BUSINESS
11/10/2011 05:47 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Porter Airlines may offer packaged vacations and codeshare flights next year

MONTREAL - Porter Airlines may begin offering packaged vacations in addition to flights as part of a natural evolution of its business, chief executive Robert Deluce said Thursday.

Selling packaged vacations that could allow passengers to purchase flights, hotel rooms, ground transportation and ski passes in one transaction on its website or through travel agencies is a "natural evolution," Deluce said in an interview.

"We do believe that in some instances, something other than an airfare by itself would be more attractive to a good number of passengers," he said after speaking to the Montreal Board of Trade.

Deluce said Porter is reviewing whether to take that role on itself and or work with another group.

Among the factors being considered is whether it has enough leisure destinations that would attract interest in packaged holidays.

Most of Porters destinations cater to business travellers, but it has added seasonal service to Mont Tremblant, Que., Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Burlington, Vt., that could appeal to the leisure traveller.

Deluce said filling a few more seats with a packaged vacation traveller would add revenue.

An upgrade of its computer system will also permit the start of a codeshare arrangement with a larger carrier. With codesharing, either airline can sell tickets that may involve travel on the other company's planes.

Deluce said the airline is not limiting itself to codeshare flights within Canada or to the United States.

"Montreal would be a good place as well. There's a lot of opportunities beyond Montreal with international carriers," he added.

The chief executive also said Porter will likely expand its fleet of Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) turboprops to at least 30 planes by exercising four options within two years.

Porter flies 24 aircraft from its base at Toronto City Centre Airport, which is on a lakeside island, but will add two more planes within the next two weeks.

The further expansion would allow the upstart carrier to use an additional 16 flying slots next spring to add new destinations and supplement existing service from the 156 slots it already operates.

Top on the list for new U.S. destinations is Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. It might also add Canadian destinations but prefers to first increase flight frequencies to existing cities.

Air Canada (TSX:AC.A), the country's largest airline, resumed service at the island airport in May after several years absence. Its main hub remains at Pearson International Airport just west of Toronto.

As Toronto City Centre airport approaches its maximum capacity, the emphasis will increasingly be on "key focus cities of Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax."

Deluce said the airline has exceeded its original plan to use 20 aircraft to service 17 cities within two hours flying time of Toronto.

It made a strategic decision to add service to Atlantic Canada. It flies from Ottawa to Moncton, N.B. and Halifax, Montreal to Halifax and Halifax to St. John's, NL.

Despite competition from Air Canada (TSX:AC.B), Porter's service from Toronto is up 14 per cent since May. Passenger load factor is also up five points this year.

"Some questioned our ability to maintain passenger levels after Air Canada's arrival, but we have developed a loyal following of customers that we value," Deluce told the business group.

But many passengers who fly Air Canada Express from Montreal experience the great terminal in Toronto and may be encouraged to fly Porter to its other destinations, he said.

He said an Ipsos business travel study found that 83 per cent of Porter's passengers were extremely or very satisfied with its service, compared with 60 per cent for Air Canada, 56 per cent for WestJet Airlines (TSX:WJA) and 43 per cent for Jazz, the largest of Air Canada's regional services.

Porter offers free snacks and beverages at its airport lounges and onboard the aircraft.