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; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

County lost 100 aerospace manufacturing jobs in June

At 6.1%, Snohomish County has the sixth-highest unemployment rate in Washington.

The growing business district along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, looking west toward I-5. At lower left is the construction site of the new Amazon fulfillment center. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)
Marysville-Arlington road improvements won’t happen at once

Traffic improvement projects near the Cascade Industrial Center will take shape over the next decade.

A line of Southwest Air Boeing 737 jets are parked near the company's production plant while being stored at Paine Field Friday, April 23, 2021, in Everett, Wash. Boeing reported its first quarterly profit since 2019 and revenue topped expectations, as the giant aircraft maker tries to dig out from the most difficult stretch in its history. Boeing said Wednesday, July 28, 2021, that it earned $567 million in the second quarter, compared with a $2.4 billion loss a year ago. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Boeing, for first time since 2019, has a profitable quarter

The earnings hint at a potential turnaround after one of the worst financial crises in the company’s history.

About 4,000 Snohomish County tenants approved for rent help

While some eviction restrictions have eased, it’s unclear what the effect will be here.

FILE - In this June 18, 2015, file photo, an Airbus A380 takes off for its demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget airport, north of Paris. European planemaker Airbus reports that it made 1.87 billion euros profit in the second quarter. That's a relief after a loss in the same quarter a year ago during the depths of the pandemic shutdowns and travel restrictions. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)
Airbus, Boeing rivalry is back on as sales campaigns pick up

The improving outlook comes amid a travel reopening that’s gathering pace in some key markets.

Festive seafood specialties, modern delicacies with a beautiful presentation on the plate. Delicious dish - tender fish meat, with greens, lemon and vegetables. Cartoon vector.
You voted: The best seafood in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people have their favorites

File - In this Sept. 24, 2014 file photo, smoke hangs over Reno-Tahoe International Airport as a plane takes off in Reno, Nev. A shortage of jet fuel, coupled with supply chain issues and an urgent demand from firefighting aircraft, continues to cause problems at airports around the West. In Nevada, state and federal lawmakers said they are investigating a possible shortage of jet fuel that could delay cargo delivery and passenger travel at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in the coming days. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine, File)
Airports in the US West dealing with shortage of jet fuel

Supply chain issues and an urgent demand from firefighting aircraft have combined to cause problems.

sandwich with ham, tomatoes, lettuce and toast isolated on white background, healthy breakfast, lunch
You voted: The best darn sandwich in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people have their favorites

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2019, file photo, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference in Seattle. Washington state sued Johnson & Johnson on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, claiming the company was negligent when it used deceptive marketing to say the drugs were effective for treating pain and were unlikely to cause addiction. The lawsuit filed Thursday says the company that supplies raw materials used to make opiates drove the pharmaceutical industry to recklessly expand the production of the drugs. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Washington AG rejects opioids settlement, wants trial

The proposal would pay Washington about $527.5 million over 18 years if cities and counties opt in.

This photo provided by Blue Origin,   Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin, exits the  Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule after it parachuted safely down to the launch area with passengers Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk, near Van Horn, Texas, Tuesday, July 20, 2021.  (Blue Origin via AP)
Blue Origin’s Bezos reaches space on 1st passenger flight

The Amazon founder is the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft.

The first flight for United Airlines servicing Paine Field taxis to the gate on March 31, 2019. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Come October, United Airlines will discontinue flights at Paine Field

The airline is one of two commercial carriers at the Everett airport. United flies to Denver.