The view from one of the jet bridges at the new terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The view from one of the jet bridges at the new terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Passengers and workers await first Paine Field boarding call

“For 10 years I’ve been promising myself I would be on that first flight,” says a reservation holder.

EVERETT — Ryan Crowther hopes to be aboard the first commercial passenger flight from Paine Field, a nonstop to Las Vegas.

He’s not sure when that will occur, but at some point the Everett resident expects to walk through a new passenger terminal, which more resembles a grand hotel than a waiting area, and through a glass jet bridge to a sleek Embraer 175 twin jet sporting blue Alaska Airlines-Horizon Air livery.

March 4 is the start date after Alaska last month elected to delay the start of service from Everett. It had been scheduled for Feb. 11, but the partial government shutdown last month led to uncertainty about the timeline for final federal approval of passenger flights.

“They’ve been talking about commercial air service in Snohomish County for 10 years, and for 10 years I’ve been promising myself I would be on that first flight,” said Crowther, the founder of Everett Music Initiative and the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival.

When Alaska Airlines began selling tickets on Nov. 15, he booked a seat on the first flight from the Snohomish County-owned airport.

It could have been a trip to anywhere, Crowther said. “The destination didn’t matter.”

As luck would have it, it happened to be a 9 a.m. flight to Las Vegas.

“It’s really about the excitement of getting to experience the new airport,” Crowther said.

The ticketing lobby inside the new passenger terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The ticketing lobby inside the new passenger terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The government shutdown caused the furlough of thousands of Federal Aviation Administration workers — some of whom still need to sign off on an environmental assessment of the impact of passenger flights at Paine Field. Alaska postponed the start of service by three weeks before the shutdown ended — when it was still uncertain if it ever would end. The other carrier that will serve Paine Field, United Airlines, hadn’t planned to begin service until March 31, and that date so far is unaffected.

Alaska and United plan a combined 24 daily departures from the airport’s terminal, subject to that FAA approval.

On the FAA front, the agency was expected to render a decision this month, and the outcome is expected to be a green light. A draft version of a revised environmental assessment, released last fall, found no significant issues.

Still, another potential snag looms. The Trump administration has said it’s not averse to shutting down the government again this month if Congress doesn’t agree to fund a barrier along the Southwest border.

Crowther and other travelers are holding their breath.

So, too, are the passenger agents, ground crews and others that have spent months preparing for the passenger terminal’s opening day.

The new Propeller Airports terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The new Propeller Airports terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Propeller Airports, a for-profit company, has invested more than $40 million to build the two-gate terminal, a striking steel and glass structure on the east side of the airport, near the control tower.

Propeller will manage it under a long-term lease agreement with the county.

Inside, travelers will find cushy chairs, a pair of flickering natural-gas fireplaces and a chandelier. In glass display cases throughout the waiting area, Paine Field’s history is told with photos, mementos and model airplanes.

A restaurant and bar will be run by Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a Seattle-based cheesemaker and retail shop. Seattle-based Republic Parking Northwest will manage the airport’s 1,100 parking spaces.

Brett Smith, Propeller’s CEO, said there won’t be a traditional car rental counter because “most airports have moved away from this concept.” Instead there will be a rental car facility at the ground transportation center — a small building near baggage claim — where customers can board a courtesy van for the car lot.

In early January, about two dozen Alaska Airlines agents, many of them new hires, got their first look at the terminal. They brought their carry-on luggage and rolling suitcases to simulate the hurly-burly of travel.

They were greeted by Alaska-Horizon flight QX 9985 from Portland. Its 8 a.m. arrival was part of a “fit test,” a dry run to check the terminal’s equipment and computer systems and work out snags, said Renee Parson, Alaska’s Paine Field station manager.

Agents took turns at the control consoles that operate the jet bridges.

The waiting area inside the new passenger terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The waiting area inside the new passenger terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

McGee Air Services, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, began moving equipment and staff to the airport last month. On that day of training, a new McGee Air Services employee was getting her first lesson in driving a baggage tug out on the airfield.

Painters were busy striping the ramp area with white and red lines that will outline lanes for aircraft and equipment.

New hire Tami Silicio was ecstatic about coming out of retirement and joining a “pioneering” crew.

In some respects “we’ll be writing our own playbook,” Silicio said.

Chris Gore, McGee’s Paine Field station manager, explained: “Other airports have all the stuff there. Everything is already in place. This is a brand new experience.”

McGee’s station agents are being cross-trained to assist passengers, handle baggage and marshal planes — guiding them to the gates with those orange sticks you see at every airport.

Except for a few supervisors who were transferred, “everyone at Paine are new hires,” said Maren Robinson, McGee’s corporate program development manager.

Renton-based McGee has hired 40 union-represented workers and plans to hire at least 30 more, she said.

Matt Elliott, of Snohomish, spoke for many of his co-workers: “We’re looking forward to getting out of the classroom and getting to work.”

Eventually, the terminal is expected to employ 200 to 300 people, including parking attendants, aircraft cleaners and restaurant workers.

Paine Field has added about 30 employees for security and firefighting, eight of them firefighters, airport officials have said. The airport would not comment on security or safety measures.

Cynthia Schultz, the former director of Great Falls International Airport in Montana, said higher FAA standards for firefighting and rescue capabilities come into play with the introduction of commercial passenger flights. There are minimum response times, with firefighters and their equipment usually required to reach any runway in three minutes or less “during any hours of scheduled aircraft operation,” she said.

And access to airport property will be tightened. Students at Everett Community College’s Aviation Maintenance Technician School, which is located near the new terminal, will experience a big change. They won’t be allowed outside the hangars on the secure side of the airfield unless accompanied by faculty or staff with appropriate airport badges, said Rob Prosch, associate dean of aviation.

“Anything behind the airport fence is the secure side of the airfield,” Prosch said.

Elize Boyens, an Alaska Airlines passenger agent, was struck by the terminal’s design. “Somebody listened to the passengers,” said Boyens of Lynnwood.

People are stressed when they fly. “This is lovely,” Boyens said.

She singled out the unique glass jet bridges as particularly breath-taking. “They’ll let the passengers get a view of the mountains and the big airplanes at Boeing,” she said.

“Now they just need to get off the ground.”

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

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