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Baggage Handling System Optimization

Phase 2 Guidance for Port Construction Now in Effect
On June 5, King County was approved to move forward with a modified Phase 1 of Governor Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan. All construction, including new work, is authorized to resume and subject to the Phase 2 construction safety guidance. The Port of Seattle continues to review and monitor job site safety plans for all construction in compliance with Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-25 and Phase 2 construction guidance. Visit our COVID-19 Updates for Port Construction page for details.

In collaboration with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Port of Seattle is optimizing the outbound baggage handling system (BHS) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The new system will replace the aging conveyor system now in place and allow the airport to meet current and future growth.

In the last five years, 10 new airlines added service to SEA. Today, airlines offer 91 nonstop domestic and 29 nonstop international destinations, an increase of seven international destinations. SEA was the eighth busiest U.S. airport in 2018 for passenger volume. International traffic was up 5.8 percent in 2018 and added 5,427,551 passengers. The combined steady rise of international and domestic passenger flights has caused the existing baggage handling system to reach capacity.

The Port Commission authorized the Baggage Optimization project in June 2017. The new baggage system will ensure reliability, flexibility, and efficiency for airlines, passengers and the TSA, allowing outbound bags from any ticket counter to be sent to any gate while saving energy and ensuring bags are safe to load on the aircraft. 

Learn more in this March 2019 "Checking In" video with the Project Manager of our Baggage Handling System Optimization Project, Ed Weitz! 

Baggage Optimization Scope of Work

The Baggage Optimization project replaces six individual baggage screening systems with a centralized system that optimizes operation of the checked baggage system at SEA. The purpose of this project is to optimize the baggage system to achieve the maximum outbound baggage capacity within the current airport footprint. The project increases screening capacity for greater baggage volumes, increases flexibility to allow bags to be checked in from any ticket counter and be conveyed to any makeup device, meets the established minimum-connect-time goal, and increases energy efficiency. Additional benefits include increased reliability, redundancy, and security. Meeting travelers’ baggage needs will significantly contribute to increased customer service, and address growing passenger demands of the region. The project is currently scoped to accommodate 60 million annual passengers and will be implemented through three phases of construction.

Baggage Handling System Facts

  • SEA was one of the first airports to meet 100 percent inline screening requirements instituted by TSA after 9/11
  • In 2018, the airport served 49.8 million passengers and processed over 43,000 outbound bags on the busiest day last year

Baggage system

Points about the existing baggage handling system

  • The current system has 10 miles of conveyor belt, 3,000 motors, and 28 CTX machines
  • Six independent baggage systems in the airport serve specific airlines
  • The existing baggage systems were reconfigured from 2001 – 2004 following the TSA mandate for universal bag screening before departure
  • Industry best practices and screening technology for processing bags has changed rapidly over the last decade
  • The expected life of a conveyor without refurbishment is 15 years

Points about the optimized baggage handling system

  • The optimized system will be designed within the existing space using an equal amount of conveyor with multiple bag routes and increased belt speed to maximize the capacity
  • One consolidated system will replace six separate systems
  • The new system will:
    • Provide flexibility in airline ticket counter use and related gate assignments
    • Reduce screening machine demand
    • Save energy through the use of the latest technology
    • Have the ability to expand capacity up to 66 million annual passengers
  • Multiple bag routes will increase reliability by eliminating single points of failure
  • The new system will be designed and managed using the latest 3D modeling and coordination software

Estimated project costs

The total project cost over approximately ten years is estimated to be $540 million. TSA will fund $93 million of the project. The project is being bid and constructed in three separate phases.


Design Complete Q2 2016
Phase 1 Construction Start Q2 2017
Phase 2 Construction Start Q1 2020
Phase 1 in Operation  Q1 2020
Phase 2 in Operation  Q1 2024
Phase 3 Construction Start Q1 2024
Phase 3 in Operation Q3 2026
Full Project Completion Q3 2026

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