Story by Linda Barnard
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Fortunately, there isn’t a “no-gloating section” on FlyGTA’s Toronto-to-Muskoka flights.
The temptation to quip, “So long, suckers,” as the eight-seat Piper Navajo swings north for the 32-minute trip with Highway 404 clearly in view 3,000 feet below is irresistible.
Flights on the new cottage-country route are $140 each way, running up and back Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
I did a roundtrip on a Sunday evening and traffic was disappointingly light for someone who wanted their flight served with a side of schadenfreude.
But having sat behind the wheel while crawling along a northbound highway for a couple of hours with steam coming out of my ears, I know all about the Torontonian’s “wish-I-had-an-airplane” fantasy.
Here it is.
It’s hard not to feel like a rock star when the rear door of the small plane opens to reveal two tiny stairs to hop on board.
FlyGTA, which does sightseeing swings and 13-minute trips across Lake Ontario to Niagara-the-Lake wineries, added weekend service from Billy Bishop Airport to Muskoka Airport in Gravenhurst in late June. The company is aiming to solve a long-standing and increasingly worse highway congestion problem in the Greater Toronto Area. In light traffic, both the Niagara Falls region and Muskoka can be reached by car within 90 minutes, but traffic can more than double those drives during weekends and in peak summer travel periods. An option to fly is enticing, FlyGTA hopes.
Despite a map included with my flight confirmation email, it was a challenge to find the airline at Billy Bishop.
I got lost. So did a couple about to take a sightseeing flight and a personable guy named Brent, who was the only passenger joining me for the flight up.
FlyGTA is on a service road fronting the Western Gap, southwest of the main terminal at the FBO (fixed base operations) area for non-Porter Airlines aircraft. Aside from a sign outside near the ferry dock pointing the way to hangars and offices, there’s nothing indicating it’s on the second-floor of a Porter building at the end.
FlyGTA communications manager Jazz Brar says the company knows it’s a problem but Ports Toronto has prevented it from putting up signs. The airline will arrange free pickup at the airport ferry for passengers requesting the service, he says.
One free carry-on bag is included, with a charge for more items.
Boarding was casual. The captain and first officer interacted with us before we took off. Flying in and out of Billy Bishop, located in Lake Ontario, provides spectacular views of the city and Toronto Islands. It carries the same excitement I remember from landing at the now-shuttered Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong, a feeling like you’re skimming the city. But the small prop plane adds another aspect to the experience, loud and a bit bouncy.
After a slow turn to follow the Humber River north, First Officer Connor Strudwick casually looked back and said, “We’re going back to Toronto.”
Captain Ehsan Paydarnia wanted to check something on the aircraft, so we landed and waited for about half an hour in the Porter operations office, which has a small lounge with tea and coffee.
Ready to board again, Strudwick handed each of us a gift bag with a small bottle of sparkling wine and a plastic champagne flute “to enjoy on the way up” and apologized for the delay.
We quickly passed from city to suburbs, over farmland and green spaces dotted with impressive houses and golf courses. Once we crossed Lake Simcoe, rocky-shored lakes and forests came into view.
We had a few minutes on the ground at Muskoka Airport. I chatted with a man returning to Toronto while his fiancée enjoyed a few more days at the lake and a woman who was flying on to Montreal from Billy Bishop after a cottage weekend. Prior to the new flight service, her alternative transportation back to Toronto would have been the bus. The couple would have taken two cars up so he could drive back.
But what happens when you get to Gravenhurst without ground transportation to your hotel or cottage? There are Discount and Enterprise car rental kiosks at the airport, but no cars on site. It’s a good idea to book ahead to have the car waiting. Or call a taxi to the rental offices in the town of Bracebridge, about 15 minutes away.
You can also book with Hammond Transportation Ltd., which has a sizable fleet, including black cars and limos. Cars are waiting in the terminal for incoming FlyGTA flights on Fridays and Saturdays, and there’s a booking link for Muskoka Airport pickup and dropoff on the website.
FlyGTA is negotiating ground transportation, resort getaways and golf packages. Six golfers and their bags can head to Muskoka for a round and be back for dinner in downtown Toronto, said Brar.
Check the FlyGTA website for details as packages are added.
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