Southwest Will Fly To Paine Field, Putting The Airport At Capacity

Filed Under: Southwest

Last May plans were announced for Paine Field-Snohomish County Airport to open a passenger terminal. For those of you not familiar, Paine Field is home to Boeing’s Everett Factory, and up until now hasn’t been used for commercial flights. Alaska Airlines saw potential in the airport, however, and announced intentions to begin flying out of Paine Field starting in the fall of 2018.

Alaska Airlines-Paine-Field

Alaska’s logic for adding service out of there is that for many residents North of Seattle, this could save them over an hour of time for their airport commute. That’s a big community, as the North Sound is home to more than a million people.

Initially the airport is limiting itself to 24 daily arrivals and departures (for a total of 48 takeoffs and landings). Just over a week ago Alaska revealed their full plans out of Paine Field — they plan on operating 13 daily nonstop departures to eight cities out of Paine Field, to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.

On top of that, United plans to operate six daily flights out of the airport, to Denver and San Francisco. The opportunity for other airlines to get in one the action was starting to be limited, given that the airport is only open to 24 daily departures, meaning there were five remaining “slots.”

Southwest Airlines has announced that they intend to operate five daily flights to Paine Field starting in the fall of 2018, making them the third airline to fly out of the airport. While Alaska and United plan to use Embraer 175s for their flights, Southwest plans to use 737s, which is the only plane in their fleet. Even though they have the fewest flights of the three airlines, they’ll make up for it with per plane capacity.

Southwest hasn’t yet provided details on the destinations and schedules they’ll offer out of Paine Field, though they plan to do so this spring.

Per The Seattle Times, here’s what Southwest’s CEO had to say about this:

“We’ve wanted to grow in the Seattle metro market for quite some time. But Sea-Tac airport is constrained,” said Southwest Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Kelly in an interview. “Paine Field will be a wonderful alternative for our customers.”

The airport will have only two gates, so they’ll have to work hard to come up with schedules that allow these 24 daily flights to operate. It’s not that the airport is somehow slot restricted, but rather the restriction of 24 daily departures is based on available gate space and also based on environmental assessments they’ve done.

Airport executives were anticipating a maximum of 16 daily departures, so they already have 50% more traffic than they were expecting, and the airport hasn’t even opened:

Brett Smith, chief executive of New York-based private equity firm Propeller Airports, the developer of the passenger terminal, said in May that he anticipated a maximum of 16 departures per day from the airport, based on typical turnaround times for aircraft docking at the new airport’s two gates.

Smith said in an interview Wednesday that even with the higher number of flights, the smaller jets mean the flights will carry fewer than the 3,600 passengers per day (1,800 arriving and 1,800 departing) assumed in the environmental assessment.

His calculation assumes flights will not be completely full.

The airport doesn’t have immediate plans to add more gates and grow, and that’s largely because of the pushback they’d receive from the community over noise concerns. It could very well be that airport executives want to grow, but they certainly won’t admit it for now.

On some level this all feels a bit like when US airlines added flights to Cuba. This is different because there’s a very real (and legal) demand here, and the limits on Cuba flights were based on slots that were limited by the US government. In the case of Paine Field they’re limited by gates, though it seems the strategy is to add as many flights as possible due to the limits. If they don’t work out I assume we’ll see some reductions, but at this point it seems like the three airlines want to keep the airport from their competitors.

I can’t wait to fly into Paine Field on a commercial flight, and am curious to see how the three airlines do. There’s no denying there’s significant demand, though I guess we’ll see if the demand is there for 3,600+ passengers per day.

What do you make of Paine Field being maxed out so quickly?

  1. let’s see …… already 24 announced departures (and might go higher if AA and DL jumps in and see who blinks first) against 2 jet bridges (that can handle 10 flights a day at the best of times unless you start stretching the flights to uncanny 5am or 11pm departures) and at a terminal that only has 16 departures allocated for it ….

    Maybe about 48 hours into service launch and people will start trending a hash tag like

    # Paine Field = # Pain Fueled

  2. I used to live just north of the SnoKing county line, and have been following this closely. There is *absolutely* demand that can be served profitably from Paine Field…Alaska always knew this. I plan to use Paine once it’s operational, if given equal choices between it an SeaTac.

    (I’d hoped for direct service to Spokane, but now it looks like that will be harder to achieve.)

    I suspect once flights have been operating for a while they will be able to add one or two more gates and additional flights. The neighbors just need some time to adjust, and realize it’s not as bad as they feared.

  3. Not surprising WN chose to add flights. They have a pattern of shifting flights to less crowded airports. UA adding flights also makes sense. In the AS/DL war, UA has been the loser at SEA. While AS has maintained its size in SEA and DL grew, UA lost market share, and even closed its SEA flight attendant base in 2014. It will be interesting to watch the demand out of PAE. Especially as Snohomish county continues to grow and many move north for more affordable housing.

  4. @Lucky – any idea how these flights could affect any airline changes at SeaTac?

    Could this free up space for Alaska or Southwest to add more Hawaii flights from SeaTac?

    As for demand , i am sure if fares are right people will drive to Paine Field from Seattle area. People are doing it now to Bellingham as Alaska offers some inexpensive flights to Hawaii from there

  5. Where did you hear that all of AS’ and UA’s flights will be on E175s? From what I remember, UA announced DEN and SFO but didn’t say with what equipment.

  6. Jeez, Henry. Get a friggin writer. That’s awful.

    It’ll be fine. It’s a baby airport that’s slot restricted. AA and DL and whoever else can eff themselves until the airport thinks they’re ready.

    And anything that takes pressure off of SeaTac is great.

  7. How many flight operations per day does Boeing have from Paine field? Is this new commercial service really going to increase the overall number a lot? I would imagine the E175s are pretty quiet compared to all of the heavy Boeings using that field.

  8. Alaska made a good move to increase its plans from 8 to 13 flights. Now it has 13 of 24 flights. Alaska should have announced 16 flights so that there would only be 2 flights left for competitors. WN would not have come in for just 2 flights.

    The NIMBY people shot themselves in the foot. If they didn’t protest much, PAE would only get one Allegiant Airlines flight to LAS and maybe 3 Horizon flights to PDX. Now the NIMBY people pressured them to build a 2 gate terminal which makes airlines try to grab a limited resource, having seen Dallas Love and LaGuardia’s situation.

  9. Great news! Flying from Houston to see my sister in Oak Harbor/Whidbey Island just got a lot easier. Thank you WN for adding this.

    I’m sure there are a lot of military families that have siblings at the Naval Air Base there that will be thrilled with the airports opening. It shortens the commute from Sea-Tac by at least an hour during rush hour.

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