SEATAC, Wash. — A worker shortage at Sea-Tac International Airport could throw a curveball in what officials say is a busy return-to-travel season with the airport reaching 85% of its pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the increase, it's not business as usual for several retail and dining operators who are struggling to meet the airport's growing demand.
Last week, the Port of Seattle kicked off a $15,000 ad campaign to attract and fill around 300 jobs that remain open as summer travel heats up.
That number was seven jobs in April 2020, and the rehiring phase has been challenging.
Italian restaurant Pallino has been serving up pizza in the airport's Central Terminal for 16 years. Managing partner David Montanaro said he and other vendors he's spoken to are all down in staff by up to 40%.
The hiring crisis is nationwide, affecting every aspect of airport operations including construction, which is also delaying the full opening of the North Satellite until next year.
"Getting employees back is one thing, but the logistics piece is huge. So access to farmed good, anything manufactured as well as the delivery companies themselves," said Khalia Moore who runs airport dining and retail.
Moore says it's as simple as getting tomatoes into some of the restaurants.
With less product and fewer employees, passengers can expect longer lines, shrinking menu options and not as many places to sit and eat. And while local businesses are happy about the return to travel, the comeback hasn't been a smooth ride.
"We've got a core staff that is coming in early and working overtime, but yeah, we could use more staff for sure," said Montanaro.
Moore is asking the public to give airport staff some grace as an entity that operates 24/7 with thousands of people coming in and going out a day.
"Everyone is doing the hardest they can. TSA also has some limited staff availability and so there are issues there as well, everyone is just pushing through as fast as possible," she added.
Moore said it's too early to tell how much of an impact their hiring efforts are having, but she did hear from one business, Hudson Retailer, that hired seven employees last week.