The first flights from the new commercial passenger terminal at Paine Field took off this week to the excitement of many travelers who live north of Seattle. In the spirit of investigation, we sent a reporter to fly out of Paine Field and report back on her experience.

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The first flights out of Paine Field’s new commercial passenger terminal took off Monday with a great deal of fanfare, and to the delight of many travelers living north of Seattle who will now be spared the long trek to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Alaska Airlines offers 18 daily flights from Paine Field, and United Airlines has plans to operate two routes from Paine Field starting March 31. So, when I was assigned a story in Los Angeles this month, I booked my trip from Paine Field to find out exactly what it’s like to fly out of the new terminal.

Getting there

After weighing options to get to Paine Field from my home in Queen Anne — $20 per day overnight parking, taking three different buses, or shelling out $47.81 for a ride-share — I opted for the pricey ride-share. The ride took 40 minutes door-to-door during rush hour on a Wednesday morning. (In comparison, a ride-share from central Seattle to Sea-Tac costs about $15 less and takes 25 to 45 minutes, depending on traffic.) For Snohomish County residents, Paine Field is definitely a convenient alternative to Sea-Tac.

[Related | How the first day of commercial flights from Paine Field went]

Arrival at Paine Field

Paine Field’s new commercial passenger terminal is small, with just two ticket counters and six self-check-in machines. The security screening area is about 20 paces from the ticketing area and the departure gates a short walk from there. If you didn’t have to take off your shoes and scan your bags at security, you could walk the whole terminal in a couple of minutes.

Heather Willey with Alaska Airlines checks in customers on Alaska Flight  2878 to Portland on Monday. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Heather Willey with Alaska Airlines checks in customers on Alaska Flight 2878 to Portland on Monday. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

When I arrived at the Paine Field terminal at 9:30 a.m., the thruway was empty and my Lyft was one of only two cars unloading passengers directly in front of the sliding doors to the ticketing area. Before I could even muster up enough confusion to look lost, I was greeted at the door by a staff member who directed me to the self-check-in and hovered nearby ready to help.

A handful of passengers wandered the ticketing area, each attended by a staffer. Four of the six self-check-in machines stood unoccupied. I was swiftly ticketed and ready for the true test of any airport — security.

Getting through security

If you’ve flown out of Sea-Tac, you know to look for the floating “Line starts here” or “End of Line” signs and ropes that guide you along a long, zigzag path to the security checkpoint. At Paine Field, the zigzag ropes are there, but the slow shuffling lines are not (at least not yet, anyway).

There were more TSA agents at security than there were passengers to screen. So of course things went a lot faster, but it also made for extra time to be thorough. Shoes came off, the laptops came out and one of the four of us in line was pulled aside for extra screening. Even so, we were all through security and at the gate in 10 minutes.

Total time from curb to the gate: 14 minutes.

At the gate

All security woes were quickly forgotten when I wandered into the lounge area by the gates. Fireplaces, couches and lounge chairs positioned by the wall of windows that overlook the tarmac and make you feel like you’ve walked into a private club.

There is, indeed, an airport bar: Upper Case Bar is small but well-stocked and, at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, well-populated too.

The advertised Caffe Vita and Beecher’s Homemade Cheese shops weren’t up and running yet, but the bar menu offered a couple of Beecher’s cheese boards and a selection of wraps and sandwiches. Coffee drinks were also available.

I ordered the roasted yam wrap ($8.99) and was not disappointed. It was pre-made, but it was a nice change from the rotation of tuna/ham/turkey options that are standard fare at most larger airports.

The lounge at Paine Field creates a cozy atmosphere with several couches, two fireplaces and wall-to-ceiling windows looking out at the tarmac.  (Crystal Paul / The Seattle Times)
The lounge at Paine Field creates a cozy atmosphere with several couches, two fireplaces and wall-to-ceiling windows looking out at the tarmac. (Crystal Paul / The Seattle Times)

Travelers sipped cocktails at the bar and peppered the bartender with questions about upcoming lounge offerings. Some folks worked on laptops at cafe tables nearby, but most travelers lingered on the couches in front of fireplaces or found seats that looked out at the unusually large number of bright-yellow-jacketed staff on the tarmac, some of them clearly undergoing training.

Even as flights came in and the lounge and gate areas filled with new passengers, there were plenty of seats for strangers to keep a comfortable distance from each other.

Getting off the ground

Boarding was a breeze — with fewer passengers and a smaller plane, everyone was on board and seated in about 20 minutes.

Cold temperatures necessitated de-icing, so the plane stayed on the tarmac for an extra 30 minutes to be de-iced. Our flight attendant apologized over the speakers, noting that the de-icing staff were new and still training, “so let’s give them a break.” She also apologized that there would be no food service on the plane due to “improper catering.”

Maybe it was the low-stress process leading up to then, but there wasn’t a single groan or dissatisfied whisper from the passengers.

Our verdict

If you live north of Seattle, flying out of Paine Field on West Coast trips is a no-brainer. And although it is a longer journey for travelers from downtown Seattle or South Seattle, it could still be worth the extra time (and money) on the road if you’re looking to avoid Sea-Tac’s crowds, want a stress-free experience and would like to sit by a nice, cozy fireplace as you wait to board your plane.


If you go

  • Arrive early and bask. You probably don’t need to arrive two hours early at Paine Field, but you might want to anyway just to enjoy a good book and a glass of wine by the fire.
  • Pack light. Shorter flights usually mean smaller planes, which mean less overhead-bin space (on the flip side, it also means no uncomfortable middle seats). So, if you’re not checking a suitcase, pack a bag that will fit under the seat in front of you.