Seattle-Tacoma International Airport adds additional staff for weekend trips after long TSA wait times

More workers are at work at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for another busy travel weekend. This is after a mess of long lines of people backed up in the parking lot waiting to go through the TSA security checkpoint. Many travelers have missed their flights because of this.

Port of Seattle officials said a lack of morning staff last weekend was one of the causes of the backlog.

“And then it turned into a rolling ball that just couldn’t be slowed down as it headed downhill,” Port of Seattle spokesman Perry Cooper said.

With the extra staff working on Friday, the longest wait time recorded was 40 minutes, and the average was 20 minutes according to the Port of Seattle. Port of Seattle spokesman Perry Cooper said more staff would be working through the weekend to help with the influx of people.

“They worked to get some extra staff. In fact, we even got some extra K-9 which helped the line here today,” Cooper said.

It remains to be seen why wait times spiraled out of control last weekend to the point that people were queuing for an average of 90 minutes, with some waiting for hours, causing them to miss their flights. Cooper said that after extensive review with stakeholders, the following factors were determined to be causing the challenges:

  • Summer-level travel volume continues into the normally slower fall season. This is a post-pandemic operational challenge that reflects changing trends. Summer-level volume has yet to decline as it normally would. On Sunday, the TSA screened more passengers between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. than any other morning since the pandemic.
  • Traditionally, traffic at SEA drops about 15% after Labor Day. The pandemic is changing the dynamics of travel trends. With that in mind, the TSA brought in additional personnel from across the country to cover the summer peak SEA, which went very well. This additional endowment ended on Labor Day; however, the number of trips remained at the summer level.
  • Maintenance and construction has taken two lanes out of service at one of the checkpoints.

Cooper said the TSA’s staffing shortage is another issue facing airports across the country. As the trend of extended leisure travel continues into the unpredictable future, the Port of Seattle and the TSA are working together to attract more workers to Sea-Tac.

“Try to continue to recruit additional TSA personnel here for the Seattle area, just as we see additional recruits we want for airport employees, restaurants and retailers,” Cooper said.

Cooper and the Port of Seattle said what happened last weekend was unacceptable. As officials work to address this, they are also urging travelers to show up early.

“If you have a morning flight between 5am and 11am, you really need to be here early. We say two hours before your domestic flight, three hours for international. And that’s just to make sure you’re here in case a line is longer than expected,” Cooper said.

Sea-Tac Airport has an app called SEA Spot Saver. Through the app, travelers can reserve a place in the queue to reduce waiting time. Although the app is currently alerting travelers, Spot Saver may not be available at this time due to high demand for appointments and suggesting people to schedule extra time.

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