United Airlines Ends Paine Field Flights

United Airlines Ends Paine Field Flights

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In 2019 we saw Paine Field-Snohomish County Airport (PAE) open a passenger terminal, allowing airlines to launch commercial service to the airport. Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA) was growing at a fast pace, so the intent of the airport was to give North Sound residents a convenient second airport in Everett.

This airport is also pretty cool for avgeeks, as it’s home to Boeing, so there are some awesome plane spotting opportunities from the terminal.

Well, unfortunately things aren’t looking particularly good for commercial service at the airport.

United Airlines ending Paine Field flights in October 2021

United Airlines has announced that it’s ending flights to Paine Field as of October 5, 2021, due to “demand trends.” For some context:

  • United Airlines first launched flights to Paine Field in early 2019, initially flying to both Denver and San Francisco
  • Then in early 2020 the airline ended the Paine Field to San Francisco route, while now the airline is ending its Paine Field to Denver route
  • This service all along has been operated by United Express, using Embraer 175 regional jets
  • At this point United is consolidating Seattle-area service at Seattle Tacoma International Airport, which offers service to most United hubs
United Airlines is pulling out of Paine Field

Passenger service doesn’t seem to be going well

Initially when it was announced that Paine Field would open to passenger flights, there was a limit of 24 passenger flights per day. Alaska, Southwest, and United, all immediately announced plans to launch flights to the airport, locking other airlines out of airport.

The passenger terminal at Paine Field

Unfortunately it has all been downhill from there, in the sense that the airport is down to just one airline:

  • Southwest initially announced plans to launch five daily flights to Paine Field, but canceled flights before launch
  • United initially announced plans to launch six daily flights to Paine Field; now United is pulling out altogether
  • Even pre-pandemic, there were slots available at the airport, yet no airlines were interested in adding service

Fortunately Alaska seems to be doing reasonably well at Paine Field:

  • Alaska plans to operate 13 daily flights from Paine Field as of the fall of 2021
  • Alaska plans to operate 18 daily flights from Paine Field as of the spring of 2022
Alaska Airlines’ planned Paine Field routes

Presumably the airline could get even more slots if it wanted, given that there’s no other service at the airport. I also can’t help but wonder if Alaska is actually doing well at Paine Field, or has just maintained service since it would be strange for the “hometown” airline to fully drop service at the airport.

Furthermore, while adding routes in spring 2022 sounds great, that’s potentially nearly a year from now, and a lot can change. There would be merit to Alaska announcing a route it’s not necessarily committed to, just to keep other airlines away.

Even with Alaska adding routes out of the airport, one can’t help but wonder how the economics are working out for the airport. All of Alaska’s flights at Paine Field are operated by Horizon regional jets, featuring 76 seats — that’s not a lot of daily passengers.

Alaska Airlines is the only remaining airline at Paine Field

Bottom line

Paine Field’s new passenger terminal opened in 2019, and it was supposed to usher in a new era of airline service for those living in the North Sound. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked out all that well up until now — Southwest never ended up flying to Paine Field, while United is now ending service as well.

Alaska has maintained service at the airport, but has also modified its route network, clearly using a trial-and-error approach. While there’s a significant population in the area, the Paine Field passenger experiment doesn’t seem to be going as well as hoped.

What’s your take on United pulling out of Paine Field? Why do you think it’s not working out?

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  1. David Lamb

    As a Seattle native, I know that market pretty well. The problem with Paine Field is twofold: First, the limited routes. Alaska is taking the right approach with Horizon operating from the airport as the Embraer is the right size for that market.

    Second, the proximity of Bellingham and Seattle. Bellingham is doing well because it draws cross border travel. It is also one hour from Everett, so those that live on the north side...

    As a Seattle native, I know that market pretty well. The problem with Paine Field is twofold: First, the limited routes. Alaska is taking the right approach with Horizon operating from the airport as the Embraer is the right size for that market.

    Second, the proximity of Bellingham and Seattle. Bellingham is doing well because it draws cross border travel. It is also one hour from Everett, so those that live on the north side of Everett will go to Bellingham vs. Paine due to traffic through Everett. In this similar theme, Sea-Tac is at worst two hours from Everett and those neighborhoods south of Everett are going to Sea-Tac because of the number of routes available there.

    For Paine to work, it needs to have flights to more destinations, not less. However, that is a problem due to the proximity of two other airports with far more service. It’s a catch-22.

    1. stogieguy7

      As someone not a Seattle native, but who has lived in many metro areas, I have to think that Paine Field would be so much more convenient for anyone who lives north of Seattle - or Kirkland. My understanding is that the traffic through the city is horrible (a phenomena not unique to Seattle) and that the area around Sea-Tac is also very congested. You would think that having an alternative to avoid that would...

      As someone not a Seattle native, but who has lived in many metro areas, I have to think that Paine Field would be so much more convenient for anyone who lives north of Seattle - or Kirkland. My understanding is that the traffic through the city is horrible (a phenomena not unique to Seattle) and that the area around Sea-Tac is also very congested. You would think that having an alternative to avoid that would be attractive to many people.

      That said, UA and WN seem to agree with your thinking.

    2. Notmyname

      Even on the eastside, I can justify flights to/from PAE. The problem, which I suspect is universal, is that AS is usually charging a hefty premium compared to SEA routes. While I wouldn’t mind paying a little bit of a premium to avoid SEA, I often find airfares to be 40-60% more from PAE.

      They aren’t doing themselves any favors with limited routes AND higher pricing. I do wonder if PAE will continue to operate in the long term.

    3. Greg

      Forgot about Bellingham.

      Sounds like a solution in search of a problem already well solved by Bellingham.

    4. Adam

      If Bellingham had worthwhile options I'd go there but it doesn't so I'll drive the 10 extra minutes to Paine to get flights on horizon over risking it with allegiant

  2. Another Lump

    I'm surprised Delta doesn't come in with a couple of flights to SLC and LAX. They always like to stick it to Alaska, even if not commercially viable. Otherwise, seems ripe for a LCC to snap up a few cheap slots in a major market.

    1. SeattleR

      You assume PAE is cheap. It’s a pretty expensive place, with airlines having to pay the County and the private terminal operator to fly there. Additionally, it’s only O&D pax that’ll fly.

  3. Adam

    I lived about 40 minutes north of Everett at the time flights out of Paine field launched. I've flown in and out of SeaTac numerous times but only once out of Paine, never out of Bellingham. The problem with Bellingham is a lack of options. Allegiant is the only airline that really flies anywhere outside of Washington and I'm just not interested in flying with them. If there were options, Bellingham would easily become a...

    I lived about 40 minutes north of Everett at the time flights out of Paine field launched. I've flown in and out of SeaTac numerous times but only once out of Paine, never out of Bellingham. The problem with Bellingham is a lack of options. Allegiant is the only airline that really flies anywhere outside of Washington and I'm just not interested in flying with them. If there were options, Bellingham would easily become a favorite airport for people north of Everett.

    SeaTac we have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it's only 75-90 minutes when traffic isn't bad, so 75-90 minutes away from a major airport with numerous flight options and airlines is great. On the other hand, traffic can be really bad and the airport is very large, meaning you have to allocate more time to your trip just to be able to navigate security and the terminal.

    Most people I know in my area were thrilled about Paine Field opening up. It is a short drive away and the airport is small, meaning you can go from landside to gate in less than 5 minutes. For people looking to spend as little time traveling as possible, Paine is significantly better than SeaTac. If you live in Everett or north, that's 40+ minutes saved driving and probably another 15-30 saved by a smaller airport. Problem is that north of Everett the population is small and south of Everett won't benefit much from Paine Field.

  4. Robert Z.

    I like the idea of Paine field. It’s a great location, fun airport to watch planes, and SeaTac is so busy, the concept of alleviating some of the pains there would be helpful. Unfortunately, I’ve found several barriers:
    1) The biggest is cost. There is such a huge price gap, it’s easier to drive twenty minutes further to SeaTac.
    2) Convenience. Usually, I’m looking to connect to other cities, which is harder to...

    I like the idea of Paine field. It’s a great location, fun airport to watch planes, and SeaTac is so busy, the concept of alleviating some of the pains there would be helpful. Unfortunately, I’ve found several barriers:
    1) The biggest is cost. There is such a huge price gap, it’s easier to drive twenty minutes further to SeaTac.
    2) Convenience. Usually, I’m looking to connect to other cities, which is harder to do at the airports they connect to. Often when I search out of Paine, it frequently brings me back into Seattle for the connecting flight (sometimes for an overnight stay and early morning flight).
    I think working out of Paine Field could be doable (and worthwhile for travelers and airlines) but it might require rethinking some of the strategy (and increasing competition).

    1. Ken Adams

      20 minutes...You're out of your mind

  5. Tad

    For me personally, Paine is much more convenient than SeaTac. Shorter drive, fewer worries about traffic, much less time spent in the terminal. I only wish it served more cities and connections.

    It's sad to see United go. I wonder if the pandemic took away their chance to develop profitable routes from Paine, so they just chose to cut their losses. I hope Alaska sticks around.

  6. David Rishel

    Living on south Whidbey, Paine field has been a good send. I’ve flown out of there over 1/2 dozen times. Well worth the approximate $30 extra from driving to sea-tax. Driving to Bellingham has little benefits over driving to Sea-tac. But I understand getting the right mix of will flights will take some time to figure out. For my 2cents, one to two flights to a multitude of destinations from 8am to 6pm would work...

    Living on south Whidbey, Paine field has been a good send. I’ve flown out of there over 1/2 dozen times. Well worth the approximate $30 extra from driving to sea-tax. Driving to Bellingham has little benefits over driving to Sea-tac. But I understand getting the right mix of will flights will take some time to figure out. For my 2cents, one to two flights to a multitude of destinations from 8am to 6pm would work best for the consumer. Very early and late flights will limit the people wanting to fly those times plus you lose the advantage of missing heavy Seattle traffic.

  7. Ian

    I fly Paine exclusively when I'm going to a served destination. Everything about it is faster and less stress. Where else can you go from lot too gate in under 5 minutes or gate to lot in 60 seconds? If I hail a Lyft right when we touch down, I'll still beat it to the pickup area. SeaTac couldn't manage any of that even during the lowest pandemic travel days.

  8. Dick Bupkiss

    United, and others, are badly missing the point: Seattle's hellish traffic.

    Guess what has been entirely absent for the last 15 months? Commuters on the roads. No numbers after March 2020 mean a thing. The hellish Seattle traffic will be back soon (it's definitely started to come back, though the major tech companies have not yet forced their workers back into their offices, but most will eventually). When the gridlock reappears, the demand for service...

    United, and others, are badly missing the point: Seattle's hellish traffic.

    Guess what has been entirely absent for the last 15 months? Commuters on the roads. No numbers after March 2020 mean a thing. The hellish Seattle traffic will be back soon (it's definitely started to come back, though the major tech companies have not yet forced their workers back into their offices, but most will eventually). When the gridlock reappears, the demand for service out of PAE will reappear too. Half of the metro area's population (everyone who lives north of downtown Seattle) will drive that demand for an alternative to the miserable slog through traffic to Seatac.

    AS should add daily 737 service from PAE to Alaska, even if seasonal (best option for them would be the milk run stopping at a handful of towns in the SE, ending at Anchorage). There are a LOT of businesses in Alaska that are closely tied to places north of Seattle but south of Bellingham and a LOT of people who need to go between.

  9. Erock

    I love Paine Field. By far the nicest domestic airport I've been too. The whole place feels like a lounge.

    Hopefully Alaska picks up some extra slots and gives me even less reasons to drive down to SeaTac.

  10. Frequent Flyer

    Big problem is coordination of Edmonds/Kingston Washington State Ferry service to Paine Firld flight departures. Thousands of travelers in the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas (across the Puget Sound from Seattle who rely on the Kingston ferry for access) would LOVE the convenience of Paine Field but the the earliest ferry from Kingston is frequently seasonal or canceled - crossing at 4:45 am, arriving by 5:15 am - and then another 30-40 minutes on a good...

    Big problem is coordination of Edmonds/Kingston Washington State Ferry service to Paine Firld flight departures. Thousands of travelers in the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas (across the Puget Sound from Seattle who rely on the Kingston ferry for access) would LOVE the convenience of Paine Field but the the earliest ferry from Kingston is frequently seasonal or canceled - crossing at 4:45 am, arriving by 5:15 am - and then another 30-40 minutes on a good day to drive to Paine Field, making it tight for departures before 7:30 a.m. Many airline departures are very early; they'd probably do better business, scooping up Peninsular refugees, with 9 a.m departures. Driving around (sans ferry) to Paine is nixed because Sea-Tac is then closer--it'd be crazy to go the greater distance to Paine Field. So, like a food desert, there's an "airport desert" for many living across the Puget Sound which requires numerous early morning travel gyrations to reach either airport. (A price willingly paid though for the beauty of living "across the pond" from Seattle.) Besides, there are more important things to consider, like the poor citizens of Delaware--the only state in the Union sans regular commercial air service (out of ILG) save for don't make me laugh Frontier on a whimsy flights to Florida.

  11. Tim Dunn

    AS did fairly well with average fares pre-covid but managed to get loads about enough to regularly fill E175s; mainline is just too much, esp. because they will be giving up revenue from SEA - a passenger's primary alternative - in order to make PAE work.
    Second airports are fine but they are costly to develop and might not do much to help AS' position in the PNW. If AS doesn't make PAE work, nobody else is likely going to try.

  12. Adrian Laprise

    The reason united is not getting any business from Paine field is when you book with them they change your flight times which makes it inconvenient after you have already made your travel plans

  13. MoJoe

    Give the gates and slots (at Paine) to Breeze Airways.

    Problem solved.

  14. James22

    Live in Bellingham, and sad to see UA leave Paine. Was also sad to see AS cut some of the routes out of PAE and hopefully as they say those will be restored the next 6-8 months.

    As others have pointed out, flying out of BLI isn't that great. You can fly on Allegiant (not usually in my top 10 options to do), or fly on Horizon to Seattle and connect from there. Problem with...

    Live in Bellingham, and sad to see UA leave Paine. Was also sad to see AS cut some of the routes out of PAE and hopefully as they say those will be restored the next 6-8 months.

    As others have pointed out, flying out of BLI isn't that great. You can fly on Allegiant (not usually in my top 10 options to do), or fly on Horizon to Seattle and connect from there. Problem with that is it isn't cheap to add that leg to/from Seattle.

    I'm excited though as SWA is coming to BLI and will start flying to LAS and OAK. Love the options that would give for us to fly elsewhere without driving to or connecting in SEA. Not first class, but for some of our trips I'll gladly take the convenience to fly into my home airport.

    I am sad UA is pulling out as we've used them the past couple times flying to CZM, with the one connection in DEN. It was cheaper and easier than flying out of SEA for us.

    Of course, now that the border is opening up, we'll go back to flying out of YVR to CZM. First class tickets were usually $150+ cheaper than out of SEA when flying to CZM. And YVR is only an hour or so away from our house (barring traffic....we have Nexus, so border isn't much of an issue).

  15. Brian

    Bring back Portland OR ..please

  16. Carl

    There is no transit at the Paine Field terminal. There are no car rentals at the Paine Field terminal. The only parking lot is the one operated by the airport and it is expensive. There are no security lines but the people staffing security have so much time that they are very picky. Most destinations have one flight a day or at most two. What could possibly go wrong? While the terminal is nice, the drawbacks outweigh the terminal by far.

  17. IanC

    A big part of why PAE struggles in my mind is the combination and mutually reinforcing factors of being dependent on Everett-originating O&D (a lot of which will still go to SEA for more flight options as others point out) and limited transit options. I'm a UW student from California and SFO/SJC-PAE on many occasions tends to be significantly cheaper than SFO/SJC-SEA on both UA and AS. I would be perfectly happy to fly into...

    A big part of why PAE struggles in my mind is the combination and mutually reinforcing factors of being dependent on Everett-originating O&D (a lot of which will still go to SEA for more flight options as others point out) and limited transit options. I'm a UW student from California and SFO/SJC-PAE on many occasions tends to be significantly cheaper than SFO/SJC-SEA on both UA and AS. I would be perfectly happy to fly into PAE as it's roughly a similar distance to the university and doesn't have SEA's crowds. But since I have the option of light rail to SEA, it wins every time over having to figure out a way to get to/from PAE without a car.

  18. Brian LeHuquet

    Living just north of Everett and flying to AZ a few times a year leaves us with a choice, drive to SEA and add 2 hrs drive time and parking costs to your trip, or add $200 they charge to fly the extra 5 minutes to PAE. Usually SEA wins in that scenario and that's unfortunate as I even work on Paine field.
    Also, most people I speak to beg for flights from PAE to ANC. You would think Alaska would have been the first destination from Everett.

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Notmyname

Even on the eastside, I can justify flights to/from PAE. The problem, which I suspect is universal, is that AS is usually charging a hefty premium compared to SEA routes. While I wouldn’t mind paying a little bit of a premium to avoid SEA, I often find airfares to be 40-60% more from PAE. They aren’t doing themselves any favors with limited routes AND higher pricing. I do wonder if PAE will continue to operate in the long term.

Brian LeHuquet

Living just north of Everett and flying to AZ a few times a year leaves us with a choice, drive to SEA and add 2 hrs drive time and parking costs to your trip, or add $200 they charge to fly the extra 5 minutes to PAE. Usually SEA wins in that scenario and that's unfortunate as I even work on Paine field. Also, most people I speak to beg for flights from PAE to ANC. You would think Alaska would have been the first destination from Everett.

Ken Adams

20 minutes...You're out of your mind

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