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Happy Birthday SEA Airport: 69 Years of Serving Travelers

July 10, 2018

SEA Airport's birthday was Monday July 9, 1949 but here at the Port of Seattle, we’ll be celebrating all month.

Birth of the Modern Airport

SEA Airport's official dedication on July 9, 1949 drew more than 30,000 people to celebrate the construction of a modern new administration building, passenger terminal, and the official naming of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A four-story, 234,000 square foot office and terminal complex replaced the makeshift World War II - era buildings that first served SEA Airport's first airline passengers. Sea-Tac Dedication, 1949

The new passenger terminal offered a vast improvement over the previous Quonset hut — where passengers awaited flights warmed with just the heat of a single, potbellied stove. At the time, the gleaming white building with its soaring control tower and airy, glass-walled concourses was hailed as America's most advanced airport terminal. The four airlines that served the region shifted their flights from Boeing Field to SEA, which served 1500 passengers a day on 60 scheduled flights. Inside the terminal, SEA didn’t disappoint. Travelers enjoyed fine dining, a barbershop, gift shop, and a lounge complete with a jazz pianist and singer. 

The Airport Grows Up

Fast forward to July 9, 2018. As SEA Airport celebrates its 69th birthday, the airport and region is in the midst of massive growth, and the Port of Seattle is making big changes to meet demand and enhance the passenger experience. Repeated expansions and modernizations of terminals have rendered the original 1949 structure barely recognizable.

  • SEA is now ranked as the ninth busiest U.S. airport, serving 46.9 million passengers and more than 425,800 metric tons of air cargo in 2017 
  • Twenty-eight passenger airlines serve 90 non-stop domestic destinations and 23 international cities 
  • SEA operates three runways and is in the midst of several major construction projects to better serve passengers — including a new International Arrivals Facility and the expansion and renovation of the North Satellite terminal.

How did we get here? Check out this timeline of milestones in SEA history.

Late 1950s — mid 1960s 

  • Four concourses are added to the main building, increasing the number of airplane gate positions to 21
  • As jets started to replace propeller-driven planes the South runway is repeatedly lengthened


  • The Port opens a new expanded terminal building, constructed over and around the original structure.
  • Satellite terminals are added to the North and South of the main terminal and can be reached via a pair of subway loops. The train is the first of its kind in the nation
  • The Port commissions $300,000 worth of new works of art by major artists to display — the first of its kind at any airport


  •  Air traffic reaches levels expected for 2005. Planners decide a third runway is needed


  • Makes $167 million of improvements in 1992. SEA serves 18 million passengers
  • 3,500 parking spaces are added to the parking garage
  • New surface detection radar and lighting is installed to increase capacity and safety of runways


  • SEA opens its first major new terminal facility in 30 years (Concourse A and the South terminal expansion) which adds 14 gates and four baggage carousels


  • A capital improvement program including a new concourse and Central Terminal changes the look and space of the facilityCentral Terminal


  • The third runway finally opens at 8,500 feet long, 150 feet wide, and 17 inches deep


For More Information:

  • Want more airport history?  Take a look at HistoryLink.

  • Want to stay in touch? Sign up for Connections, the Port’s bimonthly newsletter.

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