The new international arrivals facility at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport welcomed its first passenger flight early Tuesday morning, signaling the start of the long-awaited facility progressive opening plan — and the start of a new era for international travel through the Emerald City, airport officials say.
Passengers on Delta Air Lines Flight 196 from Seoul’s Incheon International Airport rolled under the 780-foot-long pedestrian bridge en route to their gate, where they received a gun turret salute ‘water. Seattle Port Commissioner Sam Cho said the opening of the facility marks “an important milestone.”
With the easing of pandemic-era travel restrictions like mandatory masking, expanded out-of-airport service, and new facility, it’s a whole new world at the airport for international travelers. Here’s a refresher on where you can fly internationally from Seattle, as well as what changes travelers should expect when they next visit Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
New and old destinations
By this fall, a total of 44 international services will be operating at the airport, with nonstop flights serving 29 international destinations by 25 airlines. (In airline jargon, a service is a specific airline’s route between two destinations.) This represents an increase from the pre-pandemic number of 42 services, 26 destinations and 22 airlines. As of April, 38 international services were operating at the airport, with nonstop flights to 24 different international destinations.
Before the pandemic, the airport was one of the busiest in the country, said Perry Cooper, the airport’s media relations manager. The pandemic caused international travel to drop 79% in 2020 compared to 2019, but more services and passengers return to the airport, while other services have been discontinued. This includes the Norwegian Air shuttle to Gatwick Airport in London, Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and Delta to Osaka, Japan. Other direct services to China have yet to return, in part due to federal agreements and restrictions.
However, eight new international benefits, including five new airlines, have debuted or been announced at the airport in the past two years. Now operating: Qatar Airways in Doha; Alaska Airlines seasonal service to Belize; American Airlines in London; and WestJet service to Calgary, Alberta. Coming soon: Turkish Airlines will begin service to Istanbul in May; in June, Finnair will fly to Helsinki; Air Canada also flies to Montreal that month; and service to Tahiti via Air Tahiti Nui will launch in October.
While London and Calgary, for example, have added new airlines to destinations already served from Seattle, Belize, Helsinki, Doha, Montreal, Istanbul and Tahiti are all new destinations.
“For [airlines] having confidence in this region and this market shows the potential for the business and leisure opportunities they see,” Cooper said. “It complements the rapid growth of our businesses, especially those with international connections, and highlights the diversity of our region as we continue to grow.”
In addition to new services at the airport, some services that had been lost for Seattle travelers are returning. Virgin Atlantic resumed service to London in March; Alaska resumes flights to Edmonton, Alberta this month; Delta restarts service to London in May; and Aer Lingus will fly to Dublin again from July.
The international travel experience
It’s no coincidence that Seattle’s international travel options are growing alongside the airport. Cooper says the new international arrivals facility will bring Seattle’s international travel experience into the future.
“It really takes us to where other airports are in the country,” Cooper said.
“Our establishment was so outdated and cramped; we did our best with the space we had all these years. It’s really exciting for us to finally have this openness and have a positive experience for all of our passengers.
On Tuesday, some flights disembarked from Concourse A to the new facility. In early May, some flights arriving from Concourse S will disembark at the facility via an air gateway, and from May 10, all international arrivals will use the IAF.
As for the design, Cooper said customers can expect big changes.
“The difference in what people will see when entering customs is incredibly dramatic,” he said. “The first thing they’re going to see is the space there is – it’s more than four times the size of the old space. If you’ve been here before and walked through the cramped old space of the 1970s, it’s like stepping into the modern world.”
The establishment had a private revelation in March. In the coming weeks, the airport will test all operations before full opening. Overall, according to the airport, travelers can expect shorter wait times, more international gates, new amenities (more restrooms, a pet relief area, and a nursing suite) and hopefully faster customs clearance.
The 450,000 square foot facility streamlines arrivals in several ways, primarily by eliminating the need for a train ride. Previously, passengers arriving on an international flight passed through customs control at Satellite Sud, collected their baggage, and then went through security again; connecting passengers went through another security checkpoint, while Seattle-bound travelers dropped off most of their luggage to catch a train to the main terminal, where they collected it one last time before leaving the airport. airport.
Seattle will be the first major airport to implement Customs and Border Protection’s “Bag First” process, in which travelers will collect their baggage before proceeding to passport control. From there, connecting passengers will pass through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint to continue their journey while those whose journey ends in Seattle will proceed directly to the arrivals hall of the main terminal.
A window-lined pedestrian bridge spanning 780 feet – longer than the height of the Space Needle – will feed travelers from Concourse S across the top of Concourse A to the IAF Grand Concourse. The escalator system used to reach the skywalk is one of the 10 longest in the United States (including other airports, malls, and subway stations), spanning 191 feet with an elevation of 80 feet .
Passenger capacity will more than double to 2,600 passengers per hour, and baggage claim facilities will almost triple their previous volume. The new design increases the number of available international gates from 12 to 20 by making eight existing gates accessible for both domestic and international flights. These gates connect to a new security corridor for international arrivals, providing direct access to the IAF.
“A big thing in the industry is ‘connect time,'” Cooper said, referring to the time between landing and connecting to the gate of your next flight. “Our goal is to reduce the minimum connection time from 90 to 75 minutes.”
Aesthetically, the design of the new facility welcomes the world in a decidedly northwest style. The Great Hall offers views of Mount Rainier as natural light shines through floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing works by Indigenous artists. Environmentally friendly design meets US Green Building Council LEED v4 Certification Specificationand stained Douglas fir wraps the portals at either end of the facility.
The new facility at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport looks like a nice place to have a layover. The airport hopes you’ll be okay, but that you won’t have to wait too long.