The Seattle metropolitan area joined the ranks of multi-airport cities this week. Or Everett and Snohomish County got their first airport. Either way you look at it, the new commercial passenger terminal at Paine Field is open for business and it is an absolutely spectacular facility. Nearly everything about the new airport makes for a great passenger experience.
The terminal benefits from its small size. The current cap of 24 daily departure means a relatively small building can handle the complete operation. And the initial plans for Paine Field include only ERJ-175 aircraft so fewer total passengers. But the terminal is built to grow, or at least to accommodate larger aircraft as part of its future. Seating in the gate areas, often limited to 50-70% of the seats on any given plane, is double that today. Inside security, where at most 150-175 passengers are expected at any one time, the airport offers nearly 300 seats in varying arrangements.
Some are more traditional gate area seats, ten to a row. But even these are out of the ordinary. They include 110V and USB-A outlets, increasingly common at airports that care about their passengers. USB-C is also included at the seats, a nod to the future, and virtually unheard of elsewhere.
The central area includes the bar and large windows looking out to the ramp, runway and mountains beyond. It also includes couches, fireplaces and recliner chairs more commonly found in first class lounges or swanky hotel lobbies.
Outside security the lobby includes three check-in counters and a half dozen automated kiosks. Both the counters and kiosks run multiple airline systems, allowing United Airlines and Alaska Airlines to share the kit and accommodate all their passengers.
Beyond the comfy seats and fast, free wifi service the amenities inside the terminal are somewhat limited. A Beecher’s café will open shortly, joining the bar as the only concessions available to passengers. That’s a limited offering, but also mostly on purpose. With the ease of access and limited flights the airport operator expects that passengers will not be spending much time inside. Unlike mega-terminals that earn their profits from retail shopping Paine Field aims to win by making it easy for passengers to arrive less than an hour before departure and still have time to refill a water bottle inside. (And, yes, they have proper filling stations, my personal most critical amenity in a terminal.)
From the front curb to the gate most passengers will climb only three steps, just after clearing TSA screening (there is also a ramp, of course). No mazes of escalators and elevators to navigate. In this, and many other ways, the terminal is reminiscent of the new facility at Long Beach, also recently opened and also with the swanky feel of a lounge or resort. Long Beach offers outdoor space for its fire pits; at Paine Field they are inside. Both make sense given the local climates.
As new airports go the size of the operation at Paine Field might be the most impressive part. Launching new commercial service is relatively rare. Launching 24 flights to 8 destinations in the first month is almost unheard of. That Paine Field, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines are able to pull that off truly sets the new operation apart from “the Southern Gateway to Snohomish County,” a reference to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport made by one of the dignitaries at Monday’s festivities.
And, yes, fares are cheap to start. But the range of flights available, including onward connections, and the convenient location for a large portion of the Seattle metro area population should help drive load factors up pretty quickly.
The main shortcoming today comes from limited public transit connectivity at the terminal. Bus service runs nearby every 10 minutes during the day and every 20 minutes at off hours, though the stop is out at the end of the road, not at the terminal itself. And it is still just one route. It could be much, much worse, but it also could be a little better. (Update: A second bus route will head in to the terminal loop soon, it seems, though not as frequently.)