It’s safe to say the world has been a little strange lately; Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel has never been the same. Although we are slowly traveling again without consistent masking and testing, much has changed and continues to pose a challenge for travelers at all airports, including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
Whether traveling domestically or internationally, for summer or winter vacations, air travel will continue to be difficult for the foreseeable future. Preparing for your long-awaited trip should include planning for the unplanned.
scheduling and planning
Tip 1: Know the airport rush hours and plan around them
Let’s face it – it’s almost always busy. But early morning, noon and late evening are peak times for departures, connecting flights and arrivals. This applies to different areas of application such as traffic on airport journeys, check-in at ticketing, passport control in the International Arrivals Facility (IAF) and waiting times at the TSA checkpoints.
Tip 2: Give the gift of time!
Allow extra time in the event of cancellations, delays or other impacts on your trip, including when booking your flights, hotels, rental cars or other transportation. Allowing extra time between essential travel steps will help reduce stress and impact, so give yourself more time rather than less.
Arrive at the airport three hours before your arrival boarding time (45-60 minutes before your scheduled departure time) – and this does not include travel time to the airport! Arriving early gives you enough time to reach your destination and solves about 85% of possible stressful events at the airport. Worst Case Scenario – You’re a little early and still have time for a pre-flight snack.
Tip 3: Download apps
Before arriving at the airport, download the FlySEA app to check waiting times, flight status and baggage information. Then download your airline’s app to check your flight status, get updates, and rebook any impacted flights if things go haywire.
Trust is key so do your research before you go! Locate your assigned gates, restrooms and shops on the interactive map to know where to go. Visit the FlySEA website or carry the step-by-step map in the FlySEA app with you.
Tip 4: Discuss accessibility requirements
If you are a passenger with a disability, call the Transportation Security Administration 72 hours before your flight to arrange security screening assistance at (855) 787-2227.
Tip 5: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Staffing levels are tight around the world and service, retail and restaurant hours can be inconsistent. Be patient and kind to workers. They all do their best to help you and are not the cause of the problem. You, airport employees, and your fellow travelers will all have a better day if you pack a little patience.
Tip 6: Find out about the traffic situation before you set off
As always, check with the Washington State Department of Transportation a few hours before you leave for road conditions and traffic information!
Tip 7: Plan alternative means of transport
The parking garage is staffed all the time so your ride will be smoother if you don’t want to drive. Find out in advance about other options like airport transfers, shuttles, LINK Light Rail, app-based ridesharing, taxis and more.
Tip 8: Drop off and pick up on one of the two Airport Drives
The busiest times on the upper (downhill) drives are 5:00-7:00 and 21:00-23:00 for the Lower level (arrivals) drive. To avoid long waits, choose the less frequented one and use it instead!
- In the morningdrop off your passengers on Arrivals Drive (lower level).
- In the eveningarrange to meet your people in the departure area (upper level)
Tip 9: Prepare for the security check! This means while you’re in line (or while you’re packing):
- Pull out the correct ID in a convenient place
- Pack items like cell phones and laptops together so you can pull them out
- Wear clothing and shoes that are easy to remove for the garbage cans
Contact TSA in advance if you have a question or need special assistance.
Tip 10: Plan waiting times at security checks
This can mean arriving earlier and allowing enough time, then being pleasantly surprised when there is no waiting. Queues can look long, especially when there are people with luggage, but watch out for movement. The shorter lines that don’t move can actually have longer wait times. Follow the checkpoint staff’s instructions on the lines as they will always look for the shortest line for you.
Tip 11: Find out where to find your trusted travel program
Here’s a cheat sheet:
- TSA PreCheck: Go straight to checkpoints 1 or 4; Check the FlySEA app to see wait times on both
- SEA spot saver: Go to checkpoints 2, 3 or 5 from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m
- CLEAR: Use any control point
Tip 12: Connect with your mind
When booking your connecting flights, allow at least 90 minutes for domestic connections and two to three hours for international connections. Booking with the same airline for your connections also offers smoother check-in, baggage drop-off and proximity between your two gates.
Tip 13: Banish the bags
Check your airline’s baggage policy and, if possible, travel with carry-on baggage to avoid additional waiting times.
Tip 14: Stay in touch
Check your flight status early and check it during your trip; Turn on push notifications to get updates on the go.
Tip 15: Fast through immigration
The new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) at SEA Airport is a bag-first facility, which means you collect your bags before entering passport control.
bonus: If you don’t have checked baggage, go straight to customs and get on your way faster! Keep in mind that queues at passport control can look longer because people have their bags with them. Look out for the interactive signs and walk to the correct line for your entry status. When in doubt, ask Boy Scouts or staff in Light Green.
Tip 16: Think about your connection
If you’re booking international flights with connections, allow at least two to three hours for international connections because you’ll need to collect bags, go through passport control, recheck bags for your next flight, and go through TSA screening.
When things get stressful
- Take advantage of your travel benefits, whether it’s lounge access, trusted travel programs, or flight benefits like early check-in and boarding
- If there are delays, keep track – chances are everything will work out and be fine! The main goal of airlines and airports is to get you to your destination safely
- Airlines are responsible for flight schedules. Therefore, contact your airline if your flight is delayed