EVERETT — Traci Morgan is waiting for ticket prices to go down at Paine Field.
The Everett resident travels frequently for work and the local airport is her first choice.
It’s $10 for an Uber from her Everett apartment to the terminal door. It’s a ridiculously quick trip through the security line, usually just minutes, she said.
The alternative, a flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is no picnic.
Traffic snarls on I-5 are to be expected, and getting through TSA and to the gate can take longer than the actual flight, Morgan said.
“The last time I was at Sea-Tac, it took me an hour to get through the TSA line,” she said, “and I have pre-check.”
But when it’s $200 extra to fly out of Paine Field, Sea-Tac is the default.
Round-trips to Phoenix are expensive right now, Morgan said last week: “From Sea-Tac, it’s $600; from Paine Field, $800.”
Airfare can vary based on the time of day and date you travel.
When it comes to the pros and cons of the Everett airport, emotions run high.
Fans regularly gush about the terminal’s hotel-like ambiance, small size and proximity. They love the convenience. They love the fresh flowers brightening the terminal.
“You pay for way more than just the flight. You pay for less waiting time. Ease of parking, drop off, pick up, etc.,” a traveler recently wrote on Fly Paine Field, the terminal operator’s Facebook page.
“I’d gladly pay $100 more to fly in/out of PAE,” they added. “I will do just about anything to avoid having to get to the airport 3-plus hours before a domestic flight.”
Others grumble about ticket costs and the big difference in price.
“If only the prices would go down at Paine field! I’d rather drive to SeaTac then pay an outrageous amount to fly out of there!” a traveler wrote in April on Fly Paine Field.
Said another traveler, “Need to Lower fares if you want people to fly PAE. Random date in May chosen and the fares were to Los Angeles from Paine — $229 Saver; Sea-Tac, $117; $112 more.”
If ticket prices were comparable to Sea-Tac, many say they’d choose Paine Field, hands down.
Are Paine Field fares in the stratosphere?
Airfare at regional airports, such as Paine Field, is often pricier, according to farecompare.com.
Smaller airports may have high surcharges and landing fees and feature fewer airline choices, farecompare said.
Still, when it comes to how airlines set prices, “often there is no rhyme or reason,” farecompare noted.
AAA Cruise & Travel in Lynnwood helped a client book a trip this winter from Paine Field to Orange County. It was $200 cheaper to fly from Paine Field than Sea-Tac, according to the travel agency.
Only one airline serves the Everett airport: Alaska Airlines and its sibling regional carrier, Horizon Air.
The pair offer nonstop flights to 10 destinations, including Anchorage, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Orange County and Phoenix. Although, some are seasonal routes. Honolulu will be added to Alaska’s nonstop schedule Nov. 17.
Sea-Tac, on the other hand, is served by 31 airlines offering 91 nonstop domestic and 28 international destinations — making it easier to comparison shop.
But Paine wasn’t always a solo flyer.
When the passenger terminal debuted in 2019, Alaska Airlines shared the three-gate terminal with United Airlines. Together, they offered 24 daily departures.
Then, due to “demand trends,” United Airlines ended service at the Snohomish County-owned airport in October 2021.
Smaller jets, fewer departures
Fares from Everett can be higher in the summer and other peak times due to high demand and fewer departures than Sea-Tac, said Kirsten Amrine, vice president of revenue management and network planning at Alaska Airlines.
Plus, many flights from Paine Field employ smaller regional jets, such as the Embraer 175, which seats 76, Amrine said. On some routes, Alaska offers 737 service, which can seat up to 178 passengers.
“On average – our fares in Everett are comparable to similar departures out of Seattle,” Amrine said. “Initial fare rates for Paine Field are set close to Seattle’s rates (within $10 on average). However, fares vary with demand and supply.”
Paine Field is Scott Morehead’s go-to airport.
Bellingham International Airport is closer to home than Paine Field, but he prefers the Everett airport over Bellingham and Sea-Tac.
“I love flying out of Paine,” said Morehead, a resident of Bow, Washington, near Burlington. “The people there are so nice, you can’t go wrong.”
For starters, Paine Field’s general parking rate is cheaper than Sea-Tac’s, he said.
And the Everett airport offers less wear and tear on familial relationships, Morehead said.
Hitting up his son, who lives in Edmonds, for a ride to Paine Field rather than Sea-Tac is no big deal. (Morehead drives to Edmonds and parks his car at his son’s house.)
By comparison, a limo from Edmonds to Sea-Tac costs about $125 one way, he said.
If a flight from Paine Field costs more than a similar trip from Sea-Tac, Morehead said he’d gladly pay the difference.
When Paine Field flights are more expensive, the benefits can outweigh the difference in price, Alaska’s Amrine said.
It’s closer to home for travelers who live north of Seattle. And passengers who loathe the middle seat can take heart —there are no middle seats on an Embraer 175, she said.
The terminal and the skies above the airport are usually less congested, Amrine said, so Paine Field’s on-time record is also “superior” to Sea-Tac.
“We do feature Paine Field in various promotional sales, which tend to be two to four months out from travel,” Amrine noted.
Six months in advance
Like Morehead, Penny Clark’s airport of choice is Paine Field, even when tickets cost more than Sea-Tac.
“For my personal preference, it’s worth the extra money,” said Clark, the longtime owner of Travel Time in Everett.
“If you have an early morning flight at Sea-Tac, you need to leave home at zero dark thirty,” Clark said. “You don’t have to do a three-hour-ahead check-in ahead of time.”
(Alaska Airlines and Propeller Airports advises travelers to arrive two hours before a scheduled flight or one hour before with carry-on bags.)
”And the best part is coming home — by the time you get off the plane and get your luggage, it’s been two minutes,” Clark said.
Still, a sizable difference in ticket prices can outweigh convenience. If a family of four can save $400 with a Sea-Tac flight, “that’s different than saving $100 on a ticket for yourself,” Clark said.
Like other travel agents The Daily Herald spoke to, Clark urged travelers to book airline tickets at least six months in advance to get the best deals.
But don’t forget to factor in the cost of getting to and from the airport.
The cost of taxi and ride-share services can add up, depending on the starting point. From downtown Everett, it can cost around $130 for a ride to Sea-Tac. From downtown to Paine is closer to $30.
Taking Sound Transit from Everett Station to the Northgate Link Light Rail station, a direct trip to Sea-Tac is $5.50 one way.
Paine’s general parking rates are now less expensive than Sea-Tac’s.
General parking rates at Sea-Tac, which went up June 1, are $8 an hour, $37 a day or $222 a week.
Paine Field’s rate is $6 an hour, $34 a day or $204 a week.
A co-worker recently asked me to pick her up from the Paine Field Terminal at 10:25 p.m. on a Sunday.
No biggie! I live 10 minutes away.
I parked in the airport’s free cell phone lot, waited for her text and, a minute later, she and her husband were shoving baggage into the trunk of my car.
For my troubles, she gifted me two salted pretzels and a dinner invite.
Now, consider it’s someone asking for a drop-off or pick-up from Sea-Tac. That’s a heavy-duty ask you don’t want to overdo.
Snohomish County residents are more willing to take you to Everett than to Sea-Tac, travel agent Clark said.
“Even if you live closer to Seattle or Northgate, it’s worth it to escape the chaos that is Sea-Tac, especially if you’re a worried or stressed traveler,” said Melissa Girard, owner of Cherish Life Travel Services, originally based in Stanwood.
And don’t forget to factor in your time, transportation costs and sanity, she said.
Expecially for older folks, travelers hauling a ton of luggage or parents with small children, hopping a bus or train isn’t always an option.
“It may be $100 or $200 more per ticket to fly out of Paine, but not having to deal with traffic, gas, parking at Sea-Tac — I think the difference could be worth it for piece of mind,” Girard said.
Here’s what we found Monday, July 3, on AlaskaAir.com for the lowest nonstop, roundtrip fares to three destinations on Dec. 1, returning Dec. 8. Main and first-class seats cost more.
• To Orange County from Paine Field: $378; from Sea-Tac: $268.
• To San Francisco from Paine Field: $158; from Sea-Tac: $158.
• To Honolulu from Paine Field: $581; from Sea-Tac: $528.