Travelers attempting to fly out of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Sunday were greeted with a security line so long it stretched into the parking deck. The 2.5-hour long wait at security caused missed flights for those who thought they were arriving with plenty of time to spare.
The TSA told KIRO 7 News that every checkpoint was open to handle the incredible influx of passengers, but the day represented the most travelers in a single day since the pandemic started in 2019:
According to a TSA spokesperson, all security lines were merged into a single queue, and once travelers reached the terminal, they were redirected to individual checkpoints.
The spokesperson said 24 of 29 screening lanes were open, and the two that are closed were due to equipment malfunction. The other three are part of the international arrivals.
Airport officials said lines stretched into the parking garage from about 8:15 a.m. to noon, driven by the highest volume of passengers the airport has seen since the pandemic.
The spokesperson noted that it is also cruise ship season in the Pacific northwest, leading to additional stress on the services at SeaTac airport. The lines led to folks missing their flights and canceling trips altogether after airlines proved less than helpful rebooking flights.
One passenger told KIRO they canceled their trip altogether. Others tweeted that the airlines weren’t helping passengers rebook, as missing a flight due to TSA checkpoints wasn’t their problem.
Matt Hagwood was one of many people in line. He says he even got to the airport two and a half hours early and wasn’t expecting such a long wait.
“It is just … unfathomable the amount of people that they were filing through there,” Hagwood said.
“So, it wouldn’t surprise me if people were waiting over four hours just to get to the checkpoint,” Hagwood said.
He says he waited more than three hours in line, which caused him to miss his flight, as well as lose money from the trip that never happened.
“They had to have known that everyone was going to be there because of all the flights that were scheduled. Everyone around me missed their flight,” Hagwood said.
Adding to the chaos were the six cruise ships docked in Seattle on Sunday. TSA officers told the Washington Post some 28,000 passengers passed through checkpoints between 6 a.m. and noon on Sunday.
“That equated to half of the day’s projected travel volume,” she said. “The Alaska cruise ship season is still underway in Seattle and that factored into the large number of departing travelers who were at the airport before noon.”
Airports have been an absolute mess since pandemic restrictions on travel began to lift. Europe, in particular, has felt the pinch, leading to London’s Heathrow Airport to ask airlines to suspend ticket sales out of the airport. British Airways put a two-week pause on selling short-distance flights out of Heathrow in August. Here in the U.S., it’s the airports in major hubs like Orlando and New York that have seen the most delays due to a lack of qualified air traffic controllers and a rise in space launches and private flights. Major airlines in the U.S. were forced to suspend and cancel flights all summer due to a shortage of pilots, ground crew and flight attendants.