Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released the following statement regarding last weekend’s massive wait times and lines that passengers suffered through at Sea-Tac Airport:

On Saturday and Sunday, general screening passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport experienced unacceptable wait times. Our customers are asking what happened and what we can do to fix it.  We prepared this brief blog in response.

After a deep dive with stakeholders from this weekend’s long security checkpoint lines, we identified three main factors as contributing to the challenges. These include:

    • Summer level travel volume is continuing into the normally slower fall season. This is a post-pandemic operations challenge that reflects changing trends. Summer-level volume has not yet dropped off as it normally would.  On Sunday, TSA screened more passengers between 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. than any other morning since the pandemic.
    • Traditionally, traffic at SEA drops about 15% after Labor Day. The pandemic is changing the dynamic of travel trends. With this in mind, TSA brought in additional staff from around the country to cover the SEA summer peak, which went very well. That additional staffing ended on Labor Day; however, the travel numbers have continued to stay at summer levels.
    • Maintenance and construction took two lanes offline at one of the checkpoints.

TSA staffing proactively opened more general screening lanes in Checkpoint 1 and 4 to help in the backup. Morning staff teams who stayed late and midday teams who came in early were essential in ending the congestion.

These challenging situations are unusual. Through August of this year, 91% of our travelers have made it through the checkpoint lines in under 30 minutes, and 68% under 20 minutes. We realize that’s small comfort if you get stuck in one of those unusual situations where the lines are much longer. Our goal is always to find ways to be better.

Our plan for this weekend
Partners are working collaboratively to define a plan for the weekends ahead. The airport, airlines, and TSA are adding more staff for this weekend.

We recommend these steps if you are concerned about lines:

1. Use the free virtual queuing service SEA Spot Saver. This allows travelers to reserve a 15 minute period to go to the front of the general screening line. This is available for sign up 72 hours in advance of your flight. SEA Spot Saver is available daily from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Checkpoints 2, 3, and 5 for all flights departing between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. Appointments are available from 240 to 60 minutes before departure. Slots are limited and may book up fast so we recommend booking up to 72 hours in advance of your flight. You can even sign up at the terminal thru a QR code when the lines are long!

2. Sign up for other Trusted Traveler options such as TSA PreCheck and Clear. The trusted traveler options did not see the extended wait times of general screening on Sunday.

3. As always, arrive early — two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. Even if your previous experience was a shorter wait time through security, better to be here early and through rather than later and stuck unexpectedly.

4.    If the option works for you, book a midday trip out of SEA. Airlines schedule nearly 80% of their departures from SEA in the morning hours. Lines go down considerably after 11:00 a.m.

5.   Use the official SEA App “FlySEA” from the iOS and Android store to check security line wait times.  Make sure your app is updated with the latest version. Third party apps may not have accurate wait times.

6.    Consider checking your luggage. Reducing the number of carry-on bags and personal items that need to be screened through the security checkpoint saves time for all travelers.

7.    Know before you go. Know what can and cannot go in a carry-on bag from knives to oversize liquids. Prohibited items result in bag checks and checkpoint delays.

8.    Unsure if an item should be packed in a carry-on bag, checked bag, either or neither? Use the handy “What can I bring?” feature in the MyTSA App that lets you type in the item to find out if it can fly. Or ask TSA on Twitter or Facebook Messenger at @AskTSA.

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