Seattle–Tacoma International Airport
Sea–Tac Airport in August 2012, looking north
|Owner/Operator||Port of Seattle|
|Serves||Seattle metropolitan area|
|Location||SeaTac, Washington, U.S.|
|Elevation AMSL||433 ft / 132 m|
Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (IATA: SEA, ICAO: KSEA, FAA LID: SEA), also referred to as Sea–Tac Airport or Sea–Tac (//), is the primary commercial airport serving the Seattle metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Washington. It is located in the city of SeaTac, approximately 14 miles (23 km) south of Downtown Seattle and 18 miles (29 km) north-northeast of Downtown Tacoma. The airport, the largest in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, is located between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and owned by the Port of Seattle.
The airport has flights to cities throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It is the primary hub for Alaska Airlines, whose headquarters are near the airport. It is also a hub and international gateway to Asia for Delta Air Lines, which has expanded at the airport since 2011. Thirty-four airlines serve 91 non-stop domestic and 28 international destinations.
In 2019, the airport was the 28th-busiest airport in the world and the eighth-busiest in the United States (right after San Francisco SFO) by passenger traffic, and is considered one of the fastest growing in the United States; it surpassed 50 million passengers for the 2019 calendar year. The entire airport covers an area of 2,500 acres or 3.9 square miles (10 km2), much smaller than other U.S. airports with similar annual passenger numbers.
The airport was built by the Port of Seattle in 1944 after the U.S. military took control of Boeing Field in World War II. The Port received $1 million from the Civil Aeronautics Administration to build the airport and $100,000 from the City of Tacoma. The first scheduled airline flights were Northwest and Trans-Canada in 1947; Western and United moved from Boeing Field in the next couple of years, and Pan Am moved in 1952–53, but West Coast and successors Air West and Hughes Airwest stayed at Boeing Field until 1971.
In June 1951 four runways were at 45-degree angles, between 5,000 and 6,100 feet (1,500 and 1,900 m) long; the northeast–southwest and northwest–southeast runways intersected just west of the north–south runway that eventually became today's runway 34R. Runway 34 was lengthened to 7500 ft in 1951, to 8500 ft by 1958, and to 11900 ft by 1962. The extension required the construction of an automobile tunnel for South 188th Street, which opened in July 1961. Runway 34L replaced runway 2 around 1970.
The April 1957 OAG shows 216 departures a week on United, 80 Northwest, 35 Western, 21 Trans-Canada, 20 Pan Am, 20 Pacific Northern and 10 Alaska. The first jet flights were Pan Am Boeing 707s to Honolulu via Portland (OR) in late 1959 (Pan Am's timetable for September 27 shows a weekly jet). In 1966 Scandinavian Airlines began the airport's first non-stop flight to mainland Europe (Pan Am nonstops to London began around 1961). The first concourse opened in July 1959.
The two-story North Concourse (later dubbed Concourse D) added four gate positions and a new wing 600 feet (180 m) long and 30 feet (9.1 m) wide. The one-story South Concourse (now Concourse A) opened in 1961, adding another 688 feet (210 m) to the length of the airport. The 800-foot (240 m) long Concourse B opened in December 1964. It added eight gate positions, bringing the total to 19, a 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) area housing international arrivals and the offices of U.S. Customs, Immigration, Public Health and the Department of Agriculture. Concourse C opened in July 1966. Just four years later, it was extended to include another 10 gates, bringing the total to 35. The Port embarked on a major expansion plan, designed by The Richardson Associates and lasting from 1967 to 1973, adding a second runway, a parking garage, two satellite terminals and other improvements. In 1973, $28-million new terminal was built over and around the 1949 structure; the new terminal quadrupled the area for public use. On July 1, 1973, the Airport opened two new satellite terminals, along with an underground train system to connect them to the Main Terminal. In the mid-1980s, the Main Terminal was renovated and another 150 feet (46 m) was added to the north end. Concourse D was expanded in 1987 with a rotunda that added four new gates. In 1993, Concourses B, C, and D were renovated. The project, designed by NBBJ, included the addition of 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) and the renovation of 170,000 square feet (16,000 m2) of space in Concourses B, C, and D. On June 15, 2004, the 2,102-foot (641 m) new Concourse A was unveiled with 14 new gates, a dozen new restaurants, new artwork and the airport's first moving sidewalks.
Residents of the surrounding area filed lawsuits against the Port in the early 1970s, complaining of noise, vibration, smoke, and other problems. The Port and the government of King County adopted the Sea–Tac Communities Plan in 1976 to address problems and guide future development. The Port spent more than $100 million over the next decade to buy homes and school buildings in the vicinity, and soundproof others nearby. In the mid-1980s, the airport participated in the airport noise-compatibility program initiated by Congress in 1979. Airport-noise contours were developed, real estate was purchased and some homes were retrofitted to achieve noise mitigation.
In 1978 the U.S. ended airline regulation, and U.S. airlines were allowed to determine routes and fares without government approval. Deregulation resulted in new service to Seattle, including from TWA, then the fourth-largest U.S. airline, as well as Delta, National, and American.
After the death of U.S. Senator Henry Martin "Scoop" Jackson in 1983, the Seattle Port Commission voted to change the name of the airport to Henry M. Jackson International Airport. Citizens of Tacoma interpreted the change as an insult to their community—the second time in the airport's history that the port authorities had attempted to remove "Tacoma" from the name. The $100,000 that Tacoma had provided for the airport's construction during World War II had come with an explicit promise that the city would be included in the airport's name. An additional complicating factor was the existence of another Jackson International Airport (now Jackson–Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport) in Jackson, Mississippi, whose management threatened legal action to preserve its exclusive use of the name. The controversy was resolved after polls of Seattle and Tacoma area residents indicated their preference for the original name by margins as much as 5:1. Helen Jackson, the widow of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson, expressed her desire that their family remain neutral in the debate. With a 3–2 vote of the Port of Seattle Commission, the name was reverted to Sea–Tac in early 1984.
In the late 1980s the Port of Seattle and a council representing local county governments considered the future of air traffic in the region and predicted that airport could reach capacity by 2000. The planning committee concluded in 1992 that the best solution was to add a third runway to the airport and construct a supplemental two-runway airport in one of the neighboring counties. Members of the community opposed a third runway, as did the Highline School District and the cities of Des Moines, Burien, Federal Way, Tukwila, and Normandy Park, but a 1994 study concluded there were no feasible sites for an additional airport. The Port of Seattle approved a plan for the new runway in 1996, prompting a lawsuit from opponents. The Port secured the necessary permits by agreeing to noise reduction programs and environmental protections. Runway opponents appealed these permits, but dropped their challenges in 2004.
The third runway opened on November 20, 2008, with a construction cost of $1.1 billion. Parallel to the existing two, the new runway is 2500 ft west of runway 34R, allowing landings on both in times of low visibility. The older runways are 800 ft apart, too close to allow use of both in low visibility.
Increased Delta Air Lines presence
In 2014 Delta Air Lines announced plans to expand Seattle into a transpacific hub. Since then, Delta has added numerous international flights and dozens of domestic flights to feed those services. Delta's increased presence in Seattle has been seen by some industry analysts as a response to United Airlines' transpacific hub at San Francisco, as well as Delta's disenchantment with its former Tokyo–Narita hub.
Delta's expansion at Seattle–Tacoma has created some controversy. Many of the new domestic services Delta started offering from Seattle to boost traffic to international flights encroached on routes that Alaska Airlines, previously a long-time partner of Delta, has historically operated. Delta is seeking a total of 30 gates, nearly triple its current 11 gates, to accommodate its planned growth.
The expansion of Delta has caused capacity constraints. As an interim solution to overcrowding, the Port of Seattle has announced the North Sea–Tac Airport Renovation project (NorthSTAR). By 2020 the North Satellite will be expanded by over 240 feet, increasing the terminal's square footage by 181,000 feet and increasing the gate count from 12 to 20.
The three parallel runways run nearly north–south, west of the passenger terminal and are 8,500 to 11,900 feet (2,600–3,600 m) long. In 2008 the airport averaged 946 aircraft operations per day, 89% being commercial flights, 10% air taxi operations and 1% transient general aviation.
A new control tower was built beginning in 2001 and opened November 2004, at a cost of $26 million. The floor of the new tower's control cab is 233 ft (71 m) above ground level; the tower's overall height including antennas is 269 ft (82 m). The cab has 850 sq ft (79 m2) of space and was designed to support operation by ten controllers, with possible future expansion up to 15. The site and construction method of the tower were designed to maximize visibility and efficacy of radar systems. The airport's original control tower, built in the 1950s, is now located in the airport's passenger terminal and used as a ramp control tower, after being repaired from damage caused by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001.
A recurring problem at the airport is misidentification of the westernmost taxiway, Taxiway Tango, as a runway. A large "X" has been placed at the north end of the taxiway, but a number of aircraft have landed on the taxiway. The FAA issued an alert notice dated from August 27, 2009, to September 24, 2009, urging airplanes about taking precautions such as REILs and other visual cues while landing from the north.
In 2007 the airport became the first airport to implement an avian radar system providing 24-hour monitoring of wildlife activity across the airfield. This pilot program, designed and implemented with the assistance of the University of Illinois Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT), was designed to decrease potentially fatal incidents involving collisions with birds and to provide a test bed for implementation of the technology in the US which was expected to begin in 2009. The technology is part of a strategy to reduce the presence of wildlife on the airfield.
The Seattle office of the National Weather Service operates a weather station at the airport, with a temperature gauge between the center and eastern runways. The airport has served as Seattle's official weather recording location since 1945.
Seattle–Tacoma has 80 gates on four concourses and two satellite buildings.
- Concourse A has 16 gates (plus 2 ground-boarding bus gates)
- Concourse B has 15 gates (plus 2 ground-boarding bus gates)
- Concourse C has 13 gates
- Concourse D has 11 gates (plus 6 ground-boarding bus gates)
- North Satellite has 10 gates
- South Satellite has 14 gates
The main terminal building is laid out in an "X" shape, with the four concourses forming a different arm. In the middle, where concourses converge, there is the "central terminal", an area with no passenger boarding gates, but several restaurants and retail stores. The central terminal is also the site of the airport's five Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints; one is open 24/7, three are opened based on airline schedules (one is reserved for members of the TSA PreCheck program), and one is reserved for cruise passengers and is open seasonally. Once through security, passengers have access to all gates.
The two satellite terminal buildings, named the north and south satellite, are connected to the four concourses in the main terminal by a three-line automated people mover system called the Satellite Transit System. The underground system moves passengers quickly within the four concourses of the central terminal and out to the two satellite terminals.
All international arrivals (except flights from cities with customs preclearance) are handled at the South Satellite Terminal, regardless of their departure terminal.
In 2019 the Port of Seattle announced plans to allow a limited number of daily non-passengers to enter the post-security zone.
Airlines and destinations
|1||Los Angeles, California||1,244,000||Alaska, American, Delta, United|
|2||San Francisco, California||1,118,000||Alaska, Delta, United|
|3||Anchorage, Alaska||1,029,000||Alaska, Delta|
|4||Las Vegas, Nevada||933,000||Alaska, Delta, Southwest, Spirit|
|5||Denver, Colorado||925,000||Alaska, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, United|
|6||Phoenix–Sky Harbor, Arizona||900,000||Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest|
|7||Chicago–O'Hare, Illinois||808,000||Alaska, American, Delta, Spirit, United|
|8||San Diego, California||684,000||Alaska, Delta, Southwest|
|9||Portland, Oregon||664,000||Alaska, Delta|
|10||San Jose, California||635,000||Alaska, Delta, Southwest|
|1||Vancouver, Canada||632,650||Air Canada, Alaska, Delta|
|2||Seoul–Incheon, South Korea||424,015||Asiana Airlines, Delta, Korean Air|
|3||London–Heathrow, United Kingdom||383,187||British Airways, Virgin Atlantic|
|4||Frankfurt, Germany||285,612||Condor, Lufthansa|
|5||Dubai, United Arab Emirates||274,531||Emirates|
|6||Beijing, China||270,322||Delta, Hainan|
|8||Taipei–Taoyuan, Taiwan||261,181||EVA Air|
|9||Tokyo–Narita, Japan||257,188||All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Delta|
|10||Victoria, Canada||245,203||Alaska, Delta|
|Rank||Airline||Passengers||Percent of market share|
|2||Delta Air Lines||8,577,000||19.43%|
Ground transportation and access
The site of Sea–Tac was chosen partly due to its location along State Route 99, approximately midway between Seattle and Tacoma. Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 also converge near the airport, with an easy connection to the airport via State Route 518 and the Airport Expressway. State Route 509 runs to the west of the airport, connecting the area to West Seattle. The airport is the largest generator of vehicle trips in the state.
The Port of Seattle offers paid on-site parking in a 13,000-space garage, notable for being North America's largest parking structure under one roof. Numerous privately owned parking facilities are located off-site near the airport.
Seattle's Red Line serves the airport at the SeaTac/Airport Station with frequent service to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington. The station opened on December 19, 2009, and is connected to the airport terminal via a pedestrian bridge to the airport parking garage. Another pedestrian bridge over International Boulevard is used to access the city of SeaTac, nearby airport hotels, and King County Metro buses including RapidRide A Line. A 1.6-mile extension of the Link line south to Angle Lake Station at South 200th Street opened on September 24, 2016.
Tukwila Station, which is approximately 5 miles east of the airport, is served by Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak Cascades regional inter-city rail with service north to Vancouver, Canada, and service south to Portland and Eugene in Oregon. This station can be reached in about 30 minutes via the Central Link light rail or the RapidRide A Line bus service and transferring at Tukwila International Boulevard station to the RapidRide F Line bus service.
The airport is served by door-to-door shuttle services (Shuttle Express and Speedi Shuttle) and several scheduled airporter bus services. Airporters include Bellair Charters to Yakima and Bellingham, and the Quick Shuttle to downtown Vancouver, Canada, through Quick Shuttle, with other pick-up stops at downtown Seattle, Bellingham International Airport, and drop-off stops just inside the Canadian–U.S. boundary and at the Vancouver International Airport.
Rental car facility
A 23-acre (9.3 ha) consolidated rental car facility opened on May 17, 2012. The facility is located at the northeastern portion of the airport at the intersection of South 160th Street and International Boulevard South. The facility has 5,400 parking spaces and can handle up to 14,000 transactions per day. After the opening of the facility, 3,200 parking spaces in the central parking structure were opened up for general use. Passengers reach the facility on a five-minute trip aboard one of 29 low-floor Gillig CNG buses. Previously, only Alamo, Avis, Sixt, Budget, Hertz and National had cars on site; Advantage, Dollar, Enterprise, Thrifty, EZ Rent-A-Car and Fox Rent A Car ran shuttles to off-site locations. Payless Car Rental now has a presence. Customers of Rent-a-Wreck must ride the shuttle to the facility and then board one of the company's shuttles to Rent-a-Wreck's office.
The facility was originally scheduled to open in spring 2011. However, construction was suspended on December 15, 2008, by vote of the Port of Seattle Commission and did not begin again until June 2009.
Sea–Tac Airport has seen record growth in passenger traffic over the last few years. That growth has been partly fueled by the nationwide expansion of Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and by Delta Air Lines setting up a major international hub at Sea–Tac Airport. That growth has strained the facilities at the airport, leading the port to invest more than $2 billion into several expansion and renovation projects.
D gates hardstand terminal
This project will add six new gates where passengers will wait until boarding time, then will board a large bus outside of the terminal that will transport them to an aircraft parked in a remote area of the airport called a hardstand. At most other gates at the airport passengers board by either walking directly onto the aircraft through a jetway, or in the case of smaller regional aircraft, by walking outside and onto the plane parked near the terminal. Sea–Tac Airport officials say the $38 million project can be built quickly and ready for service by the summer of 2018. The hardstand terminal will help the airport deal with gate shortages as other projects are completed around the airport. The building will be connected to the D Concourse by a bridge and to the Satellite Transit System by a covered walkway to the Main Terminal North station. The Port of Seattle calls the building a "temporary facility" but intends to use it for the next 10 to 20 years.
Currently Sea–Tac Airport has six outbound baggage handling systems with limited to no cross-connectivity. The system now in place is aging and reaching its maximum capacity. This $320.4 million project will create one unified, high-speed baggage system under the airport. That will allow bags to be checked from any ticketing counter, to receive security screening faster, and to be routed to any gate in the airport. The extra efficiency and speed will allow the airport to handle more baggage in the future without expanding the footprint of the baggage handling systems. The initial phase of the project was finished in 2018 and the entire system will be in place by 2023.
North Satellite modernization
The North Satellite Terminal has only received limited upgrades since it was opened in 1973 and is in need of modernization. The Port of Seattle initially looked at simply updating the terminal in a project it called the North Satellite Renovation Plan (NorthSTAR). In 2016 it was announced that the Port would also significantly expand the terminal. The $550 million project now called the North Satellite Modernization will increase the size of the North Satellite by 201,000 square feet and another eight gates, bringing the total to 20. The first phase of the project, which was dedicated on July 11, 2019, expanded the terminal to the west by 240 feet (73 m) and added eight new gates, a mezzanine level with eateries, and a rooftop lounge for Alaska Airlines. The second phase, scheduled to be complete by 2021, will modernize the remaining areas of the old terminal and expand dining and retail space around the twenty existing gates.
New International Arrivals Facility
The current International Arrivals Facility (IAF) is located in the basement of the South Satellite. It is known to have become severely overcrowded at peak arrival times. Additionally, the process for passengers is complicated by the isolated location of the terminal.
To address the situation, the Port of Seattle is building a new 450,000-square-foot IAF east of Concourse A in the main terminal building. The facility will increase capacity by nearly 60 percent by increasing the number of passport check booths and kiosks from 30 to 80, and the number of baggage claim carousels from four to seven. The new IAF will be connected to the south satellite by a 900-foot-long bridge (aerial walkway) that will take passengers 85 feet above the existing airplane taxiway and over the top of Concourse A. The project was initially expected to be completed by 2021 at a cost of $766 million. In late 2018, the cost was re-calculated to $968 million.
After the new IAF opens, the South Satellite will continue to be used for arriving international flights; additional international gates will be added in Concourse A, nearly doubling the number of gates capable of serving larger wide-body aircraft.
South Satellite modernization
Once the new International Arrivals Facility is complete, the Port of Seattle will renovate the South Satellite Terminal.
Sustainable Airport Master Plan / Second Terminal
With estimates that the Puget Sound region will grow by another one million people by 2035, the Port of Seattle began developing the Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) in 2018 to meet passenger and cargo demands. The SAMP recommends more than 30 projects to improve efficiency and airport access, including a new terminal with 19 gates and an automated people mover through three separate stations.
According to Alaska Airlines, the airport's largest carrier, the facility's plan for a 19-gate terminal would transform Sea-Tac into one of the most congested hubs in the United States as a result of the new terminal being disconnected from the existing terminal. Passengers moving between terminals would be required travel to reach the other terminal, as well as go through separate security screenings in each terminal.
Accidents and incidents
- November 30, 1947: Alaska Airlines Flight 9, a Douglas C-54A en route to Seattle from Anchorage, Alaska, landed in heavy fog and damp conditions after failed attempts at nearby Boeing Field and Paine Field in Everett. The plane touched down 2,748 ft (838 m) beyond the approach area to Runway 20 and sped onto a nearby road, colliding with an automobile and bursting into flames. Nine fatalities resulted from the accident, including a blind woman riding in the car.
- April 2, 1956: Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser headed to Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon and points east, experienced reduced power and extreme buffeting shortly after take-off due to an improper setting of the airplane's cowl flaps by the flight engineer. Plans were initially made to land at McChord Air Force Base, but the pilot was forced to make a water landing in Puget Sound east of Maury Island. The plane sank within 15 minutes. Five of the 38 on board died.
- November 24, 1971: Northwest Airlines Flight 305, a Boeing 727 flying to Sea–Tac from Portland International Airport, was hijacked by a man calling himself "Dan Cooper", later misidentified by the press as "D. B. Cooper". Cooper released the passengers after landing in exchange for $200,000 and four parachutes, ordered the plane back into the air and jumped out over Southwest Washington with the money. To this day, neither Cooper nor most of the $200,000 have been found.
- December 26, 1974: Harbor Airlines Flight 308, a Britten Norman Islander bound for Oak Harbor crashed 1 km north of Sea-Tac in snowy weather conditions into Riverton. Four of the six occupants on board (3 passengers, 1 crew) were killed. Unknown matter in the pitot tubes caused improper readings of the airspeed indicator.
- January 20, 1983: Northwest Airlines Flight 608, a Boeing 727 flying from Sea–Tac to Portland, was hijacked. The man told a flight attendant that he had a bomb and demanded to be taken to Afghanistan. Federal agents stormed the plane after it landed in Portland for refueling. The hijacker was killed and the box he carried revealed no explosives.
- April 15, 1988: Horizon Air Flight 2658, a twin-engine de Havilland Canada Dash-8 departing for the Spokane International Airport, experienced a power loss in the number two engine shortly after takeoff. While the crew lowered the gear for landing as they returned to the airport, a massive fire broke out in the right engine nacelle, resulting in a loss of braking and directional control. After touchdown, the aircraft veered off the runway and crossed the ramp, colliding with two jetways before coming to a stop against a third. The aircraft was destroyed by fire on impact. Four of the 37 passengers were seriously injured, but there were no fatalities.
- August 10, 2018: An empty Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 was stolen and ultimately crashed on Ketron Island.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.|
- Official website at Port of Seattle website
- Seattle–Tacoma International Airport at WSDOT Aviation
- HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History – Detailed articles on the history of the airport
- (PDF), effective March 26, 2020
- FAA Terminal Procedures for SEA, effective March 26, 2020
- Resources for this airport:
- Seattle–Tacoma Airport Car Rentals