Note: Though a number of factors contribute to your carbon footprint while traveling — aircraft type, your car’s fuel efficiency, the number of people you’re traveling with — in general, ground transportation that accommodates many passengers has the lowest environmental impact. Trains, buses or even your own car — as long as it’s full — will typically be the greenest options.
Starting April 2, “hop-on jet service” JSX (formerly known as JetSuiteX) will add a Seattle-to-Portland route to its roster of public charter flights, with fares for the 45-minute trip starting at $49 one-way out of Boeing Field. With a five-minute security screening process and a total round-trip cost of less than $100, JSX is cheaper than Amtrak and significantly faster than driving, which may make it the quickest way to get to Portland for the least amount of money.
Every Seattleite makes the trip down to Portland at some point. So we’re here to help you decide what method of transportation to use. Here’s how the new JSX flight compares to four other common travel options.
How much it costs: The cost of filling your gas tank.
How long it takes: Three hours if you drive straight through and traffic is light (a big if).
Pros: Parking in Portland is cheaper and easier than in Seattle, it can be helpful to have a car once you’re there, and driving means you aren’t beholden to train, plane or bus delays. Plus: plenty of podcast time, and you can gawk at the bizarro roadside attractions of the Interstate 5 corridor — the Uncle Sam billboard with its conservative propaganda du jour, the cheerful barn animals of Mattress Ranch, the baffling, needle-like sculptures in the Gospodor Monument Park — reminders all that Washington state will always be weird.
Cons: Traffic. Traffic. And did we mention the traffic? If there’s an accident on I-5, backups can be brutal, and it’s a particular kind of misery to sit in bumper-to-bumper gridlock as the train glides by without you. Driving to Portland is also particularly inefficient if you’re solo.
Best for: Road-tripper friends, anyone planning to continue on to the coast or southern Oregon, podcast fiends who don’t panic spending hours behind the wheel.
How much it costs: Amtrak’s Cascades and Coast Starlight lines operate daily between Seattle’s King Street Station to Portland’s Union Station. One-way tickets cost $27-$65 (Cascades) and $36-$65 (Coast Starlight).
How long it takes: Three and a half hours on the Cascades line; with delays, it can take much longer. The Coast Starlight takes more than four hours, and, since it terminates in Los Angeles, has less to offer in the way of amenities for short-run passengers.
Pros: If you’re not in a rush, taking the train is the most beautiful way to get to points south. But skip the Coast Starlight; the Cascades line has much better amenities for those not traveling down the entire coast, with adequate Wi-Fi, fresh food options, shockingly generous wine portions and locally sourced beer and coffee. I’ve spent many a pleasant hour reading in the dining car with a cup of coffee or a (plastic) glass of wine as the Northwest landscape slips by in brown, green and vivid blue. It’s my happy place.
Cons: Amtrak is notoriously slow, and occasionally subject to the whims of nature. If landslides are involved, you could end up getting kicked off the train and onto a (slower) bus. The Coast Starlight trains don’t have Wi-Fi in coach class, and their snack bars are a sad, limited, largely plastic-wrapped affair.
Best for: Luddites who enjoy good views and plenty of reading time. Just don’t expect to arrive on time, and avoid the Coast Starlight.
How much it costs: One-way tickets from Seattle to Portland on BoltBus cost $14-$30. (FlixBus has also recently added Pacific Northwest service, including a Seattle-to-Portland route, for $9.99 and up.)
How long it takes: Three and a half hours if traffic is light (it almost certainly won’t be).
Pros: The BoltBus is far and away the cheapest way to get to Portland. It takes as long as the train, but — if you book early — can cost a fraction of the price, making it a totally decent (if un-fancy) option. There’s Wi-Fi on the bus, the seats are adequately comfortable and it takes the stress out of the driving to have someone else do it.
Cons: On the BoltBus, you get what you pay for, and sometimes that includes traffic delays, spotty Wi-Fi and, on one recent occasion, a driver who seemed like he was working out his stand-up material on a (captive) audience of passengers. Once you get to Portland, you’ll be dropped off near the Lloyd Center mall in the Lloyd District — not exactly a convenient location.
Best for: When you really just want the cheapest trip — or don’t want to drive.
How much it costs: Between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Paine Field, Alaska Airlines subsidiary Horizon Air operates more than 20 daily flights from the Seattle area to Portland, with one-way fares starting at $44.
Pros: Once you’re in the air, it’s a quick and easy flight to Portland at relatively low altitudes in a Bombardier Q400 or Embraer 175, and nothing beats the over-wing view of Mount Hood in and out of PDX.
Cons: The time you’ll spend getting through security and to and from Sea-Tac. Cost is also an issue: Fares for this route start at $44 one-way, but if you book last-minute or during especially busy times, the price can creep higher than $100, making it the most expensive of the Seattle-to-Portland travel options.
Best for: Business travelers, passengers in a hurry, and anyone with cash to burn who gets a kick out of flying on something smaller than commercial workhorses like the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737.
How much it costs: $49 one-way tickets for flights on small, semiprivate jets.
Pros: JSX’s planes take off from Boeing Field, sparing you the frustration of Sea-Tac’s security lines. There’s some limited parking at Boeing Field, so get there about 20 minutes before takeoff, but the security screening process takes only five minutes. Passengers wait in a lounge with free coffee and Wi-Fi, and onboard drinks and snacks are free.
Cons: With a service this new, it’s hard to predict drawbacks, but two are already obvious: Alaska’s lowest fares are marginally cheaper if booked in advance, and Boeing Field isn’t serviced by light rail.
Best for: We’ll see.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that JSX’s security screening takes 20 minutes. The story has been updated to reflect a five-minute screening process.