It’s safe to say the world has been a bit strange lately; since the COVID-19 pandemic began, traveling has never been the same. While we’re returning to travel without masking and consistent testing, there are still many things that have changed and continue to be a challenge for travelers at all airports, including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
Regardless of whether your travel is national or international, for summer or winter holidays, air travel will continue to be difficult for the foreseeable future. Preparing for the long-awaited trip should include planning for what is not planned.
Programming and planning
Tip 1: Know the rush hours at the airport and plan around it
Let’s face it: it’s almost always busy. But early morning, noon and late evening are peak times for departing, connecting and arriving flights. This applies to various operational areas such as traffic on airport units, check-in at the ticket office, passport control in the International Arrivals Facility (IAF) and waiting times for TSA checkpoints.
Tip 2: Give yourself time!
Plan extra time in case of cancellations, delays or other impact on your trip, including when booking flights, hotels, rental cars or other modes of transport. Allowing more time between essential travel steps helps relieve stress and impacts, so it’s better to give yourself more time than less.
Arrive at the airport three hours before yours boarding time (45 – 60 minutes before the scheduled departure time) – and this does not include travel time to the airport! Arriving early gives you enough time to get to where you are going and solves around 85% of possible stressful events at the airport. Worst-case scenario: You are a little early and have time for a snack before your flight.
Tip 3: download app
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 affected flights if things go haywire.
Trust is the key, so know before you go! Look for assigned gates, restrooms and shops on the interactive map to know where to go. Check the FlySEA website or bring the step-by-step map to the FlySEA app.
Tip 4: Discuss accessibility needs
If you are a traveler with a disability, call the Transportation Security Administration 72 hours before your flight to arrange assistance with security checks at (855) 787-2227.
Tip 5: hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Staffing levels are strained around the world, and the opening hours of services, retailers and restaurants may be inconsistent. Be patient and kind to the workers. They are all doing their best to help you and they are not the cause of the problem. You, the airport workers and your fellow travelers will all have a better day if you put a little patience.
Tip 6: Know the traffic conditions before you leave
As always, check the Washington State Department of Transportation several hours before you leave for roadway conditions and traffic updates!
Tip 7: plan alternative transportation
The car park is constantly busy, so your journey will be smoother if you plan not to drive. Look for other options in advance such as aeroporters, shuttles, LINK Light Rail, app-based rideshare, taxi and more.
Tip 8: Hop off and pick up on either of the two Airport Drives
The busiest periods on the superior units (departure). are 5: 00-7: 00 and 21: 00-23: 00 for the lower level unit (Arrivals).. To avoid long waiting times, choose the least busy one and use it instead!
- In the morningsdrop your passengers on the Arrivals Drive (the lower level)
- In the eveningsarrange a meeting with your people on Departures Drive (the upper level)
Tip 9: Prepare for Security Checks! This means that while you are in line (or while packing your bags):
- Pull out the right form of identification in a convenient place
- Put items like cell phones and laptops together so you can take them out
- Wear clothes and shoes that are easy to remove for the baskets
Check with TSA in advance if you have any questions or need special assistance.
Tip 10: Plan to wait at the security checkpoints
That could mean coming early and leaving enough time, so being pleasantly surprised if there’s no waiting around. The lines can seem long, especially when people are in line with their bags but are looking for movement. Shorter lines that don’t move can actually have longer wait times. Follow the instructions of the checkpoint staff at the lines, as they are always looking for the shortest line for you.
Tip 11: Know where to go for your trusted traveler program
Here is a cheat sheet:
- TSA preliminary check: Go directly to checkpoints 1 or 4; check the FlySEA app to see the waiting times in both
- SEA Spot Saver: Go to checkpoints 2, 3 or 5 from 5am to 1pm
- CLEAR: Use any checkpoint
Tip 12: connect with your sanity
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 easier check-in, baggage drop-off and proximity between your two gates.
Tip 13: banish bags
Check your airline’s baggage policies and, if possible, travel with carry-on baggage to eliminate additional waiting.
Tip 14: stay in touch
Check the status of your flight well in advance and keep checking during the trip; enable push notifications to receive updates on the go.
Tip 15: Speed up through immigration
The new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) at SEA Airport is a baggage facility, which means you will need to collect your bags before entering passport control.
Bonus: if you do not have checked baggage, go directly to customs and travel faster! Keep in mind that passport control lines may seem longer because people have their luggage with them. Pay attention to the interactive signs and go to the correct line for your entry status. If in doubt, ask Pathfinders or the bright green staff.
Tip 16: Consider your connection
When booking connecting international flights, schedule a minimum of two to three hours for international connections as you’ll need to collect your bags, check your passports, double-check your bags for your next flight, and go through TSA screening.
When things get stressful
- Use your traveller’s perks whether it’s lounge access, trusted traveler programs, or airline perks like early check-in and boarding
- If there is a delay, keep a perspective – everything is likely to work out and be fine! The main goal for airlines and the airport is to get you where you are going safely
- Airlines are responsible for flight schedules, so contact your airline if your flight is delayed