SEATAC, Wash. – If you’re flying in and out of Sea-Tac Airport over Thanksgiving, expect long lines and a lot of traffic.
"We're experiencing record growth here at Sea-Tac airport, and with the record growth in passengers includes record growth in vehicles that are entering our drives during our peak travel times," said Port of Seattle Police Commander Bill McAteer.
In a little more than one month, Sea-Tac Airport airport expects it will have handled 46 million passengers in 2016, making it the 10th busiest airport in the country. Last year it ranked 13th. Overall growth for the year is about 8 percent over 2015, and the third quarter alone picked up at 9.1 percent. Sea-Tac is considered the fastest growing large airport in the United States.
This year, the police department has hired additional staff to keep traffic moving. Even with that, McAteer says traffic can back up to State Route 518 that leads to the airport freeway, or even down State Route 518 to Interstate 5.
The busiest times tend to be the mornings and late evenings. Those backups can add 45 to 50 minutes to a trip to the airport, or even longer some drivers said.
Airport statistics find that in 2016, 55 percent of the passengers traveling in and out of Sea-Tac go by private vehicle. That's down from 57 percent in 2015, but up from 54 percent in 2014. Despite having a light rail station that leads through downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, and the University of Washington to the north, and the Angle Lake station recently opened to the south, only 5 percent of passengers come by train.
The Port of Seattle commission voted Tuesday to enclose and heat the quarter mile long walkway between the terminal and the light rail station. Much of the passage goes along one edge of the airport's massive parking garage and is open to wind, rain, and cold temperatures.
"With the airport growing the way it is, we need more people to get onto the light rail to alleviate some off the traffic issues," said airport spokesman Brian DeRoy.
DeRoy says airport surveys are finding passengers frustrated by the exposed passage to the light rail station.
"It's a customer service issue," said DeRoy.
It's not known whether enclosing the walkways will boost ridership.
In the meantime, the pickup and drop off drives between the parking garage and the terminal aren't getting any wider, although ideas are being kicked around that may have some through lanes move into the parking garage.
For now, Port of Seattle Police have some tips. If you're picking up, dropping off, or simply parking long term, the garage can be accessed directly from International Boulevard, not just through the often jammed airport freeway. A half hour of parking costs $3.
Consider picking up and dropping off friends and family at the Angle Lake light rail station south of the airport, or elsewhere up and down the light rail line that now runs as far north as the University of Washington near Husky Stadium.
If you're coming to the airport, allow for extra time, and realize that the holidays are not the busiest times at this airport. The peaks usually come during the summer vacation and cruise season.