SeaTac Airport Adding Remote Stands As Means Of “Crisis Management”

Filed Under: Misc.

One thing I think we often take for granted in the US is that very few airports use remote stands. That means airports have enough gates to accommodate all passengers, which you’d think would be common sense long term, but it’s not.

Heck, even the new Hamad International Airport in Doha (which Qatar Airways modestly refers to as the “state of the art gateway to the world”) uses remote stands. How a brand new airport intended to allow further growth uses remote stands sort of blows my mind.

Qatar Airways 777 Doha Airport

Outside the US — in particular in Asia and Europe — that’s not the case. Many airports rely almost exclusively on remote stands to load and unload passengers. There aren’t many things more unpleasant than being crammed into a bus with dozens upon dozens of people only to be driven around by someone who thinks they’re a race car driver.

The only positive thing about remote stands is that they mean you can walk on the tarmac, which leads to some nice plane views, at least!

Qatar Airways 777 Cairo Airport

Which brings us to Seattle Tacoma Airport. The airport is perhaps one of the biggest US airport success stories in recent years. Not only has Delta added a ton of flights to Seattle (and it hopes to triple its presence there), but Seattle has also seen a lot of new international growth. Heck, Emirates even flies to Seattle twice a day now, thanks to their partnership with Alaska Airlines.

Emirates 777

SeaTac Airport is having a hard time keeping up with the increased demand, so will have to begin to use buses to get passengers to their flights. Via the Puget Sound Business Journal, which quotes the airport’s managing director:

“The growth has been so explosive, so fast, that we have not been able to build fast enough to accommodate,” he said. “We have to bus people to remote gates next year.”

He said he had just emerged from a meeting with airlines, none of which are happy with the prospect of putting their passengers on buses, especially in rainy Seattle.

“It’s a very complex thing; we’re breaking new ground here — not many U.S. airports do this,” he said.

The good news is that this is only a temporary solution:

Reis hastens that this is only a short-term fix, until the port builds eight new gates now finalized, and another 35 more being planned.

“It’s nothing we want to do forever,” Reis said. “This is a crisis management undertaking.”

You’ve gotta love that the airport’s managing director views using remote stands as a “crisis management undertaking!” If only airports outside the US viewed it in the same way.

  1. Meh. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I live in YYJ. I’m not made of sugar, and therefore I won’t melt in the rain.

  2. I use to work down at the S gates and there is no room, because if the morning EK is late it messes with ANA which can mess with BA KE LH and OZ because they all use 777s except for LH which uses 747s and there is maybe 4 common use gates at the S gates that if planed right they can all fit at the same time. If you get unlucky and they all come in at around 11 ish you run into issues. One would hope they put the HU flights at the remote stands because they are the smallest airplanes.

  3. LAX has a purpose built remote stand for AA 777-ER 300s. If you are there at the very start of boarding, you can take the less crowded premium cabin bus. If you arrive late, or linger in the Flagship Lounge, you get crammed in with the hoi polloi. But at least when you get off the bus there is a freestanding building with an indoor ramp to the airplane door.

  4. “There aren’t many things more unpleasant than being crammed into a bus with dozens upon dozens of people only to be driven around by someone who thinks they’re a race car driver.”

    How about being crammed in a bus with dozens upon dozens of people for a 6+hr journey, like millions of people do all the time!

  5. I’ve never understood remote stands in Europe and elsewhere earlier. I feel like terminals in the US are always crowded, yet you board directly from the terminal. I find that terminals in Europe often seem empty, yet you board from a remote stand. I don’t get it. My only theory is that airports give airlines two different fees, one for a gate and one for a remote stand and the remote stand is cheaper so the airlines pick that.
    At TXL once, I walked down stairs to the tarmac at an empty jet bridge, across the tarmac and up stairs into an AF flight. Why not just pull the plane up to the gate!
    Other times we’ve been in a nearly empty terminal with lots of open gates and still have to board a bus to get to the plane.

  6. Jeremy wins my new Most Illiterate Post of the Day prize. The first sentence, from the second word on, is truly spectacular — like Mount Rushmore only longer.

  7. They Don’t use them as much at Hamad now. They used them a lot more when the airport first opened. Luckily I’ve never had to use the dreaded buses at Hamad because the experience was horrific at the old airport!

    There are lots of expansions to come including terminal 2 so hopefully the buses will be gone for good soon!

  8. “There aren’t many things more unpleasant than being crammed into a bus with dozens upon dozens of people only to be driven around by someone who thinks they’re a race car driver.”

    How about helplessly waiting on a plane sitting on the tarmac after landing waiting for your gate to open up, watching the minutes tick by and praying that your connecting flight is held?

  9. Yes, why on earth do they use them so much outside the US. My theory aligned with Tom’s but I just never got it.

  10. I flew out of Doha a couple of weeks go on a Qatar flight to Oslo and the aircraft used a remote stand.

    I didn’t mind much as it was my first time on a Dreamliner so the view from the tarmac was great, however the area where we boarded the bus was quite dark, causing an older lady to twist her ankle on the curb and face plant onto the ground. Not a great start to a holiday!

  11. For everyone asking why it’s used so much in Europe:

    1. It’s not used that much.
    2. There’s often less space.
    3. It’s cheaper.

    I assume Europeans are also more used to public transit (i.e. buses) and/or walking in everyday life. I rarely hear anyone complain about how horrific walking up and down some stairs or standing on a bus for 3 minutes is.

  12. LCC airlines in Europe almost religiously use remote gates because it’s cheaper. Airports actually make money by charging for the use of their facilities. If a remote stand is cheaper than an air bridge gate, then certainly many LCCs will go for the remote stand.

    Of course, capacity issues are another reason to use remote stands. While most people would prefer the air bridge, I’m certainly not so keen to use one if I have to wait half an hour on the tarmac for one to become available versus five minutes on a bus. Personally, I find option A much more unpleasant than option B. Just look at how many people (especially in economy) jump up as if they were in a toaster when the plane lands even if the doors aren’t open yet (or, more worryingly, seemingly as soon as the first tyre makes contact with the runway, which I’ve seen far too much of).

    Perhaps airports using remote gates regularly could ensure plentiful buses for passengers so it’s not quite like a sardine tin, but there are worse things in the world. After all, I’ve done the remote stand in the middle of the night at Harbin Airport in late December (temp.: about -20C) and survived, so my advice is to harden up.

    My only issue would be how airlines/airports handle passengers with mobility issues. Obviously a wheelchair user isn’t going to handle the stairs too well, for example. Does anyone know what the procedures for such passengers are, out of curiosity?

  13. FRA – We arrived on a 747. Waited for a bus. Waited to fill it. Bussed to a far terminal. Unloaded, long walk, through security, on a train, walked across another terminal. Told the gate was changed to the other side of the terminal. Arrived at the gate, not ready to accept people. Waited. Loaded on to buses. Bussed to airplane parked next to the plane we came in on.
    Then waited 30 minutes for the last bus of people, missed our slot to LHR, waited 45 mins for next slot.
    Remote stands suck. Hard.

  14. I’ve had a rant at LH and FRA airport a few times before for their treatment of passengers incoming from LCY. The point of LCY is that it’s close to the City of London, and it allows 10mn check-in (20 if you’re checking hold luggage), short security, and very short trips to planes. You typically exit the terminal building to enter a small plane that’s no more than 30 metres away (I’ll take pictures next time I’m there).

    But on arrival at FRA, taxi can take up to 20 minutes to a remote stand, from which it takes a good 15 minute bus ride to the terminal. Kind of missing the point of using the small, quick LCY aiport. God I hate those.

  15. I feel that people often overlook that buses could actually make the entire process somewhat more efficient. Jet bridges are very convenient in the sense that you don’t have to cram into a bus, and you’re sheltered all the way there – but for transit, they can be a nightmare. It simply means that there’s more area to cover on foot, even if inside one terminal, not to mention transferring between terminals. This is where bus transits become quite efficient:
    (arrive -> bus -> (only) terminal -> short walk to transit gate -> bus -> depart); compared to
    (arrive -> walk through terminal 1 -> transit to another terminal, by BUS, train or worse, walking -> enter terminal X -> walk to gate at the other end of the terminal -> depart).

    Take away the bus and replace it with a Mercedes S-class. Instead of the commoners’ terminal, replace it with an exclusive one. What do you get? Oh wait – isn’t that the entire set up of the Lufthansa First Class Terminal?

    I don’t argue that cramming a lot of people inside the bus isn’t quite the pleasant experience we’re hoping for – but it ain’t so bad in some airports that aren’t otherwise transit-friendly either (*ahem* Heathrow, *ahem* JFK, *ahem* DFW, *ahem* etc)

  16. Ben,

    Or, the Airport Commission could have let Southwest (and the Bargain Bin Carriers) fly out of Boeing Field, as they wanted to, and there’d be plenty of gate space… Problem Solved!

  17. Slow news day? I mean… the article just states so many obvious things: a) SeaTac has an expanding traffic. b) Has not had time to build-up more (but will eventually come). c) Hence you need remote stands.

    This resumes the article. Saves some space and bandwidth. This blog is getting boring.

  18. Airports absolutely charge less for remote stands, hence why they’re used so much overseas. I believe they also charge for buses, which is why they cram people into as few as possible.

    Using a remote stand for a short-haul narrowbody flight is annoying but tolerable. What I really object to is using remote stands for long-haul widebody flights. I flew LHR-JFK on a BA 744 back in September and was shocked to find we were leaving from a remote stand. Seriously, why would one of your largest planes flying your flagship route not get a jetbridge? Even the cabin crew I talked to were surprised!

    I didn’t think anything could be more ridiculous than that until my JFK-DXB flight on EK a couple weeks ago where they parked the A380 (seriously, an A380!) at a remote stand. Not only that, there were 2 more A380s sitting on the ramp next to us! I was dumbfounded. At least EK had a dedicated bus for F passengers. It was actually really nice – just 14 plush leather throne seats for the max 14 passengers in the F cabin. The crew also held back all the Y and J passengers until everyone in F was off the plane. Unfortunately, the bus disgorged us into the chaotic transfer zone at T3 with hundreds of other passengers and no priority line at security.

  19. I fly Aeroflot a lot, and I don’t get why they use remote stands at their hub (Sheremetyevo) and other airports when many gates are sitting empty. I never know when I fly between Moscow and Vladivostok, or Moscow and other European cities, which I’ll get. Last time I flew from Moscow to Vladivostok, we were bused to a remote stand to one of their 777’s (which was so full that many people were bumped), but there were many gates that were just empty. Same when we landed at VVO. VVO is small, with only 5 gates, but when we arrived, 4 of them were empty (an S7 plane occupied one gate). It seems to me that Aeroflot is too cheap to pay for the gate slots?

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