Can something be brand new and decades old at the same time? Paine Field achieves both of these distinctions. Located north of Seattle, Paine Field has been an airstrip since the 1930s. It briefly offered commercial air service before being commandeered by the military during World War II. Since then, Boeing has used Paine Field to deliver a variety of aircraft from its Everett, WA factory, the world’s largest building. Earlier this week, I was on the first commercial flight to depart Paine Field in decades. It was on an Alaska Airlines Embraer 175, which is dwarfed in size by the 747, 767, 777 and 787 planes that normally grace the runway. It was a flight on a regional jet like so many others I’ve taken over the years. And yet, it was so much better.
New Paine Field Terminal
The push to return commercial service to Paine Field started in earnest in the 1980s. That’s a heck of a long time to achieve a goal. The magic formula turned out to be a public-private partnership between a company called Propeller Airports and Snohomish County, where Paine Field resides. Brett Smith, Propeller’s CEO had a grand vision for a small terminal. Boy, did he ever stick the landing? His promise to deliver you from the parking lot to your gate in less than 10 minutes was easily fulfilled on day one, even with a massive crowd of media. And comfort? I haven’t experienced a better airport terminal anywhere.
The parking lot is literally less than 100 feet from the front door of the terminal. From the outside, the new building looks more like a private mansion you might find in the foothills of California than an airport terminal. The air traffic control tower next to it hints at its true purpose.
When I stepped inside I was surrounded by high ceilings, beautiful wood finishes and floor-to-ceiling windows. There are 6 self-service kiosks, which works out to about 1 for every 25 total passengers. I’m guessing you won’t be waiting in line. And, the security area, complete with a full TSA PreCheck line, is big enough to fit the entire passenger load for the terminal, currently about 150 people. For the business traveler, the benefits to this small airport are immediately evident. Many smaller terminals don’t have full-fledged TSA PreCheck, serving up a half-measure of the service. Paine Field doesn’t skimp in security offerings.
Once through security, I felt like I was in a private airport lounge (and a pretty nice one, at that). With only two gates, the airport should only have about 150 people in the terminal at any one time (both Alaska and United will offer about 70 seats per departure). My unofficial count of seats on day one was 264.
Food options are minimal but high quality. There’s a spacious bar and soon there will be a Beecher’s cheese shop, a well-regarded local establishment. Adjacent to the bar are a row of tables for dining. The rest of the space is divided up into a “living room” and two gate areas. The living room is absolutely where you want to be, especially since it’s less than 50 feet to both gates from the comfort of leather couches and chairs to go along with the fireplaces.
For me, there will only be one seat in this terminal. With floor-to-ceiling windows to gaze out of, the lounge chairs along the window line are perfect. They are quite literally the most comfortable seat I’ve ever experienced in any airport, lounge or otherwise. I could plug in my Bose noise-canceling earbuds and fall asleep in one, easily missing a flight. Though, I have to figure if the gate agents were trying to track down a missing passenger it wouldn’t be hard to find that one laggard sleeping in the corner.
Virtually every seat in the terminal has some sort of power source, even the couches. It’s those little touches that set Paine Field aside from the rest. This is not just a great small airport terminal. It’s a great airport terminal, with much more in the way of passenger-friendly amenities.
One of my pet peeves at airports is the lack of clean and functional bathrooms. Again, Paine Field feels more like a private lounge than a terminal, since the bathrooms are individual multi-gender rooms. They were obviously spotless on day one, something I expect far into the future.
Another unique element to Paine Field is that it opens with a full complement of flights. Alaska Airlines and United will combine for 24 daily departures to the following destinati0ons:
- Denver (DEN)
- Las Vegas (LAS)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Phoenix (PHX)
- Portland, Oregon (PDX)
- San Diego (SAN)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- San Jose (SJC)
- Santa Ana (SNA)
For folks looking to use Paine Field as their airport, they’ll find service beyond the initial hub offerings we would expect. Flights to Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Francisco can take you pretty much anywhere in the world with connecting flights.
Paine Field is located about 30 minutes north of downtown Seattle. Speaking with a friend of mine that lives east of downtown, he found the drive up to Paine Field on the first day easier than the drive to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport since he was working against traffic. For anyone who lives on the north side of downtown, Paine Field figures to be a blessing when it comes to traffic. The only downside is that there’s no direct train service to the terminal like SeaTac, though there is a planned train to shuttle bus combination that would have frequent service.
The airport was abuzz with celebration on day one, with no less than 2 ribbon cuttings and the unveiling of a statue. While Mr. Smith may seem to have done everything else right, he had a lovable moment of comedy when he chose to try to christen the new building.
Inside, we were treated to brunch, complete with pastry, breakfast sandwiches, fruit and wonderful artisanal cheeses. There were a few aviation geeks, and some memorabilia both in the display cases and accompanying a few guests. As well, there were members of the airlines and Boeing on the first commercial flight to Las Vegas. There were also plenty of people who just needed to get to Vegas. Business travelers stood lining one wall waiting for boarding to start. And, a handful of leisure travelers sat patiently near the customized boarding carpets.
There was a brief opportunity where I got to roam around on the tarmac with Seth from PaxEx.aero as the private charter was preparing for take-off. Special thanks to Bonnie from Alaska Airlines for making that happen.
After the celebration wound down in the terminal, it was time to board the flight. One last treat for this airport versus many small and large airport were the glass jet bridges. Typically, standing on a jet bridge is a pretty mundane activity. The normal traveler won’t spend much time waiting on a jet bridge, but the natural light and the chance to sneak a peek at a Boeing delivery is an example of Paine Field focusing on small details.
Onboard, there were actually just a few empty seats. The first flight is probably not a good barometer of demand on these flights. Alaska Airlines had a few treats for passengers to take with them. Alas, my chocolate bar didn’t survive the 2-hour flight.
The pilot welcomed us with some history on Paine Field and the importance of the day. We proceeded through a water cannon salute and were first for take-off, quickly in the sky on the way to Las Vegas. With applause on both take-off and landing, and a bit of festivities when we landed in Vegas, Paine Field was back to offering commercial flights. The future appears bright for the nicest airport in the United States.
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