Porter Airlines business model
If you don’t know Bob Deluce, then you haven’t flown on one of his planes. When the CEO of Porter Airlines takes one of his regular strolls through Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, Porter’s corporate headquarters and operations hub located on an island just off the Toronto waterfront, everyone recognizes him. Passengers reach out to say hello, as do his staff. One attractive flight attendant, dressed in Porter’s sleek navy shift dress, scarf and pillbox hat—a uniform that radiates Mad Men–style sex appeal—sidles over to say hello. She doesn’t introduce herself; they’re clearly familiar. “Will I have the pleasure?” she asks fawningly. “Not today, ” Deluce replies, smiling.
The exchange is not as saucy as it appears. Deluce travels his own airline frequently, so when crew spot him in the lounge, they ask if he’s on their flight. By all appearances, they look forward to the occasion. Deluce has also been known to come down to the terminal to greet notable passengers—governors, cabinet ministers—when they arrive. As one observer put it to me, “He runs his airline like a family restaurant.”
But Deluce is more than a maître d’. He’s arguably the most successful entrepreneur in Canadian aviation history, and he owes his success to the close contact he keeps with Porter’s 2.5 million passengers and 1, 400 employees, something his CEO counterparts at Air Canada, with 35 million passengers and 27, 000 employees, or WestJet, 17 million and 9, 500, respectively, can only dream of. In an industry known for its aloofness to customer experience—sardine-tin cabins, irritable staff, extra fees, flight delays and overbookings—Porter prides itself on its spacious seating, friendly service, free in-flight food and beverages, and the best on-time record of any Canadian carrier.
“Our service drives a high level of passenger satisfaction, ” says Deluce. “Passengers warm up to us quite quickly.” He chooses his words diplomatically, but it’s easy to read between the lines of his politesse: travellers wouldn’t warm to Porter so “quickly” if the service with Air Canada and WestJet weren’t so infuriating. “No airline has been as successful as Porter at cultivating customer loyalty and creating a niche for its brand, ” says Robert Kokonis, president of the aviation consulting firm AirTrav.