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

Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, poses with a production electric engine, the magni500, at the  company's new office on Seaway Boulevard on Monday, Jan. 18, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Maker of electric airplane engines gets $74M NASA grant

MagniX of Everett is one of two companies tapped to advance electric propulsion systems to power aircraft.

Rendering of the new terminal that Propeller Airports plans to build at Paine Field in Everett. The terminal, which will serve the general aviation community, will replace Castle & Cooke Aviation's existing building at the Snohomish County-owned airport. (Propeller Airports LLC)
Propeller Airports to acquire Castle & Cooke at Paine Field

Propeller, which owns the nearby passenger terminal, plans a new complex for private aviation.

A Boeing 737 Max 10 prepares to take off in Seattle on June 18, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Chona Kasinger.
Boeing cash shines while 787’s factory woes weigh on results

Restarting Dreamliner deliveries that have been halted for months is key to a financial turnaround.

Everett Farmer’s Market canceled Sunday due to weather

Organizers cited a high-wind advisory. It is to reopen Oct. 31 for the final market of the season.

David Simpson (left) and Scott Murphy.
Port of Everett candidates spar over transparency

An incumbent, David Simpson, is challenged by Everett City Councilmember Scott Murphy.

FILE - In this May 26, 2020, file photo, a sign at the headquarters for the Washington state Employment Security Department is shown at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington state's rush to get unemployment benefits to residents who lost jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak left it vulnerable to criminals who made off with hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Washington’s unemployment rate in September was 4.9%

Employers added 17,600 jobs last month, a 7.3% increase over August.

With the Olympic mountains in the background, the first passenger flight by Alaska Airlines Flight 2878 departs for Portland on opening day of the Paine Field Terminal on Monday, March 4, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Alaska Airlines stalls plan for extra flights in Everett

Business has been sluggish, but the airline says it will offer 12 flights a day at Paine Field in the new year.

Hillside homes in Mukilteo are seen from the ferry line on Oct. 20. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
Mukilteo asks for input on housing density, and it’s complicated

Here’s a guide to what voters should know about the advisory ballot measure. What does it actually do?

People hold signs in protest of the vaccine mandate after Boeing announced it would terminate workers who do not comply on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Some Boeing workers protest in Everett over vaccine mandate

The Boeing Company announced earlier this week that its workers must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
Former Boeing test pilot pleads not guilty in 737 Max case

He’s the first person to be charged with a crime in connection with the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes.

FILE - In this March 14, 2019 file photo, Ethiopian relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia. Relatives of some of the passengers who died in the crash will mark the two-year anniversary of the disaster on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, by seeking a reversal of government orders that let Boeing 737 Max jets fly again.  (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)
Boeing pilot involved in Max testing is indicted in Texas

He’s accused of giving the FAA false information about systems that played a role in two deadly crashes.

Top (L-R): Kim Daughtry, Steve Ewing. Bottom (L-R): Gary Petershagen, Marcus Tageant.
Developers court Lake Stevens council incumbents with over $20K

Over half of the campaign dollars for four candidates came from people tied to real estate or property development.