The pleasures of small airports

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.

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3 thoughts on “The pleasures of small airports

  1. Thanks for this post, Jon! It reminded of my experiences with LEB ca. ’95-’97, which at the time was host to Delta and USAir. I was often able to day-trip to NYC and still watch the sun set in Norwich…

  2. When I fly to the Virgin Islands I always have to go through San Juan. There are a number of small airlines that operate from there and fly straight to most of the islands so you don’t have to do multiple hops. It is usually cheaper than the more publicized alternatives and you get to your destination so much faster.

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