The concierge at the door, who steps from behind a desk that features a tasteful vase of jellybeans, is your first clue that Paine Field is no Sea-Tac. Luciano DeLuca warmly greets travelers who enter the new commercial airport just south of Everett, in a soaring atrium where the departures display recalls a classic Solari board—those vintage split-flap signs you’d see in a midcentury European train station.
When PAE (that’s its official code) opened last March, it wasn’t meant to replace our massive international hub down south. Private operator Propeller Airports styled Paine—with just three gates—as a posh private lounge that everyone’s allowed to enter. CEO Brett Smith brings in flowers himself to decorate among cushy leather seats and two fireplaces. Every bathroom has its own sink and full-length mirror. The wood ceiling hails from Switzerland, the glassworks from Germany. And since it shares a runway with the Boeing factory, small commercial airliners take off among brand-new jets.
Flights out of Paine, all on Alaska or United, aren’t necessarily pricier than those from Sea-Tac (credit the byzantine mystery of airline pricing for that). Call it one more sign—along with improving highways, greener ferries, and the glimmer of high-speed rail on the horizon—that Pacific Northwest travel is getting easier. Or at least cushier, with candy.
Bye, the Numbers
Paine Field Airport
- Distance from Downtown Seattle: 23 miles
- Daily Flights: 24 from two airlines
- Farthest-Flung Destinations: Palm Springs, Denver, Phoenix (plus cross-state service to Spokane)
- Pre-Flight Snacks: Beecher’s dishes mac, soups, and a Brett’s Tuna sandwich named for the airport’s CEO. Caffe Vita handles coffee, while Upper Case Bar pours Georgetown brews and mimosa flights.
- Best Upgrade: Valet parking costs no more than regular spots ($30 per day), which means the journey from car to gate takes less than 10 minutes.
- Distance from Downtown Seattle: 14 miles
- Daily Flights: An average of about 1,200 from 29 airlines
- Farthest-Flung Destinations: Singapore, Dubai, Reykjavik (and, starting in 2020, Munich and Montreal)
- Pre-Flight Snacks: A recent push brings outposts of local eateries, like Skillet and the new Poke to the Max, with a Salty’s and Sunset Fried Chicken due in 2020.
- Best Upgrade: When Elliott Bay Book Company opened in Concourse C in October, the airport’s culture cred went from “has a Sub Pop store” to off the charts.
Fifteen years after Congress passed the Real ID Act, it will finally affect air travel in Washington on October 1. To pass through security, you’ll need upgraded documentation like an Enhanced Driver License or passport.
The Access Airport
Recently Sea-Tac launched a series of services specifically for passengers with disabilities, including:
► Sunflower lanyards for those with hidden disabilities like autism or PTSD, to alert staff a traveler may need assistance.
► New technology that amplifies flight announcements for anybody with hearing aids and cochlear implants.
► Five new wheelchair accessible taxis.
When Ferries Turn Green
The three largest boats in the Washington State Ferries fleet will soon convert from diesel to hybrid battery power, the result of $35 million from the 2017 Volkswagen settlement (from when the car maker violated the Clean Air Act). Plus, ferry captains now have exclusive access to a Whale Report Alert System to help them avoid orcas.
Snoqualmie Pass 2.0
The 15 miles of I-90 that cross the Cascades crest are halfway through an $883 million remodel that spans nearly two decades: more lanes, better avalanche bridges, and wildlife-only bridges. Consider this year a breather of sorts; Phase 3—a wider freeway with fewer stomach-churning curves on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass—could start as early as 2021, depending on the state budget landscape.
$108 billion: Projected cost of adding one more lane in each direction to I-5 in Washington state alone.
Where’s Our Supertrain?
A 2019 WSDOT study (partially funded by Microsoft) suggests that an ultra-high-speed train from Vancouver, BC, to Portland would run at 220 mph and cost a mere $42 billion. But its 3 million yearly riders would pay for its operational costs by 2055.
45 percent: Discount on train tickets when a group of six passengers purchases with Amtrak’s recently expanded Share Fares.