Skip to main content

Flying Out of Paine Field: A Good Deal for Families?

Should you skip Sea-Tac and try our region’s other airport?

Published on: July 25, 2023

A mom and son look at the window of an airport representing Paine Field in Everett, Wash., near Seattle alternative airport to Sea-Tac

With 31 airlines serving 91 non-stop domestic destinations and 28 international cities, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will get you where you want to go. But it might not be easy.

With the capacity shortfall at Sea-Tac’s new international terminal and multiple ongoing construction projects, navigating our local airport — the nation’s ninth busiest — isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But what’s the alternative?

For families living in the North end and traveling to select Western U.S. destinations, Snohomish County’s Paine Field Airport (PAE) — recently renamed Seattle Paine Field International Airport — could provide some very handy travel pain relief.

Ready for takeoff – again

Paine Field was built in 1936. Today it’s the manufacturing center for Boeing’s widebody aircraft and a major tourist attraction housing the Boeing Future of Flight visitor center, as well as the Boeing Factory Tour (temporarily closed) the Museum of Flight Restoration Center and the just reopened Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum.

After years of planning, commercial passenger flights finally cleared for takeoff at Paine Field in early 2019. One year and more than a million passengers later, Seattle Paine Field International Airport was living up to its tagline of “bringing civility back to airports.”

But then the pandemic disrupted travel and Paine Field’s passenger terminal closed for maintenance and repairs — for more than two months. Ouch.

But now, with air travel set to reach pre-pandemic levels in 2023, it’s worth considering whether flying out of Seattle Paine Field International Airport makes sense for your family. Here’s how our two Puget Sound-area airports compare on common travel pain points:

1. Small and cozy

Seattle Paine Field International Airport's single terminal can’t offer 1000 daily flights like Sea-Tac. But you won’t need to make an appointment or arrive hours early for a short flight just to get through security. With only two gates, you won’t have to worry about finding your way or losing your toddler in the crowd. Compared to navigating Sea-Tac, Paine Field is practically a living room, featuring mid-century design centered on a stone fireplace under a wooden ceiling. Paine Field’s biggest advantage is perhaps just how easy it is.

2. Comfort food

With presumably shorter lines and virtually no distance between security and the gates, airport food may not be as big a part of the flying experience at Paine Field as it is at larger airports. But kids and families will still be happy to know that Beecher’s Handmade Cheese operates the terminal’s food concessions, offering kid favorites like grilled-to-order sandwiches, hot soups and mac and cheese. Parents might take turns hitting up the wine bar Upper Case or the Caffe Vita coffee kiosk.

3. Cheap and not-so-cheap seats

Alaska Airlines offered $39 promotional flights when the terminal first opened in 2019. Those were way too good to last. Smaller airports are usually more expensive than major hubs.

An an unscientific sample of fares put nonstop flights out of Paine Field at sometimes double the cost of flights out of Sea-Tac. A late June weekend roundtrip to Las Vegas cost less than $200, whereas a roundtrip out of Paine Field on the same weekend cost more than $450.

A round-trip flight for a week in San Diego in July was $218 out of Sea-Tac and $359 out of Paine Field. A week in Phoenix around the holidays was about $320 on American out of Sea-Tac, compared to Paine Field’s $479 on Alaska. If you’re on a tight budget, Sea-Tac is still your best bet.

4. Popular destinations

If you’re looking for non-stop flights to the East Coast or international destinations, Sea-Tac is still your only choice. Paine Field offers departures to only a handful of airports in the Western states. But among them are six of Sea-Tac’s 10 most popular U.S. destinations, and many of them are important connection hubs for destinations further afield.

For now, Alaska is the only airline operating out of Paine Field, currently serving Anchorage, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Santa Ana/Orange County, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco, with seasonal service to Tucson and Palm Springs. These are popular destinations for Seattle-area families.

Starting Nov. 17, 2023 Alaska will add daily nonstop service from Seattle Paine Field International Airport to Honolulu, something to keep in mind if you are planning to head toward sunnier skies during the holidays. 

5. Traffic and parking

Whether getting to Paine Field will be easier than getting to Sea-Tac will depend on where you live. Paine Field could save you a chunk of travel time if you live closer to Everett than to Sea-Tac, or many points north of that.

Parking in one of Paine Field’s almost 250 spaces is free for the first 15 minutes. After that, premium rates ($6/hour; $34/day; $204/week) apply at two uncovered lots directly adjacent to the terminal. A cheaper lot further away charges $24/day. No shuttle is available, but at a five-minute walk from the terminal, it’s still closer than some of the premium parking spaces at Sea-Tac. There is also a cell phone lot and curbside zone for picking up visitors.

In contrast, Sea-Tac has more than 12,000 onsite parking spaces, but on busy days you may not be able to find one. Their new automated parking guide may provide some help. Parking rates are surprisingly similar. General/premium hourly rates at Sea-Tac cost $6/$7; daily rates are $34/$42 and weekly costs are $169/$294 (rates are scheduled to increase June 1, 2023).

More travel info and ideas...

Get the best of ParentMap delivered right to your inbox.

Related Topics

Share this resource with your friends!