Going on a spring trip from Sea-Tac? Your car might not be there when you get back

Apr 13, 2024, 12:23 PM

Sea-Tac airport parking...

Sea-Tac airport parking. (KIRO 7)

(KIRO 7)

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) has seen a surge in car thefts over the past year, a recent report reveals. According to spokesperson Perry Cooper, 173 cars were stolen at the airport, compared to just 74 the previous year. That’s a staggering 134% increase in auto theft incidents.

However, Cooper emphasizes that context matters. With approximately 2 million vehicles passing through the airport’s parking garage annually, the actual percentage of stolen cars remains quite low. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of vehicles make it through without incident,” Cooper stated. “We’re dealing with a very small number here.”

So why the sudden spike? Most of the stolen cars were left unlocked, and many had their key fobs conveniently inside. “Modern technology has made it easier for thieves,” Cooper explained. “They simply stroll along the rows of parked cars, looking for unlocked doors or key fobs left behind.”

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He said there are many ways to see when a car leaving the airport garage could be stolen.

“The way people get out of a garage when they have a theft of the vehicle, they’re either trying to piggyback with someone in front of them that has paid so basically, the person in front of them pays the, the gate arm goes up, and then they just go right by the cashier, bumper-to-bumper with the car in front of them and get through,” Cooper said. “Otherwise, they actually will just break right through the arm. And so that’s typically when you realize that a vehicle has been stolen.”

Besides cars, thieves are also on the hunt for valuables. Even a small change in the console or cup holders can attract unwanted attention. Cooper’s advice: “Don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle. It makes you a target.”

Despite the rising theft numbers, reserved parking at the airport is completely sold out, especially during spring break. “Yesterday, we had fewer than 100 open spaces out of 12,000,” Cooper revealed. The availability fluctuates throughout the day as travelers arrive and depart.

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Cooper said that last year, the airport also completed a parking guidance system project

“What that is, at least what people notice of it, is the green and red lights that indicate when a parking stall is filled or not as you’re driving through the garage,” Cooper said. “People may not realize that there are cameras within each of those devices. And so our Port of Seattle police can use those as potential opportunities to keep track and eye on thefts. Also, we have a dedicated garage unit that is in the garage throughout the day, and that’s keeping track of that as well.”

Whether you’re flying or driving, vigilance and smart choices can help keep your belongings safe.

As for those car thefts? “Once again, it’s a small minority of a small percentage of vehicles that end up getting taken,” Cooper emphasized. “Unfortunately, when you look at it for yourself—it’s your vehicle—you don’t care what the small percentage is, kind of like the way we talk about baggage theft.”

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here. 

Contributing: Bill Kaczaraba, MyNorthwest

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Going on a spring trip from Sea-Tac? Your car might not be there when you get back