The first flight for United Airlines at Paine Field taxis to the gate Sunday morning in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The first flight for United Airlines at Paine Field taxis to the gate Sunday morning in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

United flights at Paine Field bring the world to Everett

The carrier began service Sunday with six daily flights from the new terminal to San Francisco and Denver.

EVERETT — United Airlines launched commercial passenger service from Paine Field on Sunday to hubs in San Francisco and Denver, bringing the new two-gate terminal to full capacity.

For Rich McFadden, United flights mean that Frankfurt, Germany, is much closer.

Around noon, he boarded the first United flight from Everett, a nonstop to San Francisco, to make his connection — a United flight to Frankfurt.

“This is so much easier than Sea-Tac,” said McFadden, who lives a mile from Paine Field. “My wife asked me this morning, ‘Why don’t you bike there’”?

Snohomish County officials and airline representatives gathered Sunday morning at the terminal to welcome the first United arrival, flight 5460 from Denver, and send off the first departure, flight 5866 to San Francisco.

With United’s return to Everett — yes, return — the Snohomish County-owned airport becomes a “gateway to the world,” County Executive Dave Somers told a crowd of well-wishers.

United Airlines began operating commercial flights from Paine Field in 1939, 80 years ago. But those flights were discontinued when the airport was turned over to the U.S. Army Air Corps for military use in 1941.

Clay Lacy, a former United Airlines captain, who joined the carrier in 1952 as a Douglas DC-3 co-pilot, cut the ceremonial blue ribbon at the gate.

“We’re really excited United is coming home to Paine Field,” said Lacy, 86, who’s logged more than 50,000 flight hours and set 29 world speed records.

Said Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, the terminal’s developer:“You’ll be able to fly anywhere in the world — the sky’s the limit.”

Everett-based Propeller, under a lease agreement with Snohomish County, has invested some $40 million in developing the two-gate terminal, which it operates.

United is offering two daily nonstops to Denver and four daily nonstops to San Francisco under the United Express livery.

Chicago-based United, which flies to more than 70 countries, joins Alaska Airlines at the terminal.

Justine Dijulio (right) checks in a passenger for the first United Airlines departure from Paine Field on Sunday in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Justine Dijulio (right) checks in a passenger for the first United Airlines departure from Paine Field on Sunday in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Alaska began phasing in its schedule when the terminal opened March 4 and now has a full schedule with 18 daily departures to eight destinations, spokesman Ray Lane said. Alaska offers flights to Portland, Los Angeles, San Jose, Orange County, San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix.

With the addition of the six daily United flights, the terminal has reached a federally mandated limit of 24 daily departures and 24 arrivals.

Both carriers are using 76-seat, twin-engine Embraer 175 regional jets.

“We are excited to offer our Seattle and northwest Washington-area travelers new opportunities to easily access our hubs in Denver and San Francisco,” Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning, said in a news release.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines said it welcomes United’s arrival. “The airline industry overall is extremely competitive. We welcome that. It’s good for customers,” company spokesman Lane said.

David Barrett and his wife, Jen, were flying to San Francisco on Sunday, but next week the couple is booked on a flight from Everett to San Francisco to Munich. After that, they plan on trips to Hong Kong, Tokyo and Las Vegas.

“This is going to be my airport,” David Barrett said. “I fly a huge amount. About 200,000 miles a year.”

The new terminal is projected to log 656,000 passenger boardings this year and, despite its small size, become the third-busiest airport in the state after Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Spokane International Airport.

The plush terminal has drawn widespread acclaim. Visitors routinely describe it as resembling “a VIP lounge.”

Among key selling points is the convenience of skipping the drive to Sea-Tac, which can take as long as 90 minutes, depending on traffic. Paine Field air service is expected to boost Snohomish County’s economy by bringing business travelers, investors and tourists directly to Everett, county officials say.

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

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