It’s Back to the Future at Sea-Tac with Alaska Airlines Testing Airstairs to Unload its Jets from the Rear

By John Gillie, August 29, 2013, The News Tribune

You know the feeling if you’ve ever sat in row 30 in a single-aisle jet.  It seems as if you could celebrate yet another birthday by the time it’s your turn to exit the plane.

SeaTac’s Alaska Airlines is resurrecting an old idea to deal with the frustrations of those who are seated in the plane’s rearmost rows: a rear exit.

The airline is testing using portable air stairs for rear access. Those airstairs are like those that were standard at airports before the advent of jet bridges to connect the terminal with the aircraft.

The rear exit will not only help able-bodied travelers enter and leave the plane more quickly, those exits could reduce the non-productive ground time for the airline.

The airline figures that the “dual boarding” concept could cut as much as 10 minutes from the time it takes to unload a Boeing 737.

The airline is testing the concept — jet bridge loading from the front of the aircraft and air stairs from the rear — at Sea-Tac, Long Beach and San Jose airports.  Long Beach has long used air stairs because the terminal there didn’t have the capacity to handle jet bridges.

Alaska passengers are no strangers to occasional walks across the tarmac at Sea-Tac. The airline’s regional subsidiary, Horizon Air, uses ground-level boarding for its smaller aircraft at the airport.

Sea-Tac Airport is including construction of new stairs connecting the terminal’s C and D concourses with the tarmac as part of nearly $700 million in construction projects that it is planning in the next few years at the airport.

Included in that new construction is an updating of the 40-year-old North Satellite Terminal.

That terminal, once a center for United Airlines flights, is becoming an exclusive Alaska Airlines Terminal.

Port of Seattle plans call for the terminal to receive seismic and mechanical upgrades, new seating and lighting, upgraded flight displays, better Wi-Fi reception and expanded concessions.  Three more gates will be added for a total of 15.

The lower level transit system lobbies for connections to the main terminal will be remodeled.

The terminal’s baggage systems along with those throughout the airport will be upgrade.

Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper said the new baggage system will allow checked bags placed on the system from any check-in counter to be routed to any gate in the airport. The present system limits where the bags can be sent.

The new baggage system will centralize the baggage security scanning systems to two or three locations instead of the 17-or-so locations now operating.

The security point leading to the North Satellite will be upgraded in the remodeling.

In addition to the changes mostly on the airport’s north side, Sea-Tac is planning a new international arrivals facility for the area east of the present A Concourse. That $400 million project will increase the capacity for Sea-Tac to handle its growing number of international flights.

Airport plans call for these big changes to be finished by 2017 or 2018.

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