“This is your captain speaking, we’re looking at a flight time of about 28 minutes and clear skies, so buckle up and enjoy the flight!”
With that, myself and six other passengers were on our way from Toronto’s Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) to Muskoka Airport (YQA), seated aboard a Piper Navajo Chieftain (PA-31), which can fit eight passengers and two pilots; on the day of our trip up north, we were expertly taken care of by Captain Rob and First Officer Juan.
In December 2019, the Toronto-based airline recently announced that it’s now offering weekend flights between Toronto and Gravenhurst (Muskoka), and the service is here to stay year-round. What started out four years ago as a service running private air tours has evolved into a modern-day solution for travellers, commuters, and those who just want something a little bit different.
Plus, getting to Muskoka in 30 minutes is a far cry from the days spent driving three-and-a-half hours from the GTA (especially if the passengers aren't your favourite road trip buddies).
Currently, FlyGTA uses a mixed fleet of 12 aircraft for its operations. These include everything from a Piper Cherokee Warrior (the smallest plane which fits just two passengers and two pilots), to a Gippsaero Airvan—which seats six, and is great for aerial photography thanks to its large windows and the ability to open the cabin door during flight. Plus, there are four Piper Navajos that are used for scheduled flights as well as charters. New departures from Niagara and Buttonville are also on the way.
For travel agents, FlyGTA offers a standard 10 per cent commission rate on its various products.
Make the most of Muskoka, any time
FlyGTA has partnered with Muskoka Tourism to offer exciting travel solutions and ideas for Canadians who want to take advantage of their own backyards, whether that’s in the fall, winter, spring, or summer.
On our trip up north, we stopped by Livoutside, an outdoor adventure company specializing in year-round active experiences. After gearing up by our instructor, Peter, we branched off into two different groups: some tried their hand at fat biking (the bikes have large tires that can carry you effortlessly through snowy or rocky terrain) and back-country skiing. Both options let us enjoy the magic of Muskoka in the winter, as we trekked through untouched trails.
“Muskoka Tourism helped with the launch of FlyGTA in the summer of 2018 by providing marketing support, introductions to tourism partners, and also helped make connections with trade travel industries,” said Katie O’Hearn, marketing manager, Muskoka Tourism. “It's a fantastic program to help bring more tourism to Muskoka. The results from the 2018 launch allowed FlyGTA to have an expanded schedule in the summer of 2019, which turned into a year-round flight service.”
No line-ups, no hidden fees
FlyGTA offers flex pricing, meaning the earlier you book the better the price. Flights depart on Fridays and Sundays from Billy Bishop City Airport (YTZ) to Muskoka Airport (YQA) in 30 minutes with no line-ups or early check-ins required.
The best part?
You don’t have to clear customs, because the aircraft departs from a private terminal and the planes are so small (they fit just eight passengers!) that the extra security procedures just aren’t necessary.
When purchasing a flight, travellers will also be presented with the option to select a checked bag or a carry-on option. The aircraft is surprisingly spacious for checked bags in the cargo compartment! It costs just $10 for a carry-on and $25 for a checked bag. Depending on the class of flight that is purchased, there is a carry-on and checked bag included in FlyGTA's highest category and nothing included in the lowest fare, meaning your clients can pick the best option that suits their travel style.
Flying in a small plane is completely different than boarding a jumbo jet, and First Officer Juan has some tips for first-timers.
"For passengers who have never been on smaller planes, expect an unique flying experience: most small aircraft have an open cabin that allows you to see the pilots view and how the pilots fly the aircraft," he said. "For comfort, I would bring a sweater or jacket depending on the season (better to be safe than sorry). The planes do have heaters but at the beginning of the flight it could be chilly while the plane warms up and the doors close."
Whether it's a romantic getaway for two, or the perfect idea for a bachelorette party, FlyGTA has something for everyone.
Explore your own backyard, year-round
Through its partnership with Muskoka Tourism, FlyGTA is able to effortlessly offer a multitude of cozy accommodations, fun activities, and unforgettable experiences for travellers of all ages.
At Bayview Wildwood Resort, for example, FlyGTA offers Friday to Sunday service for as low as $140 each way, and provides a shuttle service from the airport to the resort for $25 (for up to four passengers). There's also the Residence Inn by Marriott Hotel Gravenhurst and the Quality Inn Bracebridge. Those looking for a more luxurious overnight can find it at the JW Marriott The Rosseau Resort and Spa, but it's approximately 50 minutes from the airport.
And, while our adventure took place in a winter wonderland, the fun continues into the spring, summer, and fall months, too, where plenty of tour operators in the area are eager to show off their unique product.
“This experience is perfect for Canadians who enjoy exploring their own backyard or for international travellers who are looking for a Canadian experience that’s different than the typical tourist hotspots,” explained Lia Massoumi, director, tour operations, FlyGTA. “By using our pre-made packages, travellers don’t have to lift a finger doing research for tours accommodations or transportation, we offer a time-saving solution that gets them from point A to B! Plus, travel agents receive a 10 per cent standard commission.”
From snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling, to heading to the stables to take a trail or sleigh ride, there are plenty of things to see and do. Package highlights include a collection of must-do experiences, like a dog-sledding adventure in Huntsville, or skating the famous Cranberry Ice Trail.
According to O’Hearn, Canadian travel agents should be aware of Muskoka’s key traveller demographic when considering a package with FlyGTA and Muskoka Tourism.
“We have four main customer types: pampered relaxers, family memory builders, knowledge-seekers, and up-and-coming explorers,” O’Hearn explained. “The primary geographic market is within a four-hour drive from Muskoka: the GTA makes up 70 per cent, Southwest Ontario is 20 per cent, high population areas in Northern Ontario compose five per cent, and the National Capital Region (Ottawa) is five per cent. There are about three million annual visits and $417 million in visitor expenditures.”
Choose from these departures
The new service to Muskoka is scheduled to operate on Fridays and Sundays in the winter with the following departure times:
- Friday 7 p.m. Toronto to Muskoka
Friday 8 p.m. Muskoka to Toronto
- Sunday 6 p.m. Toronto to Muskoka
- Sunday 7 p.m. Muskoka to Toronto
For the spring, summer, and fall, which tend to be busier months (fall foliage and cottage rentals attract visitors in droves), the departure schedule changes to incorporate Saturdays:
- Thursday 7 p.m. Toronto to Muskoka
- Thursday 8 p.m. Muskoka to Toronto
- Friday 7 p.m. Toronto to Muskoka
- Friday 8 p.m. Muskoka to Toronto
- Saturday 1 p.m. Toronto to Muskoka
- Saturday 2 p.m. Muskoka to Toronto
- Sunday 5 p.m. Toronto to Muskoka
- Sunday 6 p.m. Muskoka to Toronto
For more information, including flight schedules and rates, visit www.flygta.com.
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today!