Sullivan: How to survive the airport over Thanksgiving

Nov 22, 2022, 4:26 AM | Updated: 8:22 am

Travelers pass through security screening at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Washin...

Travelers pass through security screening at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Washington. (Photo: David Ryder, Getty Images)

(Photo: David Ryder, Getty Images)

You better have your game face ready. Heading to the airport for Thanksgiving is going to be rough.

I’ve put together some helpful hints to make it as painless as possible, but let’s lay some groundwork first. For those of you flying out or picking people up, Wednesday will be the worst day before the holiday.

“The busiest day is going to be Wednesday,” SEA Airport spokesperson Perry Cooper said. “Returning, it’s going to be the following Sunday and Monday.”

155,000 people are expected through Sea-Tac airport on Wednesday. That’s a lot, but not as heavy as some of our big summer travel days when the airport sees more than 180,000 passengers.

What can you do to keep the blood pressure down?

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Cooper’s first suggestion is to find a very nice person to drop you off.

“If you can be that person that drops them off at the airport so they don’t have to use their car, you’ll be a hero to yourself, as well as everybody else that ends up using the airport,” he said.

What to do if you don’t have a hero to drop you off?

There are more than 12,000 parking spots in the airport garage. Contrary to what you might have heard, they are not sold out of parking spaces. Only 10% of parking spots in the garage use a pre-booking system. The rest are all first come, first serve.

Cooper said you can expect to waste 30-to-40 minutes driving around the garage to find a spot on Wednesday. His suggestion?

“The south end of the garage is what doesn’t fill up the fastest because you’ve got more flights on the north end,” he said. “Check to the south end first. That’s probably a great bet, and then as you go up a little bit higher into those floors like 6, 7, and 8, those tend to be the last ones filled up as well.”

You always have the option to book a spot, if you can find one, at an off-site parking lot, but remember there are about 800-1,000 fewer spots coming out of the pandemic from small lots that have closed and not reopened.

That’s outside the airport. What’s the plan inside?

You can expect long Thanksgiving TSA lines. I’m talking about the 30-plus-minute variety or even longer.

And while my wife will not like me giving you this tip because it works so well and has saved us so much time at the airport, I have to suggest you try the SEA Spot Saver.

This allows you to save a spot in the TSA line up to 72 hours before your flight.

“You will get a QR code that shows you a checkpoint and a 15-minute space within that checkpoint that you can just show up to the front of the line and get in ahead of all those general screening folks,” Cooper said.

Say you have a 10 a.m. flight and plan to be inside the airport at 8 a.m. Go to the site a few days ahead, book a time around 8 a.m., and head right to the Spot Saver line. You walk right in. Even if there’s an hour line behind you in general screening.

There are a limited number of 15-minute windows available, but believe me, this will save you time. I’ve done it twice this month. And Cooper said you could get lucky even if you’re in that hour-long line.

“You can actually go up and sign up for this,” he said. “If there’s a space open, boom you can jump right out of that and go to the Spot Saver line.”

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This idea was created here, and now airports around the country are implementing it.

One last piece of advice for surviving the airport, and this is for those of you Thanksgiving heroes dropping people off or picking people up. “Think- opposite.”

Use the opposite road to the terminal. Picking up? Grab your passenger at departures. Dropping off? Get them at arrivals.

There’s always the light rail. Pay car services as well. Just be prepared.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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Sullivan: How to survive the airport over Thanksgiving