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Everett's Paine Field will compete with Bellingham for Canadian travelers

When passenger service starts at Everett's Paine Field, it will be competing with Bellingham International Airport for North Sound and Canadian passengers.

Alaska Airlines' plan to start its 18 daily flights out of Everett likely will impact traffic at Bellingham International Airport, but officials here are trying to attract more destinations — including Mexico — for local and Canadian travelers.

Alaska Airlines announced in a news release Thursday it is now selling tickets for flights from Everett's Paine Field beginning Feb. 11. The airline is kicking off ticket sales with special fares as low as $39 one way.

In an unexpected move, Southwest Airlines also sent out a news release saying that it has decided not to fly out of Paine Field, transferring its slots to Alaska and keeping all of its area flights at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The Alaska flights out of Everett will be to eight western U.S. cities: Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego and Orange County, California.

RELATED: Tickets for first flights out of Everett's Paine Field go on sale

When Alaska first announced plans for Everett in January, Port of Bellingham Aviation Director Sunil Harman said he expected passenger traffic at the Bellingham airport to drop by about 5 percent.

Given the air service demand and the infrastructure constraints in the north Seattle area, Harman said in an email Thursday, he believes this new capacity will quickly be saturated and by 2020, Bellingham will resume growing.

Local and Canadian passengers make up most of Bellingham's market. After years of decreasing numbers because of a weakening Canadian dollar, Bellingham's passenger numbers have stabilized this year.

According to data collected by the Port of Bellingham, more than 313,000 people took flights out of the Bellingham airport through October, about 1,000 more than the same period in 2017.

Harman said some factors in the stabilizing numbers was increased service from Allegiant, along with the use of larger planes by Alaska. The return of seasonal flights to Denver also helped, he said.

Passenger numbers could also get a boost in the final weeks of 2018 as Allegiant started its new nonstop service from Bellingham to Tucson, Arizona on Thursday.

"With the number of Canadians owning and purchasing winters homes in the (Tucson) area .... this should be a successful market," Harman said.

The year-round service operates twice weekly, according to a news release from Allegiant. With the new flight, Allegiant now flies to seven cities out of Bellingham, including Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.

Alaska Airlines recently started its seasonal service from Bellingham to Hawaii, but also recently ended its service to Portland.

The loss of the Portland market was disappointing to Harman, who said they are working to restore that destination. Port officials also are "aggressively" pursuing United Airlines to try and establish service in Bellingham.

Other markets they hope to land include Mexico, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Reno.

The peak year for the airport was in 2013, when nearly 600,000 people flew out of Bellingham, according to The Bellingham Herald archives. At the time, the Canadian dollar was about on par with the U.S. dollar, an indicator of how influential the Canadian market is to the Bellingham airport when the loonie is strong.

RELATED: History of Everett's Paine Field

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