Originally published in the Seattle Times on Feb. 23, 2015
By Joe Sprague, senior vice president of communications and external relations for Alaska Airlines.
NOBODY likes waiting in line. It makes sense that the Port of Seattle would want to improve the international terminal at Sea-Tac Airport so that travelers arriving from Shanghai and Paris can clear customs and retrieve their luggage quickly. But when passengers arriving from Yakima, Walla Walla and every other city across the U.S. have to pay for the new international facility, we have a big problem.
Port officials are weighing a funding plan for the new international arrivals facility that should be scrapped. In its current form, the proposed scheme is unfair to local taxpayers. As the hometown airline, and employer of more than 6,600 people in the Puget Sound area alone, Alaska Airlines supports common-sense investments at Sea-Tac that would enable a strong future for our region.
The Port’s current proposal, though, is unacceptable for two reasons. First, the funding mechanism under consideration is grossly unfair. The plan would tax every traveler who flies in and out of Sea-Tac to fund the new international terminal. We understand the benefits of international flights serving Seattle. But why should every customer using our airport be charged for a project that would service just those passengers arriving from an international location, a group that constitutes only 10 percent of total passenger traffic?
The funding scheme also creates an unfair competitive environment. The primary beneficiaries of an improved international terminal are the global megacarriers that operate out of Sea-Tac.
Alaska fully embraces competition. We believe it has made us a better and stronger airline. But is it right to ask Alaska Airlines customers — local taxpayers — to pay for a new facility that would primarily benefit the hometown airline’s main competition? This is akin to asking Boeing customers to subsidize a plant that builds Airbus planes. Competition is healthy for our industry and for customers, but taking advantage of Seattle’s local airline to fund the growth of international megacarriers is not fair competition.
The second problem with the proposal is the price. The new international terminal has been forecast to cost a whopping $608 million, an alarming increase from the already high cost of $344 million originally proposed. To put that in perspective, this is more than the total cost that went into building CenturyLink Field, adjusted for today’s dollars.
Puget Sound-area residents have legitimate concerns with public projects that balloon in price and end up costing taxpayers in time and money. We can agree on the value of improving Sea-Tac’s international arrivals terminal. But do we really need a project with a price tag this high? Is this the best use of the Port’s limited resources?
Sea-Tac customers deserve an airport with modern, efficient facilities while allowing the airlines that serve Seattle to compete on a level playing field. We will continue to work with the Port and other airlines at the airport to find a more equitable plan that makes sense for our region and treats Sea-Tac customers fairly. Alaska has met repeatedly with Port officials to make our concerns known and advocate for those who would be footing the bill — you.
Alaska Airlines was founded by pioneers who believed in independence and standing up for what’s right. Today we call it the “Alaska Spirit,” and it’s what motivates us to fiercely stand by our values. That’s who we are, and that’s what defines how we serve the people in this community. We hope that same spirit can inform the Port Commission as it determines how to best allocate our public dollars to benefit the airport’s — and the region’s — long-term growth.
We encourage you to join Alaska in urging a fair and reasonable plan for funding the international arrivals terminal and email your thoughts to the Port commission: portseattle.org/about/commission.