One sure sign that things are inching back toward normal: long lines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The average daily number of passengers screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the week of March 21 was 26,000 — up 278% from the same time last year, according to SEA Airport Statistics.
“The number of passengers traveling through Sea-Tac this time last year, it was dead,” said Perry Cooper, the Port of Seattle’s senior manager of media relations, adding that one day, just 2,500 passed through the airport.
And yet, this year’s number was still 59% lower than the same time in 2019, before the pandemic hit and people were traveling for Easter and Spring Break.
“We have seen each of the last weeks go up in average daily numbers,” said Cooper.
(In 2019, 51 million passengers passed through the airport — an average of 140,000 per day.)
“What we’re seeing here in the last couple of weeks is the Spring Break uptick, which is typical,” Cooper said, noting that this week Tacoma, Kent, Auburn and Everett school districts are off.
Next week — April 12 — the Seattle and Bellevue school districts will be on Spring Break, “which will be the busiest week of the month here,” Cooper said.
On Monday, the day after Easter, SeaTac passengers faced long lines for the first time in over a year — a “one-off,” Cooper said, that staff wasn’t expecting to happen, especially so quickly.
“It always happens to us,” he said. “We get everyone excited about one big day and do a good job prepping for it. And then a day that we weren’t expecting turns out to be a one-off. It was just a peak day.
“With what we’ve seen with more vaccinations and people being more comfortable and willing to fly, we’re expecting to see the numbers go up,” he said. “But no one is sure when it’s going to happen.”
In the summer months of June through August, an average 70,000 passengers pass through Sea-Tac in a single day.
On Wednesday, the airport will open the first XpresCheck coronavirus testing facility on the West Coast. The facility — located pre-security on the baggage-claim level near Carousel 9, will have the capacity to administer more than 500 tests per day, including the rapid molecular coronavirus test and the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid unnecessary travel. The agency’s guidance says vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested or going into quarantine afterward. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, urged caution, though, and said she would “advocate against general travel overall” given the rising number of infections.