • http://travelerahoy.com Alouise

    I always wish that Canada could have a little more variety in airline choice, but I know our population is probably too small for a lot of discount airlines. I think that’s one reason why driving is so popular. If you have your own vehicle it can often be cheaper than flying.

    I tend to choose Westjet, but I certainly don’t have an aversion to Air Canada. For me it comes down to price, and I’ve been able to get good seat sales on Westjet.

  • http://travelingcanucks.com/ Cam

    This is an informative post – thanks for putting it together and for including our feedback!

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

      Thanks Cam! Appreciate you guys taking the time to include your thoughts! You guys are awesome!

  • Candice Walsh

    This is an awesomely informative post, Corby! I love it. I haven’t flown with Poter yet…I have to get on that. 

    • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

      Thanks Candice! Totally gotta try Porter out! Mr Porter for the win! … did I mention the free bevy’s!?

  • http://www.hikebiketravel.com/ Leigh

    A nicely presented post Corbin – and very informative. I wish we had more choice here in Calgary.

  • http://www.newlifeontheroad.com/ Lisawsdream

    What a great post about the airlines and who to fly with when in Canadina ;) Will keep it in mind for when we head that way!
    Cheers
    lisa

  • Anonymous

    AC is he only airline for travel for people with a lot of business tools.
    I have Elite status with them and I can carry 3 bags all overweight at no charge.
    With Westjet, it would cost me an additional $800.00 each way with the extra bag and excess weight for each bag.
    Plus, I can get upgraded to Business class, relax in the AC lounge, get priority boarding at check in and at the gate. Plus, their AC branded Second Cup coffee is second to none.

    West Jet offers none of this.  You can’t even get good food or coffee on Westjet. They have no ovens. a lousy point system, no priority anything, no excess baggage allowance and steerage class only.  

    Pricing is about the same for both so why on earth would I go for WestJet?

    • Anonymous

      I agree with what I just said!

  • Leelevey1

    Of all the 3 airlines I’ve always feel safer and know I get home ontime with no airplane breaking down hands down for Air Canada.  Customer service has improve over the years, I’ve never experience any bad or rude customer service, passenger agents or even flight attendants.  I hear so many negative about Air Canada it maybe true but at least there’s no complaint every single minute, there always time one person not in a good mood not just AC employees, it can be also with Westjet or Porter.  As for pricing I’m willing to pay a bit more on AC than Porter airlines or Westjet.

  • Freddles

    I’M GOING ON WJ! YAYYYYYPr

  • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

    :P yeeeaaaaAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

  • http://ibackpackcanada.com Corbin Fraser

    Indeederino! Love me that money savin’!

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