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Slay Airport Stress and Speed Up your Journey

November 14, 2023

Could Albert Einstein have been referring to driving to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) when he said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”? Old habits die hard. But there comes a point when it’s time to switch it up, try something new, and put business as usual in the rearview mirror.

The population of our region has grown significantly and so has the demand for air travel. In July 2023, SEA Airport recorded the biggest day in the history of the airport. To put this into context, SEA Airport on any given day in the summer of 2023 was equivalent to the fourth-largest city in the state with 198,000 travelers each day arriving, connecting, or departing through the airport. 

Source for city data:

This increased travel puts pressure on the capacity of the airport expressway coming into SEA Airport, which is one of the most space constrained airports in the country.  That road was built to accommodate 25 million passengers per year, but SEA is currently on track to get more than 50 million passengers every year, with continuing growth.
Did you know that individuals driving to SEA Airport is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions for ground transportation? 

Source: Port of Seattle environmental team

Help is on the way with major construction Upgrade SEA initiatives already in progress; but in the meantime, it’s good to have a backup plan. Your tried and true transportation habits may still work during slower travel periods. But, perhaps try a new strategy during peak periods like spring break, summer vacation, and the winter holidays.  Save your sanity and the planet with these tips on new ways to get to the airport during the busy season.


Tip 1:  Relax with Light Rail

One of the cheapest and most relaxing ways to avoid peak time backups on the airport drive is to use Link Light Rail. Consider taking the train the whole way from home to the airport. Or if that’s not feasible, get dropped off or picked up at a light rail stop right before SEA Airport. 
•    Light Rail schedule 

To and from the north 

Seattle Link light rail is available from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 6:00 a.m. to midnight on Sunday and holidays. Transit time from the airport to Seattle is around 45 minutes. 
•    Try Rainier Beach
•    Or Tukwila International Boulevard

To and from the South

•    Drop off or pick up at the Angle Lake station

Bonus tip: The walk from the airport station to the terminal will help you get your steps in before sitting on your flight. The distance from the station to the terminal is 950 feet or 316 yards. It’s about a seven-to nine-minute walk from the North end of the baggage claim level, the equivalent of:

  • About 1.57 times the height of the Space Needle laid on its side (but no stairs!)
  • Only 379 steps on your pedometer (a mere drop in the bucket of your recommended daily 10,000)
  • Hole Number 6 at Bandon Dunes Golf Course — if you can do it there, why not here? 

Need transportation to the terminal? 

Take the Light Rail shuttle to the terminal — it’s FREE and easy for everyone to use. With only a five to 10-minute wait between shuttle carts, you don’t have to between the station and the terminal unless you want to. 

Ever wondered why the light rail terminal wasn’t built closer to the terminal? Or why there’s no moving walkway?  Here are the answers!

The shuttle operates between 5:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. at the entrance to the walkway at the station or just south of the blue elevators next to the terminal. Tell the driver which airline you are flying with, and they will drop you off at the appropriate location.


Tip 2: Share the road and the ride

Avoid the hassles of driving and parking with shared shuttles from many destinations in Washington state. Drivers keep on top of the traffic so you can eat your breakfast, take a snooze, read a book, or chat up your fellow passengers. 


Tip 3: Do door to door drop off 

Nothing beats the convenience of a pickup or drop off right at your door. There are several ways to arrange transportation directly from your front door to the airport. 

App-based rideshare

Most app-based rideshare pick-up areas are in the middle of the third floor of the airport parking garage in the marked stall numbers 1 – 34. Follow the signs to the orange and purple sections of the garage.

  • All Lyft rides:  Third floor of SEA Airport parking garage
  • UberPool and UberX: Third floor of parking garage
  • Uber Black: Picks up at the door you select outside of baggage claim 

Take a taxi

Both flat rate and metered taxis are available from SEA Airport. The taxi station is on the third floor of the parking garage.

  • Metered taxis charge per mile or time, can be identified with a three-digit vehicle number, and are painted a single color 
  • Flat rate taxis offer a flat rate based off zip code, use a four-digit vehicle number, and are painted in two colors

Switch to the shuttle

Premier Airport Shuttle provides shared and private door to door van service to any home, hotel, or business address with convenient luggage assistance. Service is available between the airport and any destination in the Greater Puget Sound area, including Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Kent, Everett, Federal Way, Kirkland, Redmond, Lakewood, JBLM, Olympia, Edmonds, Bremerton, and more. Also, it operates seasonal scheduled Seattle Cruise Ship and Downtown Seattle Airport Transfers.  


Tip 4:  Access accessible transportation

Need accessible transportation to and from the airport? You’re covered with curbside pickup and drop off!


Travelers who have limited mobility or use a wheelchair or other assistive devices may request curbside pick-up on the Baggage Claim level by Skybridge 2 near Door 10 and Skybridge 5 near Door 22. Please tell your taxi service provider that you require mobility assistance to ensure they meet you at these locations. 


Rideshare providers are allowed to pick up passengers who need extra assistance on the drives. When requesting pick up from Uber or Lyft, request accessible transportation and tell them you need to be picked up on the drive. Then call (206) 787-5906 to authorize drive access and provide the driver's name and license plate number.


Tip 5:  Survive the drive with advance preparation

If you’re driving to pick up a traveler, a little homework before you go (and these resources) can make all the difference:

  • Opt in to SEA Text Alerts by texting YES1 to 27829 to keep up with breaking news. Messaging and data rates may apply
  • Check the Travel Tips page the night before to learn about any construction impacts 
  • Plan in extra time for traffic and check the drive cams on the SEA website; if you get there early, hang out in the cell phone lot
  • Proceed to the middle of the drop off zone rather than stopping at the very first load and unload zone
  • You can use either drive (arrivals or departures). Switch it up by using Use the arrivals (lower) level to drop off in the morning and the departures (upper) level for evening pick up
  • Skip the drives altogether by parking in the garage when you pick up your passenger. Grab a snack while you’re waiting, help them with bags, then return to the car. For the cost of $8, you can have an easier experience 


Tip 6: Don’t be in the dark when you park

Gone are the days of arriving 60 minutes before your flight and finding a parking spot. If you need to drive to the airport and park, expect the unexpected and prepare in advance by: 

  • Reserving your parking in advance of arrival. SEA Reserved Parking is a premium, reservation-only parking product located on a dedicated floor of the garage (Floor 4, formerly Terminal Direct) and guarantees there will be space available regardless of garage occupancy or travel seasonality.
  • Adding up to 45 minutes to your travel plan to find a parking spot in the garage — and have a backup plan that ensures you’re in the terminal two hours before your domestic flight boards and three hours before your international flight boards. 
  • Using the automated parking guidance system (APGS) that shows the number of available parking spaces on that floor and directs you to a green (open) space.
  • For accessible parking, use the ADA-designated spaces on either Floor 4 or Floor 5 of the airport parking garage. When you arrive, arrange wheelchair assistance through Prospect Airport Services at (206) 246-1550.


Tip 7: Slide through security

You’ve arrived relaxed so why break the zen by standing in security lines? Don’t arrive at peak times without a plan:  

  • Check the security wait times on the FlySEA app before you leave and adjust your arrival time accordingly 
  • Sign up for a federal trusted travel program like TSA PreCheck or CLEAR. Read this handy list of pros and cons for each program 
  • Skip the TSA security line with free timed entry through SEA Spot Saver
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