Sleigh the Lines at SEA Airport for the Holidays

December 8, 2023, travel tips for three key lines from the SEA Port of Seattle.

The winter holidays are here. Travelers, are you ready to beat the lines? Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is offering the secrets to get ahead in three key lines you might see — getting to the airport, check-in, and security checkpoints. Forecasts anticipate an increase of 10%-11% over last year, which would bring passenger volumes near pre-pandemic levels.

First, the numbers

Volumes will be highest ahead of the weekends and the following Sundays. The busiest days are expected to be Friday, Dec. 22, with 174,000 total passengers going through the airport (arriving, departing, and connecting), followed by Friday, Dec. 15 (168,000); Thursday, Dec. 21 (164,000); and Thursday, Dec. 14 (161,000). These reflect a 10%-11% increase from 2022, while still being just short of pre-pandemic levels from 2019. The annual projection for total passenger volume for 2023 is expected to be 1%-2% under record 2019 levels, with 2024 exceeding records by 3%.

Heads up, early birds and night owls. More than one-third of SEA’s daily passenger volume arrives at the airport before 9:00 a.m., causing busy conditions at TSA security checkpoints and on the drives. Two more peak periods occur from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. and from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m.

Tips for three key lines

Getting to the airport

  • Arrive early. Be in the terminal at least two hours before your boarding time for a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. Include travel times from off-site parking or drop-offs.
  • Avoid a traffic jam. Try alternate ways to get to the airport, so you avoid the congested drives. Use public transportation, airport parking, a taxi/limo, a rideshare, a scheduled airporter, door-to-door van service, or a shuttle option.
  • Think opposite. If driving to the curb is your only option, use the Lower Arrivals Drive to drop off during peak hours, or use the Upper Departures Drive to pick up. Or just use whichever lane is moving faster – they both go to the same building!
  • If you’re parking at the airport garage, plan on an extra 45-60 minutes to find a spot, and use the Automated Parking Guidance System to find a spot faster!

Ready for check-In

  • No bags to check and boarding pass in hand? Go straight to the security checkpoint and avoid the check-in desks.
  • Be prepped with your airline ahead of time. Check their baggage policies, check yourself in, and have all their apps downloaded for efficient travel. See our best baggage tips.
  • Don’t forget your boarding passes or your bag tags, and do whatever you can do ahead of time.
  • If you can, go without checking a bag to avoid the line and go straight to the security checkpoint!
  • Travelers will notice more construction as well. The airport’s Upgrade SEA program is currently underway with improvement projects from curb to gate. Construction for a major new ticketing area renovation project has spillover impacts in ticketing and baggage claim on the north end of the main terminal.

Security checkpoint options

  • Speed through TSA Screening. Sign up for the FREE SEA Spot Saver service to reserve your time at TSA Screening as early as five days before you travel (or when you arrive at the airport).
  • Be ready for security checkpoints. SEA and TSA want to help you move through as quickly as possible. Travelers are required to remove any electronic device larger than a cell phone from their carry-on luggage. Also remove foods and liquids from your carry-on luggage, and prepare to hold up your boarding pass for review. Review the latest identification and documentation requirements.
  • Going to Mexico or another international destination for your holiday? Download the Mobile Passport Control app before you leave home. Add your travel details as you land back at SEA. Collect your bags and go straight to a dedicated line in the International Arrivals Facility. Your entire family can complete the customs process from a single mobile device, available for U.S. and Canadian citizens and those with a green card.

Check out more at SEA Airport travel tips.