Photo: Brandon Farris

SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines (AS) and the Port of Seattle are raising the bar for airport lounges at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (“SeaTac”).  Watch out, Delta! 

The new Alaska Airlines Flagship Lounge anchors SeaTac’s North Satellite— the airline’s third at SeaTac, which is in the process of a major revamping.

Along with the Flagship Lounge and as part of its $658.3 million massive update of the North Satellite, the Port and Alaska unveiled eight new gates and expanded dining and retail options tied – like Alaska – to its Northwest roots.

The new offerings will include such local darlings as family-owned Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen, the delicious food-truck-gone brick & mortar Skillet restaurant, and Caffe D’Arte for your coffee cravings.  

As the heart of this Northwest loving festival is Alaska’s Flagship Lounge weighing in at three times the size of the average lounge and offering large views to go with its 15,800 square feet. 

Photo: Brandon Farris

In typical and inviting Northwest style, it has open spaces, natural light, and use of natural materials.  The wood is stained quite dark, and evokes a decidedly contemporary Northwest feel, framing incredible views of the airfield, Olympic Mountains and downtown Seattle. 

Photo: Brandon Farris

And, what could be more Northwest than a dozen microbrews on tap served around an enormous fireplace. (Grunge can be found at the Sub Pop store near C concourse!).  Seriously, this place makes you want to move here.

Photo: Brandon Farris

There are lots of ways to gain access and enjoy this great new lounge.  If you aren’t a member of the lounge, you can get in with an Alaska first class ticket or you can buy your way in by purchasing a day pass.

Alaska has invested $50 million in its lounge portfolio, and this new one follows the renovation of Alaska’s lounges in Los Angeles, Portland, Anchorage, and New York-JFK. 

Photo: Brandon Farris

While it may seem straightforward, creating an inviting and enduring airport lounge is not an easy task.  It is not uncommon for bright and shiny new airport lounges to look a little dog-eared after a couple of years because of the heavy passenger use. 

Residential and office spaces get a small fraction of the kind of abuse that is dished out in an airport lounge.  As the designers professed, the biggest challenge in designing an airport lounge is planning for the impact of wear and tear up front. 

Photo: Author

Alaska’s design team took on that challenge by taking residential design cues and materials but making them durable enough for the intense wear and tear that occurs in a lounge, complete with spilled drinks and roller bags crashing into things. 

Photo: Brandon Farris

The designers had to take into account not only durability issues but also flammability requirements in choosing their materials. 

Materials, like concrete and wood, were chosen to wear into a pleasant patina rather than look banged up and abused. The lifecycle of the materials is specifically chosen to soften into a lived-in look – with years of enjoyment anticipated.

Photo: Brandon Farris

When going through the lounge I noticed something familiar about the color palette, that airliner geeks may recognize: Alaska’s famous carpeted bulkheads. 

And, so I asked the assembled architects and designers from Graham Baba Architects if the color palette was a nod to the iconic bulkheads.  They were surprised that anyone had made the connection, but indeed that color scheme is a part of their looping the Alaska brand into space. 

Photo: Brandon Farris

What is old is new again, always.  And, that choice alone, helps this new Flagship Lounge to be an instant classic surpassing its predecessors.

When SeaTac was a much smaller airport, Alaska’s lounge (called the Boardroom) was always an elegant mystery when I was a much younger traveler.  

There seemed to be three main types of passengers that walked in and out of the frosted glass and dark wood doors: the beleaguered businessman, the composed well-heeled retired couple, and a pleasantly inebriated Alaska fishermen with shorts and flip-flops on his way to warmer climates. 

The first time I went into the updated lounge in the early 90s I felt that I had arrived! It seemed like a vast oasis.

Load factors for Alaska flights were a lot lower back in those days, and you always had plenty of elbow room to move around. The last 10 to 15 years have seen that space get quite a bit smaller and (frankly) tired. 

Photo: Brandon Farris

Rather than attracting business travelers, the Alaska Boardroom became a place that was mostly full of retirees doing their snowbird thing and pre-gaming at 7 am for their Mazatlan trip. I had taken to calling it God’s waiting room.

With Delta’s Sky Club becoming an instant success, it was time for Alaska to return fire. With its new Flagship Lounge in the North Satellite, Alaska has completely solved the space issue and has created a great environment to serve its corporate clients.

Delta’s bright and slightly clinical space has been well-countered by Alaska’s intersection of rich, warm and natural materials. 

Photo: Brandon Farris

With the North Satellite construction moving along, and the lounge now completed, there is little doubt that Delta is going to have to continue to coexist with Seattle’s hometown airline.

The potential for Alaska and its mileage partners in the North Satellite is exciting to contemplate and well-worth the visit.