Toronto’s city island airport a throwback to old-fashioned aviation

By Craig Davis, Craigslegz.com

TORONTO — One of the unexpected benefits of several recent hockey trips to Canada was discovering the joy of flying out of Toronto’s city airport.

Waterfowl frolic in the path of the ferry that shuttles passengers to Toronto's Billy Bishop City Airport. (Craig Davis/Craigslegz)

Waterfowl frolic in the path of the ferry that shuttles passengers to Toronto’s Billy Bishop City Airport. (Craig Davis/Craigslegz)

Situated on an island literally a stone’s skip from the heart of Canada’s biggest and most bustling city, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is a throwback to old-fashioned aviation.

And it’s so Canada. To get to the terminal, passengers shuffle onto a ferry boat. They close the doors, cast off the lines, and before you even realize you left, you’ve arrived.

The 400-foot voyage is one of the world’s shortest regularly scheduled ferry routes.

It’s also free for pedestrians (for vehicles, $11 roundtrip).

The airport terminal is about the most comfortable and accommodating commercial hub you can find anywhere. The lounges have complimentary coffee, teas, juices, soft drinks and light snacks.

The waiting area has overstuffed chairs arranged in livingroom pods with coffee tables and floor lamps. You can set your laptop down, plug in and get some work done or sit back with a cup of tea. Wifi is free. They give you a shout when your plane is ready to board.

The experience is the antithesis of flying in from the states to Toronto’s overbearing Pearson International Airport, which is a $60 cab ride outside the city.

For domestic flights within Canada, the island airport is the way to go. It is $11 by taxi from the downtown hotels, and it offers the best view of the city on takeoff and landing.

I’ve taken commuter flights to and from Montreal and Ottawa from the island. The first experience was landing on a sunny December day and being mesmerized by the patterns in the ice on the lake as the plane descended.

I liked the little airport even better after I learned it is named for a World War I flying ace.

Toronto's city airport is named for World War I flying ace Billy Bishop.

Toronto’s city airport is named for World War I flying ace Billy Bishop.

Billy Bishop actually survived a fight with the Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron. He was credited with 72 victories, third-most in the war behind von Richthofen and France’s René Fonck. Bishop once returned from a mission with 210 bullet holes in his plane.

Flying out of his namesake airport is thankfully more mundane. But the planes are propeller-driven, so it is easy to feel as if you are flying with the spirit of Billy Bishop.

As laidback as it feels, the city airport is a busy hub, serving 2.4 million passengers a year. Air Canada and Porter Airlines are the main carriers.

So it makes sense that they are spending $82.5 million (CAD) on a pedestrian tunnel to connect the mainland to the airport, due to open in late spring 2015.

Nonetheless, it’s sad to think I’ve likely taken my last ride on the ferry. Movable walkways will whisk passengers quickly to and from the tunnel, but you won’t be able to enjoy watching waterfowl frolicking along the way.

The tunnel will make getting to the airport more efficient and convenient. But alas, less Canadian.

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