Competition at Paine Field: United to add service in Fall 2018

The battle for Seattle passengers continues to heat up, but in a most unlikely way. Paine Field, north of town, is now set to move from zero service to multiple carriers starting in Fall 2018. United Airlines announced today that it will begin service next year with six daily flights split between its hubs at Denver and San Francisco. That news comes three months after Alaska Airlines announced plans to bring commercial service back to the airport as the anchor tenant in a new passenger terminal. The Seattle-based carrier will run nine daily flights, with destinations yet to be announced.

The United move comes after several years of shrinking its presence in the Seattle area, ceding market share in the more visible fight between Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, plus the influx of international carriers. United currently operates 36 daily flights from Seattle; the additional 6 frequencies are a nice boost to capacity, easing connectivity to the rest of the United network for travelers on the north side of Seattle.

As an interesting historical footnote, United also operated the first commercial service from Paine Field, according to the company release:

Originally constructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1936 to create jobs and economic growth in the region, the Snohomish County Airport quickly grew and served as an alternate-day landing field and in 1939 United Airlines operated the first commercial flight from the airport. Paine Field has since become the center of Boeing’s production facilities producing many United aircraft including the 747, 767, 777, and the 787 airplanes and employing tens of thousands of employees.

The Alaska Airlines routes are not yet announced but San Francisco is a likely candidate, allowing feed through the hub there acquired with the Virgin America merger. That suggests a lot of capacity into the Bay Area but with a mix of onward connections and the local business travel it might still work.

I also find it amusing that United let Alaska Airlines pretty much negotiate all the up front work in terms of building the terminal and addressing community concerns. Once all that was set United could ease in to adding service. Passengers all benefit in the end so it doesn’t matter too much how it happens from that perspective.

Header image by Jelson25Own work, Public Domain, Link

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. When I first saw the headline I did a double-take, I thought it was 2 stories, one about Competition at Paine Field and the other that United were going to actually deliver service in 2018. But then my heart sank, I realised United won’t be adding service in 2018. How good would that be…..

  2. This is a really exciting development, especially coming from an airline that used to be one of the biggest carriers in the Pacific Northwest, and got crushed by Alaska and Delta in Seattle while retreating significantly in Portland.

    United has done approximately nothing in the last 5+ years to appeal to customers in the fastest growing metro in the US. We’re left with a skeleton schedule to most hubs, token service to LAX on regional jets, and zero international or seasonal flights. Even connecting has become a challenge — there are a number of worldwide United destinations that are not accessible anymore without an overnight at a hub.

    A smart move in my book, which could also draw folks as far as Bellingham. A major issue will be access to PAE, though, with no current bus service, a near-zero possibility of train service in the next 20 years (unless you count the dying commuter line to Everett with a handful of trains a day as an option), and awful traffic on I-5.

    1. I’m under the impression that most folks in that catchment are drivers, not riders. But, yes, the traffic is awful and one of the goals here is to help people avoid it.

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