Several travelers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport took to Twitter on Sunday morning, sharing photos and frustration at having to wait more than an hour to get through airport security in a line so long it snaked into the parking garage.
Airport officials said the longest recorded wait times hovered around 90 minutes, but many travelers tweeted that wait times were more than two hours.
“I don’t want to debate anybody,” said Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper. “But what we saw in our tracking was the longest waits to be an hour and 30 minutes.”
The rush lasted from 8:15 a.m. until around noon, according to Cooper. Two of the airport’s security lanes were closed, and 27 were open. In addition, two checkpoints that are normally used for prescreened travelers opened lanes to accommodate the rush of travelers.
Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lorie Dankers said that all open checkpoints were fully staffed Sunday, and that TSA workers were required to work overtime to process the large crowds. “We had a lot of resources on hand to address what is really a very busy September travel season at Sea-Tac,” Dankers said.
Airport officials aren’t blaming the spike on one particular thing — the busiest time for people flying out of Seattle is between 6 and 11 a.m., and numbers are climbing back to pre-pandemic levels. But one of the major factors that could have tipped Sea-Tac over the edge on Sunday was the cruise industry.
When ships empty their passengers after docking in Seattle, several busloads of people can arrive to the airport at once. “We think that was part of it,” Cooper said.
The morning’s line looked especially daunting as many photos shared on social media showed people holding luggage and standing single file in the parking garage, far from where they’d eventually enter security. Cooper pointed out, however, that the single line fed all five checkpoints.
“When we get to this volume, we basically put everybody into one line,” Cooper said. It’s the first time lines have reached garage levels all summer, he added.
Officials expected about 60,000 people would make their way through one of its security checkpoints on Sunday in what is “probably one of our busiest days since the pandemic started,” Cooper said.
The airport currently projects traveler numbers this year will be just 10% below those of 2019, when 51.8 million people used the airport. For comparison, the airport saw 20 million travelers in 2020 and 36.2 million in 2021.
Before the pandemic, in 2019, Seattle’s airport was ranked as one of the fastest-growing airports in the country, alongside Orlando International Airport, Cooper said.