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Signs of Spring at SEA

COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport More Information

April 6, 2021

We’re no longer the empty airport that you may have seen a year ago. Those that feel comfortable traveling have been booking flights and looking to get out of town for spring break in recent weeks.

You might have thought you were the only one with this idea, but we’re seeing a continued increase in the number of passengers at the airport. We are much busier than we’ve even been since the pandemic!

Why are security checkpoint lines so long?

Masked passengers waiting in line in Skybridge at SEA Airport
On rare occasions, we have seen lines extend into the skybridges and into the parking garage due to a variety of factors such as TSA checkpoint staffing. This is not the norm, but remember to check on the app before you come to the airport to ensure you have enough time.

Some airports have a large hall space that accommodates queues and allows travelers to see the checkpoint ahead to gauge their progress moving forward. Here at SEA, our facility is very narrow. So, the area in front of the checkpoint is not very large and when lines go beyond that area, we have to weave lines into breezeways, around escalators, and down the hall. 

Now combine that with the challenge of physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have closed every other lane to help provide six feet of distance between passengers side-to-side. However, it’s up to travelers to keep their distance from each other while waiting in the queue. 

What this does is reduce the capacity of our queues by up to 75%. So the same amount of people will have a longer line due to physical distancing. The lines move faster than they look but it can seem like there’s a daunting line ahead of you. This distancing is important according to public health experts like Dr. Lynch, a medical consultant for SEA’s FlyHealthy@SEA program who explains this in our video series

How do I avoid these long lines?

Masked passenger walks by security checkpoint at SEA Airport

1. Check your flight time. We’re busiest in the mornings, especially between 6:00-10:00 a.m. Consider that when booking your flight. If you can arrange to leave later in the day, lines will be shorter. 

2. Remember to get here early! Get here two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. When in doubt, arrive early. Remember to plan some time for parking as our airport garage is getting busier. Get ready with more travel tips and resources in our Spring Break Travel Guide.

3. Download the flySEA app to find current wait times at each security checkpoint in five minute increments. It’s available for download on iOS and Android devices! 

4. Consider enrolling in Trusted Traveler Programs such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR to get you through the lines faster. These expedited security programs help for both domestic and international travel, including a faster way through customs with Automated Passport Control and Mobile Passport Control. Our frequent travelers use these options the most, but no one is required to pay for these services.

5. Stay tuned for more touchless tech later this spring with SEA Spot Saver, a new pilot program for online reservations in the security checkpoint lines.

What is happening with TSA? 

TSA staff working at SEA Airport security checkpoint

The security checkpoints at SEA are run by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — they’re the federal agency in charge of airport security screening since September 11, 2001. We work closely with the TSA to manage the checkpoint process to find ways to improve. Simply put, the TSA is responsible for the security process and the checkpoints, while SEA Airport helps to manage the queues outside the checkpoints.

TSA defines how many agents are working at any given time, which checkpoint lanes are open, and whether or not you have to take off your shoes. The more staff they have, the more lanes they can open, and the more passengers we can get through the checkpoints.

Lately, TSA has faced challenges with hiring. We continue to work closely with our TSA partners to manage the lanes, but really appreciate your patience when the security checkpoint lines are long.  

What is happening with physical distancing? 

Masked passengers waiting for satellite train at SEA Airport

We are all in this together and it takes everyone working together to maintain health and safety — so come prepared if you haven’t been to the airport recently.

As part of our FlyHealthy@SEA health and safety program, SEA Airport has:

  • Doubled down on cleaning with frequent disinfection with medical-grade cleaning products. We even secured international accreditations for these cleaning practices
  • Installed an air filtration and ventilation system that constantly circulates fresh, outdoor air through the terminal and uses filters that capture 90% of COVID-19 sized particles.
  • Added close to 300 hand sanitizer stations throughout the terminal for your use and installed nearly 650 plastic protective barriers that buffer interactions between travelers and airport employees
  • Installed 8,000 signs for physical distancing spacing and reminders
  • Set up checkpoint queues to allow for side to side  physical distancing

But it's also up to you as individual travelers to give your neighbors space and keep each other safe. Here's how:

  • Need a mask? Face masks or coverings are required by federal law at the airport. If you don't have one, you can pick up a free mask in the bowls stationed at the entrance doors to the terminal. Or you can stop by the Information Desk, look for the Mask Up SEA cart, or ask a Pathfinder in green 
  • Distancing can be more difficult in some areas of the airport. If you’re taking one of the satellite trains and it appears to be crowded, consider waiting for the next train. It’s only a three-minute wait until the next one arrives
  • If you’re planning to grab a snack, coffee, or a meal before your flight, look for an area away from the gate to eat and drink as you need to take your mask down
  • Follow social distancing queues and be proactive about caring for your neighbors. We are all in this together so let's help each other out! 

Why is it taking so long to find a parking spot in the airport garage? 

Masked passengers walking through SEA Airport parking garage

Inside the terminal isn’t the only area at SEA that’s getting busier. Our parking garage is also seeing an increase in traffic. A few helpful hints:

1. When traveling, factor in extra time for parking and finding a spot in the garage

2. Use the new Pre-Booked Parking for seamless, contact-free travel. Book and pay for parking in advance of arrival, drive your own vehicle, and scan your booking QR code on your phone at garage entry and exit.

3. Sign up to receive Pre-Booked Parking Promotions and save 10% on your first booking

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