Porter rediscovers a ‘love’ of flying

After an 18-month marketing hiatus, the airline puts its customers' love in the spotlight as it expands to new markets.

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Toronto’s Porter Airlines re-entered the market this month – a full 18 months after having temporarily suspended all service, as well as all promotional activity, at the start of the pandemic.

After such a prolonged quiet period, the airline needed to make sure it had a message that would resonate with its target audience, help differentiate its brand from competitors and rebuild trust in air travel again, says Kevin Jackson, the company’s EVP and chief commercial officer.

While consumer interest in flying has grown as vaccination rates have improved and people have started to return to somewhat-normal routines – unleashing some of the pent-up demand for travel – Porter is returning to market with its first campaign just as the country’s other airlines were putting out their own positive spins on the process of rediscovering travel.

To stand out, Porter worked with U.S.-based Walk the Dog to conduct four focus groups – three with consumers and one with its own employees – a process that ultimately led to the creation of “Love is in the air,” a social and digital campaign developed internally that aims to capture how its customers feel right now.

Ad_WelcomeHomeThe word “love” came up repeatedly during those focus group sessions, whether it was customers describing how they loved the brand, the free wine and snack service and the flight attendants’ pillbox hats, or employees describing their love for the company and their colleagues.

“We talked about a message that Porter could own,” says Jackson. “Porter offers a unique experience to the market that the other two carriers don’t, and people love it. So it was an ability for us to create a theme that spoke to why you wanted to travel again, and when you travel, why you’d want to travel with us.”

While the creative concept stemmed from research conducted in April, when consumer sentiment around travel was still early in recovery, Jackson says he’s confident the message continues to resonate with Canadian travellers at this time.

Canadians will be even more eager to travel over Thanksgiving and through the holiday season. Meanwhile, for many of those only now getting back into the market, their motivations are the same as they were in April.

Leisure travellers care about the experience of travel itself, the people they travel with, and the friends and family they go see when they travel, he says.

“Even on the business side, people were eager to get in front of their colleagues again, in front of their clients again,” says Jackson. “So human connection was clearly there [in terms of] the message that we were hearing from people as they were talking about travel – that’s true for leisure and for business.”

Porter plans to wrap up the campaign in October, once service has been restored to all of its remaining markets.

As part of the overarching campaign, the brand also ran a three-week-long social media contest in August and early September, asking people to share where they were excited to go, travel with or see. It then picked the best stories, giving away 100 free tickets every week to help reunite loved ones or get people to their favourite destinations.

Porter- Love is in the AirOutside of generating interest in flying, the airline is currently focused on ensuring that guests continue to receive the customer experience Porter is known for. The travel experience has become “daunting” for many Canadians as they try to make sense of vaccine and documentation requirements, U.S. restrictions and other guidelines that are adding pressure on customer service and support lines, Jackson says.

Porter is also working to stay ahead of hiring and training in light of a “very tight labour” market that has seen other airlines struggle with staff shortages. “So far, we’re doing good with that.”

The airline has also set ambitious growth plans over the longer term.

In July, it announced the purchase of 80 Embraer aircraft, including 30 firm commitments and the purchase rights for another 50. Jackson says it will be taking delivery of the first aircraft in the second half of next year and will deploy them within 15 months, before it evaluates new potential markets for the additional 50 aircraft.

The new fleet will enable Porter to serve destinations throughout North America from airports in Toronto (including Pearson), Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. It plans to add service to sun destinations like Florida, the Caribbean and the Southwest United States, as well as domestic markets on the west coast, such as Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.

Jackson says customers can expect the same level of service as Porter’s existing flights, though it is looking at “new passenger experience opportunities” for longer haul destinations, with details to be revealed early next year.