Sep 22, 2022 - News

People are mad at airports — including Sea-Tac

Illustration of a long line of retractable stanchions forming the area for a very long queue.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Overcrowding is plaguing airports across the country — and earlier this week, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was a prime example.

Driving the news: Photos circulated on social media on Sunday of security lines at Sea-Tac stretching into the airport parking garage, followed by more photos of long lines on Monday.

  • A spokesperson said airport officials recorded a maximum security checkpoint wait time of 90 minutes on Sunday — but acknowledged some travelers might have waited longer, as the airport doesn't have a foolproof system for tracking queues that long.

The big picture: People are reporting increased frustration at airports nationwide, Axios' Joann Muller writes.

  • J.D. Power's latest Airport Satisfaction Study found overall customer satisfaction with North American airports fell 25 points this year — for a score of 777 out of 1,000 — as passenger volume rebounded from a slump seen earlier in the pandemic.

Zoom in: The study, released Wednesday, found that compared to similarly sized airports, Sea-Tac ranked below average when it came to customer satisfaction.

  • The study looked at six factors: Terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; security check; check-in/baggage check; baggage claim; and food, beverage and retail.

What they're saying: Perry Cooper, the Sea-Tac spokesperson, said the recent long wait times at Sea-Tac were highly unusual.

  • Normally, the airport sees a 15% drop in passenger traffic after Labor Day, which hasn't happened this year — and staffing has failed to keep up, airport officials said.
  • Maintenance and construction also closed some lanes at security checkpoints last weekend, while an unrelated airline software outage caused delays on Monday, officials said.

What's next: The airport and the Transportation Security Administration are increasing staffing this week to help prevent backups, per a news release.

  • The airport is also planning a new terminal to manage growing passenger volumes. That project is in the review stage, Cooper said.

The bottom line: For now, passengers should expect frustrations at airports to continue into 2023, Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power, said in a news release.

  • He added: "It is clear that increased capacity in airports can't come soon enough."

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