Southwest brings its LUV to Paine Field

Sunset glows off the underbelly of this Southwest 737 just short of landing at LAX 24R
Sunset glows off the underbelly of this Southwest 737 just short of landing at LAX 24R

Paine Field is now full. Southwest Airlines announced today that it will add five daily flights to the not-yet-open facility when it opens for commercial service later this year. Combined with the six daily departures on United Airlines and the thirteen from Alaska Airlines the airport is now at 24 daily departures. That number maxes out the facility.

CEO Gary Kelly suggested that the move was somewhat opportunistic and based on seeing others push in to the market. During this afternoon’s quarterly analyst briefing he alluded to the scarcity of access as a driving factor:

If we don’t move on this we may likely lose the opportunity. And we certainly can accommodate the five round trips with our capacity plan. It will be a nice opportunity for our passengers.

The carrier will announce its intended destinations later this year.

And if the rush to grab space at Paine Field sounds familiar, there’s probably a reason.

At least this time the government isn’t the limiting factor.

Read More: Alaska Airlines ups its commitment to Paine Field, announces routes

The 24 departure “rule” comes from limited gate facilities and also the agreement struck with locals around noise and environmental issues. Yes, the airport is regularly used for some of the largest commercial jets currently operating, but those are relatively infrequent flights.

The scheduled service brings more jets to the field more often. And locals are unlikely to appreciate that increase in noise, even as they benefit from avoiding the horrendous traffic that separates the region from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport south of Seattle. Yes, the numbers could change, but that will involve more negotiations with the NIMBY contingent.

Hometown player (and driving force behind the Paine Field facility) Alaska Airlines suggested earlier in the day that 20% of its local passengers are better suited to use Paine Field rather than Sea-Tac based on transit issues. That’s a significant number of potential passengers, though there are plenty of transit challenges with the new airport as well. Sea-Tac has a rail option as well as bus service into the city center. Paine has neither. Perhaps a great option for those who live in the area or who are visiting Boeing and the associated aero industry vendors in the area, but not great for getting into Seattle proper.

The new terminal offers two gates which, with the relatively smaller aircraft likely to be used, should allow faster turns. Still, pushing twelve flights through each gate every day is a very high utilization rate. There will likely be some fights between the carriers over prime departure times to maximize value and service options.

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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. They’ll fix that. Seattle is very good at the whole bus thing. A LOT of people use the public bus system – more than most cities in America.

      I would expect to see regular bus service from Paine to downtown, in the future

    2. The whole point of this airport is for passengers to avoid going downtown. And even if they want to add that service, the uncertainty of traffic on I-5 is enough that you’d still want to budget a ridiculous buffer if taking transit to/from Everett.

    3. PAE offers little over SEA for those coming to or from downtown Seattle. Maybe easier time clearing TSA. It is really for Bothell and communities North of it.

  1. The Seattle area is one where I’d still want to rent a car, unless going for business and staying relatively close to work, and not planning to go out of the area where I’m staying and working. If I’m there for leisure, there are too many great things outside the city that require a car for me to not rent one, and depend solely on public transit and taxis.

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