Sea-Tac Airport expects rush of travelers this autumn

Oct 6, 2022, 2:41 PM | Updated: Oct 7, 2022, 8:59 pm
travel, touchless...
Travelers wait in line for security screening at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

If you have a flight out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the next several weeks and are hoping for an empty terminal, think again. The leaves may be on the ground, and the kids may be back in school, but the airport is still bustling.

Usually, the end of summer would bring a drop-off in Washington residents jetting away on vacation. But that is not the story in 2022.

Port of Seattle spokesman Perry Cooper said the airport gets projections from airlines for passenger numbers a couple of weeks in advance of flights, and so far, there does not seem to be any remarkable dip in travel in October.

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“We are seeing higher numbers here in the fall than we have in the past. It’s not quite the numbers that we’ve seen up into the summer, where we would get 60,000 passengers per day outbound; probably our high points over the next couple of weeks are in the 55,000-passenger range,” Cooper said. “That’s still pretty high. For this time of year [typically], we would probably be down near the higher 40s, and the super slowest days, even lower than that.”

He believes this has to do with COVID-19, noting that people are now eager to get back into the sky after years of staying home.

“It is kind of that ‘revenge travel’ term that we’ve heard over the last year,” he said. “People just want to get out of the house we’ve been in so long throughout the pandemic.”

That goes for international travel, as well.

“Our European travel is above 100% of where it was in pre-pandemic 2019 levels,” Cooper said. “So we’re seeing people getting out in different places, wherever they can — Mexico, the Caribbean.”

Sea-Tac does not expect another day as busy as the one a couple of weeks ago when a security line stretched to the parking garage, and passengers told KIRO Newsradio they waited up to three hours. However, it is very possible that travel may not let up from now through the holiday season.

There are several reasons why the increase in travel can be overwhelming for Sea-Tac. Like so many other businesses, the airport is suffering from staffing shortages. Additionally, Cooper said the airport is smaller, space-wise, than other American airports serving the same number of passengers. There are several construction projects in the works that are building up, rather than out, to accommodate more people.

To deal with the extra people this fall, the airport is trying to have more staff scheduled during its busiest times.

“We’re working to ensure we’ve got as much staff as we can in those peak periods,” Cooper said. “Specifically, between 4:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. is always the busiest time because that’s about 70% to 80% of our traffic outbound.”

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Airport staff can help direct people to security lines, but they cannot screen passengers. Like the airport, TSA is also experiencing staffing shortages. Extra TSA agents who would normally be based elsewhere were brought in during the summer to accommodate the larger passenger loads, but this program ended in early September.

If you have a flight in the coming weeks, get to the airport early. Arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international one. Punctuality is essential if you are flying out during those peak morning hours.

If you do not have TSA PreCheck, you can still cut down on your time in the security line without spending a dime. The airport is offering the free SEA Spot Saver service, which lets passengers reserve a security screening time. Appointments are limited; you can make one up to 72 hours before your flight.

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Sea-Tac Airport expects rush of travelers this autumn