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2014: 258,704
2013: 330,818

A Look at How Different Airlines Board Their Planes

Boarding an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 at Burbank. Image by Colin Cook.

Boarding an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 at Burbank. Image by Colin Cook.

It used to be that most major airlines shared commonalities in the way they boarded passengers. However it seems that each airline has so their own boarding processes that it’s hard to keep up. Sure, the way an airline boards likely won’t sway a decision on which airline to fly, I wanted to put together a list of how some of the major airlines operate their boarding process.

As one would expect, the majority of airlines give priority boarding to their elite level fliers. Having personally achieved even a low level MVP with Alaska Airlines I can say that I would never want to go back to being just “one of the herd.” While I haven’t gone on a “mileage run”, there are many well documented stories of folks taking a quick trip just for the sake of achieving elite-level status.

With precious overhead space and many airlines now charging for checked luggage it’s become a race to get on board as early as possible. While some low cost carriers are now charging for carry-on bags, the major US airlines typically allow one carry-on bag (i.e. a roller bag or other bag for the overhead bin) and one personal item (laptop bag, purse, backpack, etc). Since many travelers are now bringing a large carry-on bag, boarding times have soared. An article in the New York Times suggested that boarding a plane with 140 people in the 1970’s took about 15 minutes which has more than doubled to 30-40 minutes.

Without further adieu, here is how the various airlines handle their boarding procedures (a small note: these are all the boarding requirements as found by AirlineReporter.com at the time of publishing. These change frequently, so please add any changes/ideas to the comments and listen to all gate announcements for proper boarding proceedures):

How does Air Tran board? – This airline’s boarding procedures will undoubtedly change as the integration into Southwest takes place over time. Southwest operates a 737 only fleet and is in the process of subleasing Air Tran’s Boeing 717 planes to Delta. Presently, Air Tran pre-boards unaccompanied minors, passengers traveling with an infant, and passengers needing special assistance prior to general boarding. Like many other airlines, Air Tran utilizes a zone boarding process.

How does Alaska Airlines board? – Being based in the Pacific Northwest, I fly Alaska more than any other airline. Their boarding process is pretty straightforward. They don’t mess around with zones or boarding groups and have a seemingly more streamlined approach. They begin with preboarding – those customers who are traveling with children or need some additional time to get down the jet way. After preboarding, they invite First Class, Alaska Airlines MVP and 75k elite level fliers. Next are passengers seated in row six of the main cabin (bulkhead row at the front of economy) and Alaska MVPs and partner elites. After that, they board from the rear of the plane starting with passengers seated in row 15 and higher. Finally they open to general boarding at that point. It’s a pretty well organized system and tends to work well.

STORY: Flying First Class on Alaska Airlines

Boarding an Allegiant MD-80 in Bellingham. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

Boarding an Allegiant MD-80 in Bellingham. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

How does Allegiant board? – Allegiant offers many different add-ons to their standard fare and does a nice job of providing ala carte service where you can add additional services to their basic fare. Among their options are Priority Boarding for $9.99 (allows you to board first), Premium Seat Selection $9.99 (an assigned seat near the front or exit row), Standard Seat Assignment $6.99 (assigned seat towards the back of the plane). You can certainly opt to fly without paying any of those additional fees, but be prepared to sit in a middle seat. Their boarding process allows people that paid for priority boarding to board first, followed by those who need a little extra time. Then passengers who paid for the standard seat assignment are allowed to board followed by those who do not have seat assignments but have young children. Lastly it goes to open seating and people get to fend for them self to find an open seat.

STORY: Flight review flying Allegiant Airlines

How does American Airlines board? – American is one of the airlines that actually disclose their boarding process on their website. Many airlines do not give a specific process but simply expect you to pay attention when you get to the airport. American employs a process similar to most of the other legacy carriers in that they give priority to elites and then general boarding. Their process consists of preboarding First Class, Uniformed Military, AAdvantage Executive Platinum, and oneworld Emerald. On aircraft with three class service, Business Class is boarded next. The next group consists of AAdvantage Platinum and oneworld Sapphire, followed by Priority AAccess and oneworld Ruby. From there, American is in the home stretch boarding groups 1-4. Of course this could all be changing with the airline merging with US Airways.

STORY: Taking American’s 737 Sky Interior Delivery Flight

How does Delta Air Lines board? – The world’s largest airline by passengers carried and fleet size has developed a good reputation among both business and leisure travelers. They utilize a zone boarding process similar to many of the other large airlines. They first offer preboarding to their Sky Miles Medallion elite level fliers (Diamond, Platinum, and Gold) and passengers traveling in the first class cabin. On international flights they then invite passengers traveling in BusinessElite, Sky Miles Medallion Silver frequent fliers, and partner elites to board. Delta then begins general boarding via a zone process beginning from the rear of the aircraft. Depending on the size of the plane and whether it is an international or domestic flight, Delta can have as many as nine different boarding groups.

How does Frontier Airlines board? – Denver’s hometown airline has been undergoing some big changes in recent years. Frontier uses a zone boarding style similar to many other carriers, beginning with preboarding for passengers with special needs, which include passengers who need assistance and unaccompanied minors. Similarly to Jet Blue’s Silent Boarding group, they do not announce a special boarding for this group. The one nice thing is that you don’t have to make a reservation in advance for the extra time, whereas you do on Jet Blue. Frontier then invites their Summit Members to board which is the top tier of their EarlyReturns frequent flier program. They then begin priority boarding and Zone 1 which includes Ascent members (second tier of EarlyReturns), as well as people traveling on a Classic Plus fare or seated in Stretch seating. Next, they invite families with small children and passengers requiring additional time or assistance to board. They also have a separate boarding group here for people who are not utilizing overhead bins (it pays to pack lightly). After that, they begin boarding with Zone 2, which are passengers in Select seating. Finally, they board Zone 3 which is pretty much anyone else. So while Frontier technically only has three zones, they really have seven different boarding groups.

STORY: Review flying Frontier Airlines to Denver and back

A JetBlue E-190 in Boston. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

A JetBlue E-190 in Boston. Image from David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

How does JetBlue board?– As is typically true with most things JetBlue, they try to keep their boarding process simple. They begin with pre-boarding which they call Silent Boarding. This is a service that must be requested in advance and is designed for people who have requested or appear to need additional time boarding. The interesting bit is that they do not make a gate announcement (hence the Silent Boarding name), so it is up to you to request this service and show up at the right time. After Silent Boarding they begin priority boarding for Mosaic and Even More Space customers. Mosaic is their elite level program which has many of the same benefits as competitors (priority security lane, preferred seating, 2 free checked bags, bonus points, and dedicated customer service line). Even More Space is an option that you can select when booking and just like it name suggests you get more space.

JetBlue then invites families with children under the age of 2 and other individuals who need additional time to board. It’s interesting that they have their Silent Boarding and then a separate pre-board for people who may need additional time. Finally, they board from the rear of the aircraft forward in five row increments. This begins with individuals in rows 20-25, then 15-25, 10-25, and lastly 5-25.

STORY: Flying JetBlue from the Bahamas to Boston in an E-190

How does Southwest Airlines board? – Southwest is unique since they do not actually assign seats. So it’s still important to get a good boarding group to ensure a good seat and overhead storage. Their overall process contains a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a number (1-60) and they have passengers queue up in the boarding area in a line according to the boarding group and number. Some have called this process a “cattle call,” but really it seems like less people end up standing around waiting to be called than with other methods.  Alternatively, you can buy a Business Select or EarlyBird Check-In to be among the first to board. For frequent fliers, it is a pretty simple boarding process, but it seems that people who do not fly often, easily get confused on how to board a Southwest plane.

STORY: Guide to getting a good seat on Southwest Airlines

How does Spirit Airlines board? – Spirit is the ultimate King of low cost travel and their boarding process and baggage policies reflect that. Like Allegiant, their base fares are always amongst the lowest but Spirit is betting you will purchase additional services. They not only have fees for seat selection but also other amenities such as checked baggage and soft drinks on board. Spirit employs a zone boarding process similar to many airlines with some differences. They allow unaccompanied minors and others requiring assistance first, followed by folks sitting in their Big Front Seats (first row or two depending on aircraft that are in a 2-2 layout and have better seat pitch), and then the remaining zones 2, 3, & 4. The one difference is that they board from the front to the back.

How does United Airlines board? – No sooner than I finished writing the original section on United, the airline made yet another change in their boarding process. This marks the fifth time in less than two years that the airline has changed their procedure. This is not surprising as mergers always result in some chaos, but it would seem smart for the airline to stick to one process for a while — hopefully this one will stick.

Under the new process, they begin with pre-boarding of customers with disabilities, Global Services, and uniformed military personnel. Following that, Group 1 is invited to board which included Global Services (for customers that did not pre-board), Premier 1K, Premier Platinum, and their premium cabins. Group 2 is essentially for all of the United and partner elite fliers including Premier Gold and Silver, Star Alliance Gold and Silver, MileagePlus Presidential Plus and Club cardholders, MileagePlus Explorer and Awards cardholders.

It’s interesting that United does not give greater priority to their Gold and Silver level fliers – someone who holds their credit card is given the same boarding priority. United has really been pushing their Explorer credit card so it’s no surprise they used priority boarding as a selling point. United then opens up for groups 3-5 for general boarding from the rear of the aircraft. Unlike other airlines, they no longer give priority boarding to families traveling with infants or young children. Those families must board when their group number is called.

How does US Airways board? – Much like other legacy carriers, US Airways uses a zone boarding process. They begin with preboarding of First Class / Envoy, Preferred members of their Dividend Miles program, and Star Alliance Gold members. After preboarding, zone 1 consists of the bulkhead row and exit row seats without under the seat storage. It’s interesting that they allow exit row seats without under the seat storage to board early. I realize that these folks have responsibilities since they are in the exit row, but does it really take them longer to board?

Zone 2 is made up of US Airways Premier World MasterCard holders, US Airways Visa Signature card holders, ChoiceSeats, and Exit row seats with under-the-seat storage. Much like United, they have given their credit card holders a priority boarding group. At least the elite members of their Dividend Miles program get a higher priority (United has the same boarding priority for Gold and Silver elites as they do for their credit card holders). Finally they board from the rear forward beginning with zones 3-5. It’s a fairly straightforward process which is nice.

Virgin American Airbus A320 at LAX. Image by David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

Virgin American Airbus A320 at LAX. Image by David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com.

How does Virgin America board? –  Virgin American starts with allowing their First Class passengers to board before allowing folks with children and disabled people who need a little more time. Then they move on to Main Cabin Select, which are in the first row of economy and the exit rows so they have more legroom. The Main Cabin Select fare also comes with complimentary food and drinks and one free checked bag.  After those two groups, they board the Main Cabin Express group. Ultimately, this is just an add-on that you can purchase to be among the first to board.

Being that I really like to be sit near the front and be able to get off the plane as soon as possible, this fare is quite appealing. Finally, they move on to a group based boarding process, starting with A and moving through the alphabet. I recall on one flight it went groups A-D, but on another it went A-F.

STORY: Flying in Virgin America’s First Class

Hopefully this article can provide some insight the next time you are traveling and are curious about how different airlines board. In the comments, be sure to talk about your boarding experiences and which processes do you like (or hate the most)?

Related links in airline boarding:

This story written by…Colin Cook, Correspondent.Colin is an avid AvGeek who works in finance and is based in the Seattle area. He has an immense passion for aviation and loves to travel as much as possible.

@CRoscoe2121

Follow Along: Aviation Geek Fest Starts Today!

agf13And so it begins: Aviation Geek Fest 2013. There were 420 tickets sold, 206 different people are expected to attend, 30 folks were left on the wait list (sorry) and the farthest someone flew for #AGF13 is 4500 miles.

Today, we are going to be meeting at the Museum of Flight and checking out the Boeing 737 factory in Renton. SEE THE FULL AFG13 SCHEDULE.

If you were not able to make it this year, no worries — you can follow along via Twitter and Facebook. Also, check out the live feed below:

Want to join in for Aviation Geek Fest 2014? Make sure you are on the e-mail list(I know the page says AGF13, but it will become the AGF14 list). Until then — CHEERS!

Interview with Boeing Business Jet’s President Steve Taylor

Captain Steve Taylor at the controls of a 747-8I before flight. Image from Boeing.

Captain Steve Taylor at the controls of a 747-8I before flight. Image from Boeing.

I first met Steve Taylor, the President of Boeing Business Jets, during the press conference for the delivery of the first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental. He had to leave half way thought the Q&A, which would be rude for most airline executives, but he had a good reason: he had to fly the plane.  Then more recently I was able to chat with him another event and enjoyed our conversation so much that I asked for a follow up interview for the blog and here is that interview:

David Parker Brown (DPB): Who is Steve Taylor?
Steve Taylor (ST): I’m basically a very lucky kid from Kansas who’s landed in a job that allows me lead a great team, selling and supporting a great product while still engaging my passion for flying airplanes. I’m second generation Boeing – my father having been an engineer, test pilot and an executive during his 50 years here and my career has (in many ways) followed along in his footsteps. Like him, I have a background in engineering and flight test and also like him; I continue to fly small airplanes very regularly.

DPB: What aircraft are you currently rated to fly?
ST: I fly small airplanes for fun and fly big airplanes at work whenever the opportunity arises. I’m rated for single and multi-engine land airplanes; single engine seaplanes; Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 as well as Bombardier Challenger 604 and Dassault Falcon 10. I maintain my currency on the Boeing airplanes as well as several light airplanes and I use my FAA Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics license to work on those light airplanes as well.

DPB: Which aircraft do you enjoy flying the most?
ST: There’s a saying among pilots that our favorite airplane is always the one that we are currently flying and I must say that there’s a lot of truth in the comment. With that said, the 787 is the nicest handling airplane I’ve ever flown and it is a real joy to fly. The 747-8 is very special to fly because it is so majestic and the 737 is the most comfortable for me personally because I’ve flown it so much. Nonetheless, I’m happy to fly any airplane, any time.

Boeing 737 BBJ. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

Boeing 737 BBJ. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

DPB: Where do you sleep during long flights where no seats/crew rests are installed?
ST: Thankfully, all of the seats and accommodations on the flight deck are installed here at Boeing before delivery. In the case of the 747-8, that includes four seats and two crew bunks in the flight deck, so we have all the same amenities available that airline flight crews typically enjoy with the notable exception of a galley, so we have to be a little bit clever with our catering. It is perhaps a bit ironic that when we deliver what will be one of the most luxurious aircraft in the air, we’re frequently carrying a thermos for our coffee and box lunches for our meals. The configuration of the green airplane with no passenger seats does lead to some interesting conversations when you think about a “Boeing four-seater”, but all of us want to be on the flight deck anyway, so we find ways to make it work.

DPB: Are the bathrooms already installed?
ST: Yes, all of our “green” airplanes include at least one lavatory. In the case of the 747-8, there’s even a lavatory forward of the flight deck security door which is a feature that has been a big plus for our airline customers.

DPB: Who are the type of customers that order a BBJ?
ST: There are really quite a variety of BBJ customers, but they primarily fall into three camps: Corporations, Wealthy Individuals and Heads of State. Our corporate customers are mostly very large, multi-national corporations who see the benefits of our airplanes for transporting teams around the globe. With the high-speed data systems that are now typical on all BBJ’s, our customers can make productive use of the time aboard our airplanes. When combined with the amenities and comfort available, they can do more business in more places more quickly.

Our wealthy individual customers share a similar need for productivity – they tend to be very entrepreneurial individuals whose time is incredibly valuable.

The Head of State clients are as varied as the nations they lead, but they share a need to transport large teams reliably, safely and securely. Most of those airplanes have a configuration that addresses the broad needs of a Head of State, so they typically have seating for security teams and other support people.

We also have a few customers who operate their BBJ’s on Charter certificates providing “on-demand” type of service. Those airplanes are typically configured to support the sort of clients most prevalent in their regions. For example, the Middle East charter airplanes are typically configured to support Head of State type clients

This is a Boeing Business Jet. I want one.

This is a Boeing Business Jet. I want one.

DPB: Besides the 737 VIP, which is the most popular BBJ?
ST: The 737 based BBJ is obviously the product that brought Boeing into the business jet market and since we started this venture 16+ years ago, we’ve sold 156 of them. In addition to those, Boeing has sold a dozen 787’s, nine 747-8’s, eight 767’s, five 777’s, five 757’s and a handful of 747-400s and “non-BBJ” 737’s to VIP customers.

DPB: Any news on the 748I becoming the new Air Force One?
ST: Boeing is in ongoing discussions as to what the customer requirements are and how best we can meet them, but nothing other than that to report.

DPB: How does one go about ordering a BBJ?
ST: We have a team of BBJ Sales Directors who work directly with our clients. Each client has unique requirements, so each campaign is different, depending on the client’s requirements.

DPB: Are there customers for 787 test aircraft ZA004, ZA005 and ZA006? When will the first 787 VIP deliver?
ST: Yes, there’s a lot of interest in the market for those airplanes. We’ve already sold ZA006 to an undisclosed customer and we are working several prospects for the remaining two. The first BBJ 787 is scheduled for delivery at the end of this year and there are several BBJ 787 deliveries in 2014, so we are very busy now working with our partners in the Completion business to ensure that we have provided them with the engineering data to support the VIP conversions.

This story written by…David Parker Brown, Editor & Founder.

David started AirlineReporter.com in the summer of 2008, but has had a passion for aviation since he was a kid. Born and raised in the Seattle area (where he is currently based) has surely had an influence and he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the world.

@AirlineReporter | Flickr | YouTube

Not Breaking News: American Airlines & US Airways Merge

US Airways Airbus A330 and American Airlines Boeing 777. Image from American.

US Airways Airbus A330 and American Airlines Boeing 777. Image from American.

Ever since American Airlines declared bankruptcy in November 2011, Doug Parker from US Airways has been on the prowl to snap up the airline and merge.  Talk of a possible merger has remained around the aviation world since then, and in some cases it has been discussed to the ends of the earth. It really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when news that the two airlines would merge started to leak last night.

The two airlines will combine and create one of the world’s largest airlines.  The combined entity will lose the US Airways name and will become a member of oneworld.  The “New American Airlines” will strengthen oneworld with a combined network of 336 locations in 56 countries offering 6700 daily flights.

“Today, we are proud to launch the new American Airlines – a premier global carrier well equipped to compete and win against the best in the world,” said Tom Horton, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of American Airlines. “Together, we will be even better positioned to deliver for all of our stakeholders, including our customers, people, investors, partners, and the many communities we serve.”

The New Merging Couple, US Airways and the New American Airlines Liver - Image: American Airlines

The New Merging Couple, US Airways and the New American Airlines Liver – Image: American Airlines

What does this mean for the traveling public?  The two airlines will continue to operate separately for quite sometime and it might be a while before most passengers see any real changes. But here is the basic run down:

  • The US Airways brand will be transitioned to the new unveiled American Airlines brand and look.
  • The head quarters of the new American will be located in Dallas Fort-Worth.
  • All hubs will remain in the combined operation: Dallas, Miami, JFK, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Chicago, Charlotte, Washington D.C. (National) & Los Angeles.
  • US Airways will leave Star Alliance and the new combined airline will continue with oneworld
  • American CEO Tom Horton will continue to be to the chairman — for now.
  • US Airways Dividend Miles will no longer exist and will be merged into AAdvantage (but as to when this still has not been announced).
  • They will continue to grow the combined airline taking delivery of over 600 new aircraft (including Boeing 777-300ERs & 737-800, Airbus A350s, A320 & A321 NEOs) and retiring the older aircraft (ie MD-80’s).
The 77W looks ready to fly. Check out the Wi-Fi antenna up top. Image from American.

How will this livery look on an Airbus A330?  Image from American.

The new airline does not expect many jobs will be lost due to the two airlines not having much overlap. “We’re not anticipating any major layoffs,” said US Airways CEO Doug Parker according to the Airline Biz Blog. “The airline will be based in Dallas-Fort Worth and some people won’t want to move from Phoenix [US Airways is based there]. Most of this well take care of itself.”

When the Airline Biz Blog asked the airline CEOs about their regional counterparts (American Eagle and US Airways Express), they explained that they want to concentrate on the mainline before looking at the regional carriers. “We’ll keep them as part of the larger airline,” Parker explained. “It’s one of those things we’ll have to work on over time, but certainly there’s nothing to announce.” Horton was asked about the possibility of the regional carriers being spun off and responded, “We’ll keep them as part of the larger airline. It’s one of those things we’ll have to work on over time, but certainly there’s nothing to announce.”

With an on-board premium product that is already similar (US Airways Envoy class uses the same seats that the New American airlines does on their 777-300ER) and with a modern fleet, we can hope that this will be a positive match. It is likely that AA/US do not plan to experience some of the same issues that plagued the United/Continental merger and as long as everything goes smoothly, the new American will be official once it clears bankruptcy court in the 3rd Quarter of 2013.

MORE AMERICAN AIRLINES / US AIRWAYS MERGER STUFF:

Story written by Malcolm Muir and David Parker Brown

Aviation in Seattle: Paine Field Spotting Guide

With Aviation Geek Fest fast approaching and in the spirit of AvGeeks everywhere, I am giving out my tips on spotting at Paine Field (KPAE) in Everett.  Known predominantly as the location of “the Boeing Factory” it can be an AvGeek’s dream or nightmare. Here are some of the tips and tricks from a local AvGeek who calls KPAE his home base…

The livery for the State of Kuwait aircraft is very similar to Kuwait Airway's design.

You could take photos just like this using our guide.  Photo by David Parker Brown / AirlineReporter.com

Location:

Paine Field (officially known as Snohomish County Airport) is located in Mukilteo/Everett, roughly 30 miles north of Seattle.  In relative terms, it’s about 30 minutes or so north on I5 from downtown (if you’re not during peak Seattle driving time that is).  Originally an Air Force Base in the 50s it became the home of the Boeing Factory when the 747 factory line was built on the site, the rest from that moment is history.

The airport has three runways (two parallel & one cross runways) though the one predominantly used is 16R/34L.  This runway is the site where every Boeing wide body since the first 747 has had its first ever flight; pretty good landmark.  The field also has a number of other aviation related tenants including ATS (Aviation Technical Services) who do the maintenance work for Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest and Alaska Airlines, along with a number of local AvGeek attractions including the Future of Flight, Historic Flight Foundation & the Flying Heritage Collection.

Some key places to spot at Paine Field. Orig image from Google Maps.

Some key places to spot at Paine Field. Orig image from Google Maps.

Where to Spot:

The two primary locations that most AvGeeks are going to be interested in are “Future of Flight/The Mounds” or “The Wind Sock”.  These two locations border 16R/34L and at different times mean different kinds of views available.   The rough guide is:

  1. Future of Flight/The Mounds:  Predominantly used for 16R Arrivals/Departures.  Your best shooting/viewing spot is up on the Stratodeck (free to access) on the top floor of Future of Flight and can lead to some great views/shots of aircraft lining up for take-off, panoramas of the flight line showing all the different aircraft in multiple states or taxiing for take off. You can also get nice approach shots as aircraft land right in front of the factory. If the Stratodeck is closed, there are a number of mounds built into the sites next to the fence line that allow you to take a photo unhindered by those pesky barb wire fences (no need for a step ladder here).  For those staying at the Hilton Garden Inn (located next to Future of Flight) you may even be able to get a good shot direct from your balcony.
    (Example Shots – A Lot 787, ANA 787 Lining up, Ethiopian 777 Cargo Head On)

    The Location of the "windsock" at Paine Field.  Not much here but you will be close to the action Photo by Malcolm Muir / AirlineReporter.com.

    The Location of the “windsock” at Paine Field. Not much here but you will be close to the action Photo by Malcolm Muir / AirlineReporter.com.

  2. The Wind Sock: Located down near the Historic Flight Foundation, this spot is a little bit more basic and not as well known.  There isn’t really much to this spot but a built up area, just off a side entry at the top of a mound.  What it gives you is unrivalled close up action of the touchdown point of 34L.  You are extremely close and those with big lenses will need to zoom all the way out for some arrivals (especially a Dreamlifter).  Though you can get some impressive landing/take off shots you will also get very close to touch and go’s by the heavies on 16R and that can be an impressive sight on its own.
    (Example Shots – Dreamlifter Take Off, Emirates 777, JAL 787

To help you find your way to these two locations, a great new site Aviation Photographic has a great little guide to spotting at Paine Field with a map that will show you an easy way to identify these locations (even if from a satellite image).

People lined up on the mounds outside Future of Flight, to take photos of an aircraft departing.  Photo by Malcolm Muir / AirlineReporter.com.

People lined up on the mounds outside Future of Flight, to take photos of an aircraft departing. Photo by Malcolm Muir / AirlineReporter.com.


When to Spot:

Weekdays are by far the best time to spot at Paine Field with the factory and test flights in full force.  Flights come and go at random times and although Flightaware.com can be a great source at times, you need to live by one rule at Paine Field:  Boeing Time.

What is “Boeing Time?”  It is really just a way to describe that if you are an avid spotter, out to get that brand new aircraft fresh from the factory, be prepared to wait….. a lot.  Because these are test flights, so there is no guaranteed time of departure. They either pop up at the very last minute or more often than not, they run late.

Usually you can rely on the Dreamlifter schedule which are operated by Atlas Air. They show up on Flightaware as GTI4*** (where *** is the rest of the flight number), and they come at all hours of the day or night.  You can sometimes get a Southwest or Alaska or Delta 737 coming in on the weekends for maintenance, although most of the time this is during the middle of the night.

Boeing 787s on the flight line at Paine Field. Photo by Malcolm Muir.

Boeing 787s on the flight line at Paine Field. Photo by Malcolm Muir.

Random Tips/Tricks:

A couple of extra little tips and/or tricks for you:

  • Being that there is no commercial service here at the field, you will more than likely need a car to get around.  There are a number of places around the field that offer great places to spot. Just try to stay off Boeing property, since they do not allow you to take photos from their property and might be met by a security person. If you stick to the above two spots, you won’t have a problem (and a step ladder won’t be required).
  • Since flights come and go at any time, having a scanner or access to LiveATC (via one of their mobile apps) can be helpful.  Remember that LiveATC has about a 10-20 second delay and that access is not guaranteed so it could go down.  On some days they will also play the ATC feed on top of the Stratodeck at Future of Flight.
  • During winter you can get some great shots even with the rain and cold.  Since movements are often infrequent you may not be exposed to the elements for long, you can hang out in your car down by the mounds and pop out when needed.

Hopefully the guide can help you enjoy your time at Aviation Geek Fest (or any time in Seattle really) that little bit better. If you have photos taken from Paine Field you want to share, put them in the comments — we would love to see them.

This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.

@BigMalX | BigMal’s World | Photos