Brett Smith is CEO of Propeller Airports, which operates the passenger terminal at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Brett Smith is CEO of Propeller Airports, which operates the passenger terminal at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Passenger service resumes at Paine Field on Saturday

For now, the flights will be few and the frills are gone at Everett’s airline terminal.

EVERETT — For now, the frills are gone.

The giant jar of jelly beans and the grand piano in the baggage area — history. Free parking for ticket holders — also gone.

“We have to make money somehow,” said Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports.

The privately owned company built and operates the passenger terminal at Paine Field, and on Saturday commercial flights return to Everett after a 10-week shutdown for work that replaced the pavement on the aircraft side of the facility.

It will be a slim schedule, just three flights per day between the two carriers that share the terminal’s two gates.

United Airlines will operate one daily flight from Paine Field to its Denver hub. Alaska Airlines plans two flights a day — one each to Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Before the coronavirus pandemic curtailed most air travel, United and Alaska served 11 destinations with 24 departures and 24 arrivals per day.

“I’m hoping they add more flights,” said Smith, who stopped taking a salary in March.

On the plus side, Beecher’s Restaurant and the Upper Case Bar in the terminal’s main lounge, which closed when travel dwindled, will re-open for business. And Smith promises to resume his trips to a wholesale floral market in Seattle for fresh flowers, a lounge staple.

He also promises a relentless cleaning schedule, temperature screenings and has plans to install a hospital-grade air filtration system.

“I fully believe we will lose money for the foreseeable future, and we’re prepared to do that, but we’re going to be the cleanest and safest airport in the country,” Smith said.

He’s not kidding. On a recent afternoon, a maintenance worker roamed the terminal, sweeping the floor of the empty waiting area.

Terminal duty manager Tom Hoctor sweeps the baggage pickup area as he helps prepare for passenger service to return Saturday at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Terminal duty manager Tom Hoctor sweeps the baggage pickup area as he helps prepare for passenger service to return Saturday at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Face coverings? Don’t leave home without them. Masks are mandatory on Alaska and United flights, and Propeller requires them in the terminal, too.

“If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re not allowed in the building,” said Smith. “I don’t care whether you have a ticket or not.”

As if to make his point, he looped a paper mask onto the statue of 2nd Lt. Topliff Paine — the airfield’s namesake — which stands outside the terminal.

A statue of Paine Field’s namesake, Everett native and commercial aviation pioneer Topliff Olin Paine, sports a mask at Paine Field Terminal. Masks will be required when the airport reopens to passenger service Saturday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A statue of Paine Field’s namesake, Everett native and commercial aviation pioneer Topliff Olin Paine, sports a mask at Paine Field Terminal. Masks will be required when the airport reopens to passenger service Saturday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Before passengers enter security screening, their temperature will be checked by a heat-sensing camera. In April, before it temporarily closed, the Everett terminal became one of first in the country to install a touchless fever-detection system. If a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more is detected, the passenger is screened a second time. If they have a fever, the airlines are alerted. From there, “it’s up to the airline to decide what they want to do,” Smith said. The detection system caught the eye of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials, who borrowed it while the Paine Field terminal was closed, Smith said.

Airports around the country are trying to make a comeback after a global travel slump decimated the airlines and travel industry. Passenger counts fell by 80% or more throughout the U.S. Smaller airports like Paine Field were hit especially hard as carriers slashed schedules, or ended service altogether, and grounded thousands of planes.

With COVID-19 resurgent in some parts of the U.S., it’s still touch and go.

Many domestic carriers are flying less than half their normal schedule. In the past week or so, some airlines have backed off plans to add more flights because of the spike in COVID-19 cases. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents the world’s airlines, predicts that air travel won’t bounce back to 2019 levels until 2024.

On April 14, the Transportation Security Administration screened just 87,500 passengers and crew, a record low in recent years and a sharp decline from the normal of 2 million to 3 million screened daily.

The numbers have slowly risen since. On Tuesday, the agency screened 700,000 passengers — an improvement over daily counts in the spring but nowhere near the 2.6 million passengers it screened a year ago Tuesday.

The drop-off in passengers at the Everett terminal seemed especially steep, given its rapid ascent after opening in 2019.

On March 4, a year after opening, the passenger terminal had served a million plus travelers and logged more than 8,560 flights. Two months later, the number of flights had fallen to three a day, and passengers were a trickle.

In late May, Propeller received federal approval to shut it down for previously planned ramp repair. The project had been scheduled to take four months while service continued, but with air travel curtailed, closing altogether for 10 weeks made better sense, Smith said.

Construction crews replaced the original asphalt pavement near the gates. The surface had proved to be structurally unsound, plagued by bumps and divots. “We didn’t know that until we started operating,” said Smith.

Propeller paid for the repairs, a significant investment, Smith said.

“This is a 30-year fix,” he said of the decision to pour concrete, which is more expensive than asphalt but also more durable.

Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, talks about the new ramp at Paine Field Terminal. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, talks about the new ramp at Paine Field Terminal. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Smith is proud of the fact that Propeller’s 20-person staff remained on the payroll during the 10-week closure.

“There were no layoffs,” he said. “We’ve been spending this time bringing the terminal back to a pristine state.”

During the closure, Smith took a breather but has returned to the terminal to make sure everything goes smoothly.

“We’re paying the rent,” Smith said, adding later, “but we don’t expect to show a profit for at least two years.”

Still, he’s optimistic.

“You have to believe that people will eventually start flying again,” Smith said. “I think it’s going to take a while to come back. We’re going to ride this out.”

The same features that attracted people in the first place to the small but elegant terminal will bring them back, he said. That includes ditching the dismal journey to Sea-Tac Airport.

Edmonds resident Jim Grant, for one, will be happy to see the terminal reopen on Saturday. If only it had been a day earlier.

Grant will be driving his wife to Sea-Tac on Friday for a Denver flight, a car trip he prefers to avoid. “You never know what can happen in that traffic,” Grant said of the 60-mile round trip.

“Let’s hope we never close again,” said Smith.

Janice Podsada;; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Bothell biotech CEO resigns after domestic-violence allegation

Clay Siegall co-founded Seagen, which develops therapies for cancer patients. He’s accused of attacking his wife.

FILE - A sign at a Starbucks location in Havertown, Pa., is seen April 26, 2022. Starbucks says it will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to access abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren't available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The Seattle coffee chain says, Monday, May 16, 2022, the benefit will also be available to dependents of employees enrolled in its health care coverage. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)
Starbucks will cover travel for workers seeking abortions

Amazon and Tesla also will provide the benefit. Walmart and Facebook have stayed silent.

A barista pours steamed milk into a red paper cup while making an espresso drink at a Starbucks coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. It's as red as Santa's suit, a poinsettia blossom or a loud Christmas sweater. Yet Starbucks' minimalist new holiday coffee cup has set off complaints that the chain is making war on Christmas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Interfaith group asks Starbucks to drop vegan milk surcharge

They say the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday, Oct. 14,2021 by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks

Flight cancellations since April will continue. The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown airline.

FILE - An airplane flies past the Boeing logo on the company's headquarters in Chicago, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001. Boeing Co., a leading defense contractor and one of the world's two dominant manufacturers of airline planes, is expected to move its headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, D.C., area, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decision could be announced as soon as later Thursday, May 5, 2022, according to one of the people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing expected to move headquarters from Chicago to DC area

The move would put Boeing executives close to their key customer, the Pentagon, and the FAA.

This 3D rendering shows Sila's 6000-foot facility in Moses Lake, to be used to manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials. (Business Wire)
New factory in Moses Lake will bring hundreds of new jobs

The plant will manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials for cars and cellphones.

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters, Antares, in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Helion Energy: New Everett company has the sun in its eyes

The firm is the winner of a new award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, called Opportunity Lives Here.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jon Nehring: Longtime Marysville mayor who’s nurtured growth

He’s helped steer the city’s transformation and is winner of the Jackson Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Monti Ackerman, recipient of the John Fluke Award, is pictured Thursday, April 28, 2022, outside his office in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Monti Ackerman: A passionate volunteer and calculator whiz

The Fortive executive is the winner of this year’s Fluke Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-38, is the recipient of this year's Henry M. Jackson award. The award recognizes a visionary leader who through partnership, tenacity and a strong commitment to community has created lasting opportunities to improve quality of life and positively impact the regional economy. Photographed in Everett, Washington on April 29, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Rep. Mike Sells: He fought for WSU Everett and worker rights

The retiring legislator is the recipient of the Floyd Award from Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

People sit outside the recently opened Amazon Go facility Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Cashier-less Amazon Go buzzing in Mill Creek grand opening

Locals came to check out the high-tech store, with $3 avocado toast and cameras watching customers’ every move.

Joel Bervell (Courtesy photo)
TikTok med student @joelbervell named top Emerging Leader

Joel Bervell, who highlights disparities in medicine, took top honors at an event for 12 rising stars in Snohomish County.