Airport Terminals

Seattle’s 2nd airport – Paine Field – opens March 4

Courtesy Propeller Airports

The first commercial flights from what’s been dubbed “Seattle’s second airport” are set to take on March 4, 2019 from the brand new passenger terminal at Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, WA.

The 2-gate, 30,000 square-foot terminal is a private-partnership between Propeller Airports and Snohomish County and feels more like a swank airport lounge than a small regional airport.

Paine Field passenger terminal waiting area. Photo_Harriet Baskas

Here is my “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY about the Paine Field project:

To the delight of many travelers in the Seattle-metro area who must battle some of the country’s worst traffic to reach Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Paine Field is 30 miles north of downtown Seattle about 40 miles north of SEA.

As avgeeks and avid plane spotters will quickly tell you, the new Paine Field passenger terminal sits on the same airfield that houses Boeing’s sprawling wide-body assembly plant.

No telling what you’ll see while waiing for your fligh at Paine Field. We saw this unmarked “Janet Airlines” plane – thought to ferry goverment workers between Las Vegas and locations such as Area 51. – Photo Harriet Baskas

Where will you be able to fly to from Paine Field?

After a brief setback due to the partial government shutdown, Alaska Airlines is scheduled to launch service from Paine Field on March 4 with flights to Portland, Las Vegas and Phoenix after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the airport.

By March 12, the full schedule of 18 daily roundtrip nonstop flights to 8 west coast cities – Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose – should be operating on their regular schedules.

“I think we’ll have a good mix of leisure and business travelers,” said Mario Doiron, who will serve as Alaska Airlines’ station supervisor at Paine Field, “The morning flights will likely be filled with business travelers, as is the pattern now for us at SEA airport. But there’s been more interest from leisure travelers than we thought.”

United Airlines, the only other carrier scheduled to operate out of the Paine Field passenger terminal, will begin flying six daily flights from PAE on March 31: two daily roundtrips to Denver and four daily roundtrips to San Francisco.

Making sure United offered flights from Paine Field to Denver and San Francisco “Is kind of a no-brainer,” in terms of giving more passengers a way to get to the airline’s hub airports, said Ankit Gupta, United’s VP of Domestic Network Planning. “As the airport expands, we’ll look at either flying bigger jets or flying to more cities.”

Both airlines will operate their flights from Paine Field on Embraer 175 jets.

What’s inside the new Paine Field passenger terminal?

Photo Harriet Baskas

Propeller Airport CEO, Brett Smith gave me a tour of the new Paine Field passenger terminal at the end of February, less than two weeks before the facility was set to welcome its first guests.

Construction was complete, but Smith was busy answering calls and questions about last-minute touch-ups and finish-work and making adjustments to the lighting and the sound system. In one of the two gate hold areas, employees from Alaska Airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, the local sheriff’s office and other groups were doing operational run-throughs for opening day.

The lobby

Solari flight display board will emit retor ‘flapping’ sounds. Photo Harriet Baskas

With valet parking and a concierge desk at the terminal door, Smith says the $40 million terminal designed by Denver-based Fentress Architects will make passengers feel as if they’re entering an upscale hotel lobby. Once through security, “They’ll feel as if they’re in an upscale private airport lounge,” said Smith, “But this lounge is for everybody.”

The lobby has a polished concrete floor, a Swiss-made wood acoustical treatment on the ceiling, a Bose sound system, check-in stands with Italian-marble countertops, and a limestone-covered wall complete with easy-to-spot fossil imprints. Behind a bank of check-in kiosks is a Solari flight display board programmed to emit the retro flip-board “flapping.”

Smith says the concierge desk staff will offer all passengers the same sort of service hotel concierge staff might offer, including direction and recommendations for restaurants and places to stay, as well as help with bookings. The concierge team will also escort Alaska’s 75 gold and UA 1K and above flyers to the front of the TSA line.

Smith hopes to introduce concierge subscription plans that might include everything from a fast track through the TSA line to unlimited valet parking and pickup and drop-off services within a 10 mile radius of the airport.

“We might also offer services like fulfilling grocery orders and taking care of dry cleaning or laundry which can be arraigned in advance so that when travelers return home they will find their requests fulfilled and waiting in their vehicles,” said Smith.

A short ramp leads to the TSA security checkpoint area, which will have three lanes, including one devoted to TSA pre-check.

The main terminal

Once past the security checkpoint, passengers enter the main terminal waiting area between the two gate areas. This center area has a plush, living room-like feel to it, complete with two fireplaces, plenty of armchairs and other comfortable seating, and a set of display cases filled with Paine Field-related memorabilia.

The view outside the large glass windows is unique: because Paine Field is home to the Boeing assembly plant and many other aviation-related activities, passengers are likely to spot anything from Boeing’s Dreamlifter and airplanes fresh out of the factory to military aircraft, private jets and planes in for maintenance.  (The day we toured, a “Janet” airlines plane, said to ferry government employees between Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and top-secret locations, such as Area 51, was pulling out of a hangar.)

To insure passengers don’t miss anything out on the airfield, there are glass-walled jet-bridges leading to and from the airplanes that will park at each gate

There’s robust Wi-Fi throughout the Paine Field passenger terminal, multiple options for power each of the 300 seats, and food and beverage provided by Seattle’s well-loved Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, including a Café Vita coffee shop pre-security. Post-security there will be a Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Café, serving soups, sandwiches and mac ‘n cheese, plus the Upper Case Bar, with Pacific Northwest wines, cocktails and food from the café.

Arrivals

The one-carousel baggage claim is about a minute’s walk from either gate and passenger pickup is just outside the bag claim area. A pet-relief area and a small building where passengers will wait for taxis, ride-hailed drivers and car rental shuttles is just outside the bag claim area.

A bit of Paine Field history

Paine Field – Snohomish Country Airport (PAE) was originally built in 1936 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project with the goal of being one of ten “super airports” around the country.

WWII and the Korean War changed those plans and, in 1966, after Snohomish County took over the airport, Boeing set up its production facility for the B-747 airplanes at Paine Field.

Commercial passenger service from Paine Field has been proposed, and hotly debated, for years.

In addition to the new Paine Field passenger terminal, today Paine Field is home to the Boeing Company’s wide-body assembly plant and the popular Boeing Factory Tour, as well as several other aviation-related businesses and facilities, museums and attractions, including the Flight Heritage & Combat Armor Museum built around a collection established by the late Paul G. Allen.

Preview of Paine Field – “Seattle’s 2nd Airport”

Commercial passenger service begins March 4 from Paine Field in Everett, WA., about 30 miles north of downtown Seattle. And travelers in the area are pretty darn excited.

Alaska Airlines and United Airlines will be the only airlines flying from this upscale, two-gate terminal. But their offerings stretch pretty far:

Alaska Airlines has a schedule of 18 daily roundtrips to 8 west coast cities – Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. Service starts March 4 with flights to Portland, Las Vegas and Phoenix and expand to the full schedule by March 12.

United Airlines will begin flying six daily flights from PAE on March 31: two daily roundtrips to Denver and four daily roundtrips to San Francisco.

I’ve got a column posting shortly on USA TODAY with more information, but here are some snaps from my visit to the terminal, which looks more like an upscale lounge than a small airport.

Solari board behind in check-in lobby will have the retro flipping sounds.

Waiting area has a very upscale lounge feel. But it’s for everyone.
Jet-bridges at both gates are glass sided.

Great seats for the great views out the windows: the passenger terminal sits on the same airfield where Boeing has a giant assembly plant.

Front of the new Paine Field passenger terminal in Everett, Wa.

More to come.

Testing, testing: Does this airport terminal work?

Earlier this month, more than 200 ‘fake’ passengers showed up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  

They weren’t working a scam. And they weren’t there to protest anything.

Instead, they were there volunteering to help Sea-Tac airport test the operational readiness of a satellite terminal undergoing its first major expansion and modernization in 45 years.

Happy to be spending their Saturday morning at the airport, 3-year-old Ari Weinstein and his 6-year-old brother, Micah, were toting tiny rolling suitcases for the day’s pretend flight.

“We thought it would be fun to check-out the new airport addition and see how easy it was for kids,” said the boys’ dad, Ben Weinstein, a Boeing engineer, “I’m also curious to see how the latest airport design works with new airplanes.”

72-year-old Vicki Lockwood and her 93-year-old mom, Ruby Griffin, had signed up to be testers too.   

“I wanted to see what was happening so I can tell my friends at the senior center what it’s all about,” said Griffin.

Travel agent Rufo Calvo volunteered as a tester so he could get an early look at the new terminal area and tell his clients what to expect. And Toffee Coleman, who travels four or times a month for her job in marketing and sales, was curious to find out what the expanded terminal would offer for business travelers. “I hope it measures up to the central terminal in terms of ease of use, amenities and accessibility,” she said.  

Opening day for the first phase of Sea-Tac airport’s expanded North Satellite was less than two weeks away. The bathrooms, drinking fountains, food concessions and visual paging systems weren’t quite ready, but this “passenger-flow simulation” was testing the journey between the main terminal and the expanded satellite as well as the process of boarding and deplaning a flight at one of the new gates.

“We’ll also be asking the volunteers if the temperature in the terminal is comfortable and if they can hear the overhead announcements clearly,” said Charles Goedken, Sea-Tac’s senior manager for Operational Readiness, Activation and Transition, or ORAT, which is the system of best practices many airports use from the design stage forward to make sure a new airport or new terminal is ready for opening day.

“What you try to do is to start working early with the planning and construction team so that when the airport or the facility is open everyone knows what to do,” said Lance Lyttle, the managing director of Sea-Tac Airport, “You don’t want to find issues on opening day; you want to find them before opening day.”

Lyttle was with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport when each opened new terminals and says no airport wants to relive the opening glitches experienced by Heathrow and Denver airports.  

In the early 1990s, the high-profile failure of an expensive, computerized baggage-handling system delayed the opening of Denver International Airport by 16 months and increased the construction budget by millions of dollars.

After that, “DEN returned to manual baggage systems,” said Denver International Airport spokeswoman Alex Renteria.

In 2008, the grand opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport’s turned to mush thanks to a cascading series of staffing and baggage-handling problems that forced British Airways to suspend luggage check-in and cancel more than 200 flights over four days. Thousands of passengers missed their flights and more than 15,000 pieces of luggage were delayed.  

“If you have a failed opening of a facility it lives as part of your reputation forever,” said Sea-Tac Airport’s Lance Lyttle, “People use it as an example. And not in a good way. Heathrow underestimated the value of ORAT. But the next time [the opening of Terminal 2, in 2014] they went overboard and got it right.”

New terminals and terminal upgrade projects are underway at all three New York-area airports and at airports in Istanbul, Singapore, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and many other cities and testing is key to those projects.

At Turkey’s new international in Istanbul, which is expected to be fully open by March, 2019, the ORAT (Operational Readiness, Activation and Transition) team reported for duty more than 20 months ago.

“More than 60,000 airport community staff have gone thru a familiarization and training program,” said Stephan Schwolgin, Istanbul Airport’s ORAT project manager, “More than 175 trials have been conducted with nearly 10.000 fake passengers and 7 real aircraft.”

The experience of unbiased, fake passengers is valuable for gathering feedback on everything from wayfinding and flight information display systems to walking distances and the availability of power sockets, said Schwolgin.

On February 6 Finland’s Helsinki Airport will hold a test day with more than 200 fake passengers at the airport’s new central plaza, called Aukio, which will serve both departing and arriving passengers.

“We will test the functionality of services and passenger paths, especially the state-of-the-art security check with a full body scanner,” said Joni Sundelin, Helsinki Airport’s executive director, “The trial day includes testing not only of the passenger flow, signage, restaurants and bathroom facilities, but also services and processes for passengers with reduced mobility.”

During a previous test of a different part of the airport, “There was a funny issue with the toilets,” said Sundelin. “Test passengers were wearing brightly colored vest and when the testers entered the bathroom all the automatic water taps with motion sensors activated. Apparently the sensors were so sensitive they recognized the bright yellow and orange vests moving even from the distance,” said Sundelin.

When testing with fake passengers for San Francisco International Airport’s Boarding Area E, “We learned there was some signage too small or not universal enough,” said Kristi Hogan, Associate Vice President, Transportation for engineering firm AECOM, “No one could find the yoga room.”

For a passenger-flow simulation scheduled for June 6 in advance of the July opening of 9 new gates at SFO’s Terminal 1, volunteers of all ages and abilities will be asked to test the terminal signage; flush toilets and use faucets and automatic hand dryers in the bathrooms; locate flight display boards; test the Wi-Fi and make phone calls on their cell phones.

“We’ll have some fake passengers arrive on the BART train and have others get dropped off at the curb,” said Hogan, “And we’ll also ask them to become arriving passengers and make their way to baggage claim, to taxis or to BART.

Trials and simulations will also soon be underway in advance of the scheduled May 15 opening of the new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

“These simulations will test everything from parking, ticket counters, security checkpoints, flight monitors, restrooms, gates, concessions, emergency exits, lost and found, and ground transportation,” said MSY spokeswoman Erin Burns.

Emergency response systems, baggage systems, PA systems and everything on the facility maintenance side will also get tested, said Burns, including simultaneous toilet flushes & sink use, seating, power access and severe weather operations.

Employees and fake passengers will performed many of these tests but, with perhaps the Denver and Heathrow terminal debacles in mind, Burns said data on how MSY passengers might experience the facility will also be gathered during sneak peaks events held in the terminal right up to the official opening.

11 gates open at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Terminal B

New York’s LaGuardia Airport is in the midst of an $8 billion makeover and the first 11 gates are now open in the state-of-the-art Terminal B.

Airlines operating out of this new concourse include Air Canada, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. They’ll be joined by United Airlines in 2019.

The space includes soaring ceilings, a colorful children’s play area, charging stations throughout the seating areas and a nursing room.

The kids’ area has a 16-foot interactive display that allows users to design their own aircraft on a tablet and watch it come to life on a giant digital wall. Next to the kids area is an indoor green space with greenery, benches and plenty of natural light.

A slection of New York-inspired food, beverage and retail offerings include a branch of toy store FAO Schwarz and dining options such as Shake Shack, La ChulaBar & Taqueria (Mexican taqueria), Osteria Fusco (Italian), Kingside Bar & Restaurant, Irving Fam Coffee Roasters and Five Boroughs Market.

In-airport food and retail delivery service ‘At Your Gate’ is up and running in LGA Terminal B as well.

The terminal also has an Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, with a United Club scheduled to open in 2019.

Other retail offerings include independent bookseller McNally Jackson, Hudson, LaGuardia Dufry Duty Free Shops, Spa Here, M∙A∙C,  and District Market, with specialty Made in Queens products.

“You’re going to love the new LaGuardia Airport,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said in a tweet.

How airports clean up

MSP’s award-winning restroom

My “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY this month is all about germs at airports and how crews use high and low tech ways to clean things up.

Here’s a slightly shortened version of that story:

As we head into the busy summer trael season, recent news reports about bed bugs found at Kansas City International Airport and an unscientific but widely-shared ‘study’ highlighting germy spots in airports has many travelers worried they’ll unintentionally pick up something besides snacks and bottled water in the terminals this summer.

Should you worry?

Not about those bedbugs at KCI. The airport was quick to take care of that problem.

And not about that survey which claimed to find high levels of germs on screens at check-in kiosks, gate area chair armrests and water fountain buttons in three unnamed airports.

“It was a poorly designed semi-study with no real science,” said Marilyn Roberts, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. “Anywhere there is high hand contact will have lots of bacteria. But unless you are immunocompromised, old, or very young this should not be an issue. We are surrounded by bacteria all the time and the majority are harmless.”

SFO Restroom T2

The best way to avoid harmful germs at airports (or anywhere) is – no surprise – to practice good hygiene. “Be mindful about washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes,” said Roberts. And keep hand sanitizer handy.

Travelers will also be reassured to learn how serious most airports are about cleaning and how technology is helping an increasing number of airports maintain restrooms, gate hold rooms and public spaces.

 McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Pittsburgh International Airport are among the airports that have replaced multiple types of packaged harsh cleaning chemicals with onsite technology and machines that use tap water to create non-toxic cleaning solutions on demand.

In addition to eliminating much of the staff time previously spent purchasing, storing and managing traditional cleaning solutions (and discarding all the packaging), “We’ve replaced six cleaning products with two that allow airport staff to do deeper cleaning without harsh chemicals,” said David Shaw, Vice-President of Facilities and Infrastructure at the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates PIT Airport.

Pittsburgh International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are among airports that have tested autonomous floor scrubbing machines that allow custodial staff to spend more time doing tasks that require more skills and attention. (PIT’s tester came from Nilfisk and Carnegie Robotics; the machine at PHX is by Brain Corp.)

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, an automatic floor scrubbing machine is already part of the full-time cleaning team, operating four or five hours overnight polishing high traffic floors and, as a bonus, providing entertainment for late-night passengers.

“It acts like my co-worker,” janitorial worker Jack Lloyd explains in a C& W Services video about the machines, “I set it up, it works and I’m doing something else.”

Laser-focus on the lavatories 

Restrooms are among the most highly-visited parts of airports and, in surveys, dirty restrooms are often cited by passengers who are dissatisfied with their airport experience.

In response, airports, which now compete against each other for “Best Passenger Experience” awards, are focusing increased time, attention, and technology on making their restrooms shine.

Their efforts are paying off.

In 2016, the first batch of updated restrooms at Minneapolis-St. Paul International took first place in an annual competition for the Best Restroom in America

High-tech features that helped clinch that award were turbine-powered low-flow fixtures and occupancy sensors that monitor restroom use and signal maintenance crews to clean based on the use and number of visitors, said MSP spokesman Patrick Hogan.

Air is pumped into and out of the MSP restrooms in a way that helps dry surfaces quickly and minimizes odors and digital signs outside the restrooms direct travelers to the nearest open facility when a restroom is closed for cleaning.

Starting in 2016, housekeeping staff at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) have been wearing Samsung Gear smartwatches and using the TaskWatch app to match staff resources to peak restroom times instead of cleaning restrooms on a set schedule.

Wireless counters at each restroom entrance collect data and once a pre-set threshold is reached an automated message is sent to everyone wearing the watch. “The nearest housekeeper responds, inspects, addresses and clears the alert,” said CVG spokeswoman Mindy Kershner.

Cleanliness scoring for the airport’s restrooms increased so much (7 percent year over year) that what started as a six-month pilot program has been continued.

Now CVG airport is exploring how to use the TaskWatch system in other parts of the airport.

Officials at the Houston Airport system believe detailed attention to maintaining facilities – especially restrooms – that are clean, attractive and accessible, contributed to both George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby earning 4-star ratings last year from Skytrax, a major airport and airline rating service.

“Using the industry clean standards set by the International Sanitary Supply Association, custodial and maintenance staff at both airports work hard to ensure the facilities are maintained at or above those standard levels,” said Bill Begley, Houston Airport System spokesman.

HOU and IAH are also among a growing number of airports nationwide that, like MSP, have ‘smart’ data-gathering programs in restrooms and in other parts of the terminals.

“Everything pushes out data now,” said Tracy Davis, CEO of Atlanta-based Infax, one of the software services companies that collects real time data from passengers and from trash cans, lighting, restrooms fixtures and other things in airports.

“We take that data in and can let airport staff see on a map where there’s a spill or a trash can that needs to be emptied,” said Davis, “We also give maintenance crews predictive information about when flights are due in so they know when restrooms will experience peak hours.”

In addition to high tech tools, airports are also focusing on the basics to keep terminals tidy.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where that autonomous floor scrubber is earning its keep, airport cleaning crews use cordless vacuums to avoid creating a tripping hazard and use microfiber cloths to constantly wipe down screens on passport control kiosks and common use check-in kiosks.

And SEA Managing Director Lance Lyttle (who previously served as Houston Airport System’s Chief Operating Officer) keeps a plastic glove in his pocket so he’s ready to pick up bits of trash he spots when checking in with his staff in the airport terminal.

Lance Lyttle, Managing Director, Aviation, Port of Seattle, at Sea-Tac Airport, 3 February 2017.

That attention to detail sets a keep-it-clean tone. “It certainly does,” says SEA airport spokesman Perry Cooper, “When the boss does it, you pick up random litter as well.”