Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is bursting at the seams. Billions of dollars worth of improvements are in the works, but that is not enough to keep pace with demand for growth in the region. Earlier this year Paine Field in Everett launched its first commercial flights in decades. That facility is theoretically full, at least in terms of flight times available to airlines but that’s not stopping the airport from seeing growth in scheduled service. And Boeing Field, on the south side of town (but north of Sea-Tac) will also soon see growth in its scheduled services.
Plans for the new commercial passenger terminal at Paine Field included a cap at 24 daily departures. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines quickly announced their intentions to use all those slots when the opportunity arose (Southwest Airlines also planned some service but dropped those plans when it acquired the Alaska Airlines slots at LaGuardia and Reagan-National). With all 24 daily flights accounted for growth is theoretically impossible. Turns out that’s just a theory.
San Juan Airlines offers scheduled service between the San Juan Islands to the northwest of Seattle and three mainland locations. Starting on May 1, 2019 a fourth gateway joins the party: Everett. The carrier will operate at the airport but will not use the commercial passenger terminal. Instead its passengers will use the Castle and Cook Aviation facility that just happens to be across the parking lot from the new terminal. Because the planes involved are small enough to avoid TSA screening requirements they can operate from the private terminal and avoid the cap on movements.
Boeing Field’s Boost
On the south side of town, just 15 minutes from the city center, sits King County Airport, also known as Boeing Field (BFI). For the first time in a decade that airport will see interstate scheduled passenger flights starting this July. JetSuiteX plans to operate thrice daily service between Oakland and BFI. Fares start at $99, a price point that is slightly higher than the competition from Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines, but still very competitive.
The triple daily frequency allows for a full day of work in Seattle for those who prefer to make a day trip rather than spend the night. The JetSuiteX service will operate on that company’s fleet of Embraer ERJ-135 aircraft featuring 36″ pitch in a 1-2 layout. The planes are also slated to receive fast, free wifi service later in 2019, though the exact timing on that deployment remains in flux.
Both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines also offer service from San Francisco to Everett as part of that airport’s growth spurt, further increasing competition in the Bay Area to Seattle-ish market.
Combined the two carriers will move fewer than 100 additional passengers in or out of the Seattle region on any given day. In that context this is a drop in the bucket, almost unworthy of even mentioning. But the new services hold significance for their creative approach to the challenge the region faces. Passengers want more options and Sea-Tac is woefully limited until the terminal can further expand. And even then it lacks some conveniences for visitors to Seattle or especially to the north side of the city. Seeing more options show up to cater to those niche markets is key to how increased competition is expected to challenge the legacy market in the near future. Get ready for more moves like this, from all sorts of players.