Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is adding extra staff for weekend travel after long TSA wait times

More workers are working at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for another busy weekend. This is after a mess of long lines of people backed up to the parking garage waiting to cross the TSA security checkpoint. Many travelers miss their flights because of this.

Seattle port officials said a lack of morning staff last weekend was one reason for the backlog.

“And then that just turned into a rolling ball that couldn’t slow down as it headed down the hill,” said Perry Cooper, a spokesperson for the Port of Seattle.

With the extra staff working Friday, the longest wait time on record was 40 minutes, and the average was 20 minutes according to the Port of Seattle. Perry Cooper, a spokesman for the Port of Seattle, said more employees will be working throughout the weekend to help with the flow of people.

“They worked on getting extra staff,” Cooper said. “In fact, we even got an extra K-9 that helped the line here today.”

Questions remain about why wait times spiraled out of control last weekend to the extent that people queued for an average of 90 minutes, some waiting for hours, causing them to miss their flights. After a thorough review with stakeholders, Cooper said, the following factors were identified to cause challenges:

  • Summer-level travel volume continues into the typically slower fall season. This is a challenge to post-pandemic operations and reflects changing trends. Volume at the summer level has not yet decreased as usual. On Sunday, the TSA screened more passengers between 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. than any other morning since the pandemic.
  • Traditionally, traffic in Southeast Asia drops by about 15% after Labor Day. The pandemic is changing the dynamics of travel trends. With this in mind, the TSA brought in additional employees from across the country to cover the height of summer in Southeast Asia, which went very well. This additional employment ended on Labor Day; However, travel numbers continued to remain at summer levels.
  • Maintenance and construction work cut two lanes at one of the barriers.

Cooper said the TSA staffing shortage is another problem that airports across the country face. As the trend of leisure travel continues into an unpredictable future, the Port of Seattle and the Transportation Security Administration are working together to bring more workers to Sea-Tac.

“Try to continue to recruit additional TSA employees here for the Seattle area, just as we’re seeing additional recruits we want for airport employees, dining and retail workers,” Cooper said.

Cooper and the Port of Seattle said what happened last weekend was unacceptable. While officials are working to rectify the matter, they are also urging travelers to come early.

“If you’ve got a morning flight between 5:00-11:00, you really need to be here early. We say two hours before your domestic flight, and three hours for international flights. That’s just to make sure you’re here. In case the line is longer than you expected,” Cooper said.

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

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