The first commercial flight from Snohomish County's Paine Field was an Alaska Airlines flight to Portland. The new, two-gate passenger terminal opens up more options for travelers from the Greater Seattle area.

Share story

Aviation enthusiasts, politicians and airline brass crowded into the new Paine Field terminal Monday morning to celebrate the airport’s first commercial flight.

The new, two-gate passenger terminal in Everett will soon offer as many as 24 flights a day.

The 10 a.m. inaugural flight, bound for Portland, carried passengers invited by the company that operates the terminal. The flight included local politicians and others who helped make commercial flights from Paine Field a reality. The second flight of the day, to Las Vegas, was the first to be open to the public.

One passenger on that Las Vegas flight was David Barrett, who lives down the road from Paine Field in Mukilteo and was wearing a T-shirt that read, “I (heart) jet noise.”

Barrett, who said he flies more than 100 times a year, was so excited for commercial service at his neighborhood airport that he flew back from work in Hong Kong on Sunday night just so he could be on the first Paine Field flight he could get on.

“We caught an Uber five minutes before having to be here, instead of having to get up at 3:30 to get to Sea-Tac,” he said.

That convenience factor was also a common refrain from people waiting to board a noon flight to Phoenix.

Brothers Randy and Danny Holland were flying to Phoenix to help take care of their mother. Randy Holland had zero complaints about getting to Paine Field from his home in Woodinville. “I was able to take the bus from my house,” 62-year-old Randy said. “Made a transfer and walked through the front door.”

Danny Holland, who lives in Snohomish, concurred. “If I don’t have to drive all the way to Sea-Tac, hallelujah,” he said, smiling broadly.

Alaska Airlines will offer 18 daily flights from Paine Field to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, according to its website. Tickets to Portland begin at $44; other destinations cost $64 to $114, according to the site.

United Airlines plans to fly from Paine Field to San Francisco and Denver starting March 31, according to the airport’s website.

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said the new terminal and commercial-flight offerings raise Everett’s profile and are needed for a growing Snohomish County.

“It changes everything,” she said. “Our businesses and families are now one step away from the cities they travel to.”

Snohomish County officials have touted commercial service as a convenient alternative to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that will bring business to the area. But not all residents are happy with the new arrangement, out of concern for a potential increase in pollution and traffic.

An environmental assessment released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in September found that the proposed 24 daily flights wouldn’t have a significant impact on traffic or noise.

The $40 million passenger terminal is operated by Propeller Airports, a subsidiary of New York-based private equity firm Propeller Investments.

The boarding area has floor-to-ceiling windows, spotless carpet, a bar, eight individual gender-neutral restrooms and two family restrooms. A Beecher’s cheese shop is slated to open soon.

For passengers who don’t use public transportation or a ride-hailing service, the short-term parking lot is across the street from the terminal. Parking tops out at $30 a day. A long-term lot is a five-minute walk to the terminal and tops out at $20 a day.

Propeller Airports CEO Brett Smith led the grand-opening ceremonies Monday morning. As journalists and invited guests looked on, Smith tried to shatter a bottle of Veuve Clicquot against the front of the terminal. After three failed attempts, he popped the cork instead, sending a stream of bubbly about 20 feet in the air. He was then able to break the nearly empty bottle against the building.

Paine Field is expected to eventually serve 1.4 million passengers a year, according to a statement from Snohomish County. An analysis by the FAA projects about 656,000 passengers boarding at Paine Field in 2019 and 736,000 in 2024.

The FAA first approved commercial flights from Paine Field in 2012. After Alaska, United and Southwest Airlines proposed carrying more passengers there each day than originally approved, the FAA needed to do a second environmental review, delaying the airport’s opening from last fall to this year. The opening was delayed an additional three weeks due to the recent federal government shutdown.

Southwest pulled out of Paine Field plans in November, transferring its five landing spots there to Alaska Air.

Paine Field, also known as Snohomish County Airport, is a workhorse, providing Boeing with a runway for testing and delivering its widebody jets. Private small-plane owners, as well as flight schools, also use the airport. Snohomish County, which owns the land, worked with a private developer to build the passenger terminal.

Marla Parelet, a passenger on the noon flight to Phoenix, splits her time between there and Mukilteo. She planned to meet her husband at the Phoenix airport, where they would exchange house keys and he would fly into Paine Field. Not only is flying from Paine Field more convenient for Parelet, it made sense to her after working at Boeing for 27 years. “There are so many good things about this,” she said.

The first flight, to Portland, boarded in a brisk 10 minutes and was off the ground at 10:02, two minutes past its 10 a.m. listed departure. The plane taxied to the north, swung around and took off southward. People pressed against the terminal windows to watch the plane race past, and they cheered as it left the runway.

The first fully commercial flight, to Las Vegas, departed just after its listed takeoff at 10:30 a.m. By then, most of the onlookers had left. One person clapped twice as the muffled white noise of the airport took over the morning’s cheerleading.

Previous reporting from Seattle Times staff reporters Asia Fields and Dominic Gates is included in this story.