Sea-Tac Airport adds extra staff to remedy lengthy TSA wait times

More workers are on the job at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for another busy weekend of traveling. This is after a mess of long lines of people backed up to the parking garage waiting to get through the TSA security checkpoint. Many travelers missed their flights because of it.

Officials with Port of Seattle said lack of morning staff last weekend was one cause for the backlog.

"And then that just turned into a rolling ball that just couldn’t get slowed down as it headed down hill," said Perry Cooper, spokesperson for Port of Seattle.

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

"They’ve been working on getting additional staff. In fact, we even got additional K-9 that helped the line out here today," said Cooper.

Questions remain why wait times got out of control last weekend to the point where people were in line for an average of 90 minutes, some waiting for hours, causing them to miss their flights. Cooper said after an extensive review with stakeholders, the following factors were determined to cause the challenges:

  • 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.

Cooper said a shortage of TSA staff is another issue airports across the country are experiencing. With the trend of extended leisure travel continuing for an unforeseeable future, both the Port of Seattle and TSA are working together to get more workers to Sea-Tac.

"Try to continue to recruit additional TSA staff here for the Seattle area, just like we’re seeing additional recruits that we want for airport employees, dining and retail folks," said Cooper.

Cooper and the Port of Seattle said what happened last weekend was unacceptable. While officials work to make it right, they are also urging travelers to show up early.

"If you’ve got a flight in the morning between 5:00-11:00, you really need to be here early. We’re saying two hours ahead of your flight domestic, three hours for international. And that’s just to make sure that you’re here in case a line is longer than you expected," said Cooper.

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