Seattle Summer Travel Guide
For many travelers, the wait is over and it’s time to get away with a trip through the airport. With that in mind, travelers are asked to arrive early and be patient through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
Memorial Day holiday travel will see a surge in numbers, with about one-third more than in 2020, while a squeeze in pandemic effects requires some advanced planning for a smooth experience.
More travelers continue to use their own vehicles to arrive at the airport, so parking will be a continuous challenge. Alternate ways to get to SEA is encouraged such as using rideshares, Link light rail, and public transit. Just like other areas in the region, once inside the airport, staffing challenges are affecting services from checkpoints to concessions, and airlines. Please factor in more time to avoid tight squeezes to get to your flight. Better early, than late!
Please contact your airline if you have questions about that part of your journey.
The surge and the squeeze
Memorial Day holiday traveler numbers are expected to be one-third higher than in 2021, that’s about 80% of pre-pandemic numbers from 2019. The busiest days to travel are Thursdays and Fridays as well as Sundays and Mondays. The busiest times at the TSA security checkpoints at SEA are 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The busiest days are expected to be Friday, May 20, with just over 150,000 passengers traveling through the airport (departing, arriving and connecting). The Friday before the holiday, May 27, projects a drop-off to 137,000 passengers, followed by Thursday, May 26, at 134,000 passengers. That’s close to the busiest days we’ve seen since the pandemic back in August of last year. Pre-pandemic passenger numbers reached as high as 178,000 per day during Memorial Day in 2019. SEA forecasts passenger numbers for the year will be about 6% below 2019 levels with near full recovery in 2023 at about 1% less than 2019.
It may have been a while since your last flight, but do not underestimate how long your experience may take during peak travel periods. Travelers can find stress-free ways to skip the line and make their trip more predictable.
What’s the best advice for travelers?
- Arrive early! Depending on your needs, you may need more time. Make sure you’re at the airport at least two hours before your boarding time for a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
- Masks are no longer required at the airport, however, the CDC recommends wearing a mask during travel. Check your destination’s COVID-19 requirements for entry, if needed XpresCheck has testing available on the baggage claim level.
- The SEA Airport parking garage continues to be busy. Think of alternate modes of travel to get to the airport or arrive an extra 45 minutes earlier to find a place to park.
- Use SEA Spot Saver to reserve your spot in the TSA line and avoid congested security lines at the airport.
- Download (or update!) the flySEA App for live checkpoint wait times. As a bonus, it also is a one-stop resource for traveler alerts, parking spot tracker, maps, and more info.
- Use Order SEA, our mobile ordering service, including gate delivery for food from all over the airport or pick up so you can grab and go to your gate.
Airport parking will be a challenge
Why is parking so congested? Demand is up and supply is down. More customers are driving private vehicles than choosing ride share or public transit. Pandemic-related closures reduced the number of parking stalls in the area outside the airport while a garage improvement project and a recent fire has led to temporary reductions at the SEA garage. Shuttle bus driver shortages also continue to impact the availability of off-site parking options for airport employees.
Safety first, avoid shoulder parking
Vehicles are encouraged to use the new reconfigured cellphone lot and avoid dangerous parking along the shoulder of the airport drives. Violators will be cited as the Port of Seattle Police are working with the Washington State Patrol for emphasis patrols during the holiday.
Alternate ways to get to SEA Airport
- Avoid the hassles of driving with Sound Transit’s Link light rail. Public transit is by far the best option if you want to stay out of a traffic jam.
- Catch a ride with taxis or app-based rideshares like Uber and Lyft, or other modes of ground transportation.
- Rent your own ride. All rental car companies operate at an off-site rental car facility where dedicated shuttle buses transport passengers for free 24-hours-a-day, 365 days a year.
- Pedal power! Yes, you can even bicycle to the airport with bike racks and two ways to access the airport on a bike. If you still plan to park, expect 45-60 minutes to find a stall
- Off-site parking facilities are also expected to be very busy or already full.
- If you’re picking up or dropping off loved ones:
- Check out the new and improved Cell Phone Lot! The new access ramp is a game-changer with better flow for entry and exiting you can pick up your passengers easier. Use it instead of shoulder parking, which is dangerous and illegal!
- Travel hack! Use the Departures Drive for pickup at night and the Arrivals Drive for passenger drop-off in the morning.
Give me the traveler basics
- The CDC guidance for travelers changes depending on your COVID-19 vaccination status. Check with your airline for the state or country where you plan to travel.
- Be ready for security checkpoints. SEA and TSA want to help you move through security checkpoints as quickly as possible. Travelers are required to remove electronics larger than a cell phone from carry-on luggage. Also, remove foods and liquids from your carry-on luggage, prepare to hold up your boarding pass for review, and wear your mask, if you choose. You can also see the latest Identification and Documentation Requirements.
- Need more travel hacks? The Customer Care team has the best advice to navigate SEA like a frequent flier.
- SEA is adding new services to make travel more accessible and improve the travel experience beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Check out our SEA Social Story developed for traveler with sensory sensitivities such as autism, but also great overall tips for kids. Learn more about accessibility at SEA. The interactive map on the flySEA App offers accessible route directions.
- Check with the City of SeaTac to see if there are any road construction projects that might hinder your access to the airport.