Photo: Don Wilson

Image: Don Wilson, Port of Seattle

APEX Insight: With route-to-route competition tighter than ever in some markets, the allure of airports can not be taken for granted. This multipart feature looks at airlines that are elevating the ground experience for their passengers by making architectural wonders and tourism attractions out of their airport terminals.

Seattle–Tacoma International Airport and Alaska Airlines

Code: SEA
Managing company: Port of Seattle
Project duration: 2017–2021
Project cost: $550 million
Passengers per year: 42 million

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport may not be Alaska Airlines’ home base, but as the fastest-growing large airport in the United States, it’s a critical hub for the airline to reach its passengers on a wide scale. Alaska still claims a lion’s share of the airport’s market share, but has faced capacity pressure from Delta Air Lines over the past two years. Still, Alaska has plans to lay further claim to its turf in Seattle.

Construction is expected to begin early next year on the $550-million modernization of the airport’s North Satellite terminal, which is used exclusively by Alaska Airlines. While the project will be funded by all of the airport’s airlines in proportion to their share of passenger capacity, Alaska has also invested upwards of $37 million. A new lounge will include a large window area and will showcase views of Seattle’s landscape and will be a prime spot for watching the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.     

“Alaska Airlines is small, relatively speaking, compared to some other carriers. But we’re innovative and we have a very clear understanding of what innovation truly is,” says Matthew Coder, manager of Inflight Experience, Alaska Airlines. “Innovation is really about keeping moving, going forward.” In 2014, the airline implemented biometric access for its Board Room lounges, giving travelers the option to move in and out with the scan of a finger.

“We knew the moment we released the Airport of the Future, the very first day we did that, it became the Airport of Today.” — Matthew Coder, Alaska Airlines

Apart from its James Bond-esque coolness, the biometric technology contributes to the airline’s rally to improve one of the snags of the airport experience: long lines. In 2004, Alaska Airlines unveiled its Airport of the Future concept at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Patented check-in kiosks and bag-check islands are used to replace traditional counters, reducing wait times by 50 percent. “We knew the moment we released the Airport of the Future, the very first day we did that, it became the Airport of Today,” Coder says.

In 2007, in conjunction with its sister carrier, Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines brought a larger-scale version of its futurist concept to Sea-Tac. The $18-million investment involved clustering check-in kiosks into “decision zones,” where travelers decide what to do in approximately 15 seconds. “It’s a pass-through concept,” Coder says. Fifty-six deep-set baggage drop points are positioned so that travelers have a clear vantage of security, their next destination.

This article is an excerpt from the multipart feature “Hub Sweet Hub,” originally published in the 6.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Katie is a writer for APEX Media, based in Toronto, Ontario.