EVERETT — When Lynnwood resident Aristotle Roberts arrived at Paine Field at 3:12 p.m. on Monday from San Francisco International Airport, he was greeted with a bottle of Champagne as he became the one millionth passenger to pass through the terminal gates at the Snohomish County airport.

Just nine days before the anniversary of the opening of Paine Field’s commercial terminal, the milestone was a big one for the small airport.

To celebrate, the airport awarded Roberts with one million days of free parking at Paine Field, two free round-trip flights to any destination served by Alaska Airlines or United Airlines from Paine Field, and the bottle of Dom Pérignon.

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“Hitting a million passengers in under a year demonstrates the appreciation regional travelers have for Paine Field and the idea that you can use public-private partnerships to achieve civil projects to benefit the public, not only here in metro Seattle, but around the country,” said Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, the firm that designed, built and operates the Paine Field passenger terminal.

A year into operations, Paine Field has already become a frequently used favorite of travelers around Snohomish County and Seattle’s North End who are relieved to no longer have to fight traffic down to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when flying to destinations along the West Coast. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines have responded to that demand by adding flights at Paine Field.

When Paine Field first opened its passenger terminal on March 4 last year, Alaska Airlines was operating only three daily flights, the airport parking lots were practically empty, security lines were no more than a few passengers long, and the lounge, still awaiting construction of the Beecher’s cafe, was roomy, underpopulated and relaxed.

A year later, 24 daily flights operate out of the small Everett airport via United and Alaska Airlines, serving 12 cities in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.  This month, Alaska Airlines announced upcoming nonstop service to Boise, Idaho, out of Paine Field that will begin in June. Monthly passenger traffic has increased from 47,428 travelers in March 2019, to 71,022 this February. The Beecher’s cafe is open and bustling around takeoff time, and the airport’s four parking lots are well populated. Last August, during the height of the summer travel season, Paine Field saw as many as 98,068 passengers.

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Nonetheless, the airport still boasts a relaxed atmosphere and personal touches. The atrium where ticket counters are located has a hotel-lobby feel, and if you so choose, there’s even a valet to help park your car. The promise of getting from the curb to your seat in the airport lounge in 10 minutes is still a reality with security lines that are never more than four or five passengers long. Even with short security lines, though, Smith urges travelers to arrive early to make airline workers’ preboarding processes easier.

There were no lines to pass through security at Paine Field’s commercial passenger terminal in Everett Monday morning. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
There were no lines to pass through security at Paine Field’s commercial passenger terminal in Everett Monday morning. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Smith said his focus is still on maintaining quality service as the airport celebrates the past year’s growth.

“I view this more as checking in to a hotel,” he said. “The problem with too much growth is it’s almost impossible to provide a personalized experience. That’s going to be the trick as we grow — to maintain this level of service.”

Smith treats Paine Field like his home away from home. In the lounge, he just had a telescope from a World War II battleship installed after he discovered it at an antique store in New York. When we stopped to take a look at the Beecher’s cafe that provides all the food at the airport, Smith paused to pick up a crumb he spied on the cafe’s floor. Later, he seemed dismayed to note a barely detectable fray in the carpet by one of the terminals.

Paine Field’s commercial passenger terminal features a telescope from a World War II battleship. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Paine Field’s commercial passenger terminal features a telescope from a World War II battleship. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

“The terminal has worn well because we use quality materials,” he said. Indeed, the terminals look only improved since the first flights took off from the airport last year.

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Smith’s attention to detail seems to be paying off with customers.

One traveler from British Columbia stopped Smith in the terminal to tell him what a happy surprise his Paine Field experience had been.

“It’s so un-airport-like. It’s more like a home. The design creates a less stressful experience,” the traveler told Smith.

For Jennifer Trumbull, an Army engineer and writer who flies nearly every month with her partner and her service dog Sophie Anne, the convenience of Paine Field is that she gets to avoid highway traffic to get there.

Coming from the Marysville Armed Forces Reserve Center, Trumbull said she can’t get out of work early enough to navigate traffic all the way to Sea-Tac. Although she has had two early-morning flights from Paine Field get canceled and moved to afternoon flights, she said the convenience of getting to and from the Everett airport is worth it.

Flying out of Paine Field for the first time, Whidbey Island resident Fran Kendall said she was impressed by how stress-free the experience is, noting that the airport isn’t busy and the staff are very nice. Kendall enjoyed her experience so much that she immediately went online to see where else she can fly to from Paine Field.

So what’s in store for Paine Field?

Smith foresees a long life span for the airport and plans to continue improving the customer experience.

The airport will soon offer individual-sized luggage carts for travelers at no cost, and Smith is currently working on two larger projects to improve customer convenience: He is hoping to get approval from Snohomish County to create a cellphone waiting lot, and eventually hopes to have rental cars on site at the airport (right now, travelers have to take a shuttle van from rental car sites to the airport).

According to Smith, Paine Field is currently at its maximum capacity for flights, but he anticipates adding maybe one or two more destinations in the future, depending on what customers are most interested in.

“Everyone asks for Hawaii,” Smith said. “I’d love to see a Dallas or Chicago flight. We really serve nearly every major West Coast city right now, [and fly] as far east as Denver.”