Porter Airlines: Great Flying Experience, Crappy Website. Does This Matter?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My message to Porter today sums it up:

Your site has sent me 85 flight reminder messages so far about my flight tomorrow, starting at 7am today and continuing approximately one every 2-3 minutes. Please fix this.

There are a few other problems with your site:

  • Online checkin required two attempts, with no apparent cause for the failure.
  • I was unable to book my last two flights online in spite of repeated attempts in two different browsers. Eventually, I gave up and called an agent but this is not my preference.
  • This comment form that I’m filling out right now doesn’t prefill with my contact information in spite of the fact that I’m logged in. Also, on Chrome, it only allows 3 characters in the comment field (when I tweeted about this, several friends replied that "wtf" fits in that space).

As a long-time software engineer and heavy user of many consumer websites, I have to say that I’m sorely disappointed in the quality of your site — you need to hire a serious QA person to test this stuff out before you start inflicting it on the rest of us. As much as I love flying Porter, the online experience is enough to put me off. It might not drive me back to Air Canada (yet), but it certainly is not making me happy.

I tweeted to them about the problems, but I don’t think that they have anyone monitoring their tweets or comment emails on weekends, and I don’t expect to get an answer back for a few days. Even then, it is unlikely to be satisfactory, based on my last exchange with them about their website, which went most along the lines of them telling me that I was obviously doing something wrong. In the meantime, I’ve set up an email filter that removes the messages from Porter as they arrive.

I fly Porter on the routes that it covers because it’s a great in-person experience:

  • They almost always have a 20% off promotion available, which undercuts Air Canada fares.
  • The airport is 2km from my home, which means that I can actually walk there, or take a $8 cab ride instead of the $55 required to get to Pearson airport.
  • I get to take the shortest ferry ride in the world to get there, which earned me the “I’m on a boat” FourSquare badge.
  • I am only required to be at the airport 45 minutes before my flight.
  • The lounge, available to all passengers, has free coffee, tea, soft drinks, cookies and wifi, as well as comfy chairs.
  • I love the smaller propeller planes since it actually feels like flying.
  • They fly to Midway rather than O’Hare.
  • The flights that I’ve taken so far have a good on-time record.
  • If I’m at the airport early enough to catch the previous flight, they’ll change it for free if there’s room on the flight rather than trying to shake me down for extra cash (are you listening, Air Canada?).

The only downside is that they don’t have US customs and immigration pre-clearance in Toronto, meaning that I end up in the international arrivals area at the destination airport where there is rarely a NEXUS kiosk and often a lineup. Not a problem for early morning arrivals, but from late morning on, I’ve sometimes ended up stuck in a crowd of arriving European travelers.

The good news: the flight reminders seem to be holding at 85 for now.

3 Comments

  1. Tom Purves says:

    You are not the only one. Great quality control on the actual flying experience but the website is terrible. It’s failed on me several times as well. They should really be doing vastly better usability testing on that stuff. Poor attention to detail, bad maintenance and inexplicable unreliability is not the message you want to communicate in any part of the experience if you are an airline.

  2. sandy says:

    Too true — if they’re that sloppy in one part of their operations, what does that say about their overall commitment to quality? To be fair, they don’t have the website budget of a larger airline, but they shouldn’t release stuff that doesn’t work.

  3. John Burrett says:

    You also experience real problems trying to leave a complaint. The form doesn’t seem to submit properly, even with the most common browsers. Almost like they don’t really want it to work…

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