I love small airports. When we moved to Keene, NH, over 20 years ago, I could roll out of bed, drive three minutes to our town’s airfield, hop onto a flight to LaGuardia, arrive in midtown Manhattan for a day of meetings, and be home for a late dinner. It was a good thing that didn’t last. The federal subsidy that kept those flights going ran dry, and Keene’s commercial air service ended long ago.
Years later I read James Fallows’ Free Flight and fell in love with its vision of an alternative air travel system that thought like the web: a decentralized and fluid network of interoperable resources.
Still later an old acquaintance, Ed Iacobucci, made a valiant effort to bring that vision to life. Our 2007 conversation about DayJet, the on-demand regional jet travel service Ed had then just launched, inspired me to hope that I might again fly to and from the Keene airport. Our hopes were dashed by the 2008 economic collapse, and now that vision is on hold. But last night I had a taste of what air travel once was and might someday be again.
I’m in Toronto for a couple of days. On my last two visits, not knowing another way, I used Toronto’s international airport, Pearson. It’s a typically unfriendly major hub, made even less friendly by its atypical lack of rail service into the city center. But on my last trip, during a morning lakeside run, I saw small planes landing at the city airport on Toronto Island within a stone’s throw of downtown. I wondered what it would be like to arrive on one of those flights.
Well, now I know. It’s delightful! I flew Porter Airlines from Boston Logan direct to Toronto Island Airport. It was a trip from a bygone era. The plane was a turboprop. The complimentary wine was served in a real glass. The customs queue was quick. The ferry crossing to downtown, over a hundred yards of water, was seamless. Then I simply walked, less than a mile, to my downtown hotel. True, it cost a hundred bucks more than flying into Pearson. But I saved almost that much money, plus a chunk of time, by not cabbing from Pearson. And I arrived refreshed and happy. When does that ever happen?
Porter Airlines isn’t the kind of service that James Fallows’ book imagined and Ed Iacobucci’s company created. But the retro 1950s-era experience that Porter offers may help to remind us that small airports are everywhere, waiting to offer pleasure and convenenience once again — if we can find ways to reactivate them.