Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Another airport lets you reserve your checkpoint time

The uptick in air travel brings with it an uptick in airport security wait times. So airports around the country are getting creative in testing new ways to keep those lines from getting out of hand.

You may remember our story about the “Spot Saver” program Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is piloting this summer that allows passengers to reserve a time to go through the security checkpoint.

The “virtual queuing” test at SEA runs through August 31, 20201 from 4 a.m. to noon (the airport’s peak travel period). The program gives passengers who have neither TSA Pre-Check nor CLEAR memberships a way to streamline their security checkpoint experience by getting an appointment time (with a 15-minute window) to access the security line.

There is no fee to use the program, which is set up at two SEA checkpoints and open to all passengers.

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Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is testing a similar program

At Boston Logan, the test is running through July 7 in Terminal B, from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The program at BOS is in partnership with the accesso, a company that provides virtual queuing for theme parks and attractions around the world. At BOS, the Virtual Security Line lets passengers use their mobile devices to reserve a spot in the line. They are then notified (with a countdown clock) when it is their time to approach the checkpoint, get their QR code scanned, and enter the checkpoint line.

We hope these test programs work out and convince these and other airports to make virtual cueing for checkpoint times a permanent amenity.

In the meantime, keep in mind that security checkpoint lines are usually longer in the summer. But now we have physical distancing, out-of-practice travelers, and lots more nervous travelers, so be sure to pack your patience when you head to the airport now.

SEA Airport reveals next phase of revamped North Satellite

Courtesy Port of Seattle

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s 1970s-era North Satellite is undergoing a much needed, multi-year makeover to create a state-of-the-art facility to serve Alaska Airlines flights.

Phase One of the project brought us a swanky new Alaska Airlines lounge, restaurants and shops, and bright new gate areas.

Phase Two includes the two gates that opened today in advance of 10 more gates that will open at the end of June. This upgraded space has a mezzanine area and a central atrium that will offer a live performance stage, lots of seating, and great views out to the airfield thanks to a giant wall of windows. And new dining and retail options will include PF Chang’s, Beecher’s, SEA Roast Coffee House, and a branch of Seattle-based outdoor store Filson.

This is our home base airport, so we were excited to mask up and take a tour.

First: Cookies. All Airport Events Must Have Cookies.

New Construction Means New Art

This North Satellite project add 10 new pieces of art to the airport’s impressive collection. Some of the new works are tucked into the existing Nursing Suites. Others are already installed and are hard to miss.

Passengers riding up the escalator from the train level at SEA’s North Satellite are now met with an impressive sculpture titled “Boundary.” Seattle-based artist John Grade created this life-sized portrayal of the expanding root structure of an old-growth Western Red Cedar.

The work is 40 feet high, extends 25 feet out from the wall, and stretches 85 feet across – a distance, the airport notes, is equal to the wingspan of a Boeing 737.

Blackleaf, by Montana artist Deborah Butterfield is cast in bronze from pieces of driftwood.

Courtesy Port of Seattle

Bathrooms that use rainwater to flush toilets

We are disappointed that the newest restrooms in the North Satellite don’t have that much-appreciated red light/green light feature found in some SEA lavs that let you know which stalls are empty.

But we are pleased these restrooms make use of rainwater collected off the roof to flush the toilets. That will help save 2.8 million gallons of potable water annually – the equivalent of 4.5 Olympic swimming pools.

This airport lets you reserve your security checkpoint time

Now you can reserve your time on the TSA line at SEA Airport

(This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for USA TODAY)

The good news: air travel is picking up.

On Sunday May 2, TSA screened more than 1.6 million passengers, the most since March 12, 2020.

The bad news: long wait times at security checkpoints may be back coming back too.

Courtesy Port of Seattle

At times during spring break, the lines to go through the security checkpoint stretched into the food court at Orlando International Airport (MCO). At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, lines snaked across the sky bridge and into the parking garage.

TSA is in the process of hiring 6,000 new screening officers ahead of the predicted summer travel surge. And that should help move things along.

So too could a new pilot program that debuts Tuesday at SEA airport.

The program, called SEA Spot Saver, will attempt to streamline wait times by offering digital reservations, or “virtual queuing” for passengers to go through the screening process.

Here’s how it works

The program will operate daily through August 31, 2021, from 4 a.m. to noon (the airport’s peak travel period) at two checkpoints (2 and 5) and offer expedited screening to general screening passengers for free. No membership or account sign-up is required.

Expedited, non-reserved screening remains available to passengers enrolled in Trusted Traveler programs such as TSA PreCheck and CLEAR.

SEA Spot Saver will be testing two options.

Alaska Airlines passengers can sign up for a security checkpoint appointment online up to 24 hours before their scheduled departure time or once they are in the terminal.

Passengers will receive a QR code to use at checkpoint 5 at their reservation time. This option is offered by Pangiam, and powered by WhyLine and Copenhagen Optimization.

The second option, operated by VHT, is for passengers flying on Delta Air Lines and all other carriers. This option allows passengers to begin booking a checkpoint appointment time by scanning a QR code once they are in the terminal. Passengers will show their emailed reservation appointment at checkpoint 2.

Both options give passengers a 15 minute window for their appointment times. The Alaska Airlines option lets you book up to 12 passengers in a group. The Delta/other airlines option lets you book a group of up to 10.

SEA will be the only airport in the United States currently testing a “virtual queuing” system as a solution for crowded general screening lines. 

Montreal-Trudeau International Airport (YUL) has offered screening reservations since 2014 through SecureXpress, but that program is currently on hold due to the pandemic.

“The pandemic has left very few passengers coming and going through YUL,” said YUL spokeswoman Anne-Sophie Hamel via email, “As such, there is no line-up to get through security, and the service is simply not useful right now.”

From October 2020 through April 30, 2021, Denver International Airport (DEN) piloted the VeriFLY app and program. Passengers could book a timed checkpoint appointment, but they also had to file health data information before arrival and get temperature checks on site.

Port of Seattle officials say that after the pilot program is completed late this summer, they will evaluate usage, customer feedback, and line efficiency and, if successful, launch a broader program. 

“These are the innovations and ideas that we love to make our guest experiences more convenient and stress-free, especially as more people get back flying again,” said Charu Jain, Alaska’s senior vice president of merchandising and innovation. “With very little effort, guests can lean on technology to get them through the security process quicker.”

Travel Tidbits from SAT and SEA Airports

Fresh Art for San Antonio International Airport

San Antonio International Airport (SAT) has a new, hard to miss, piece of public art.

“Star of Texas (La Estrella de Texas),” by the renowned Mexican artist Sebastián, now sits on the south side of the SAT airport entrance, on Airport Boulevard.

The work is 17-feet tall and is painted in the artist’s signature fiery red.

“Public Art is a significant part of who we are, representing where we’ve been, where we are, and where we hope to go as a community,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg in a statement. “The ‘Star of Texas’ speaks to the long-lasting impression San Antonio leaves on visitors and residents alike. Whether visiting San Antonio for the first time or the 100th, or a resident leaving the airport for a vacation, we all know the feeling that keeps us longing for a fast return to this great city.”

Sensory Room + Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room at SEA Airport

Airports in Pittsburgh, Miami, Atlanta, and elsewhere now have sensory rooms designed to reduce the stress for travelers with neurological or developmental disabilities. The latest airport to offer this feature to travelers is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). The new sensory room at SEA room offers a seated bench area, an orange squeeze chair, a rocking chair, dimmable lighting, a starry night ceiling, wool rock pillows, and other features.

Along with the sensory room, SEA also recently unveiled the Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room. Features here include dimmable lighting, three alcoves of seating, a kneeling prayer bench, Qibla pointer, and luggage/shoe storage.

Both the Sensory Room and the Interfaith Prayer and Meditation Room at SEA airport are located h the train level of the A Gates Satellite Transit Station (STS) in the long hallway near the elevators.

Miss the airport bar? Now you can belly up to SEA’s Shot Bar

The Shot Bar at SEA

Here’s a fun, new airport amenity that goes right on the list for Airport Amenity of the Week.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) – as in a lot of other airports right now – there’s limited seating in bars and restaurants due to social distancing requirements.

That means you may not feel comfortable ordering a cocktail at an airport bar and hanging around nursing that drink a while at a table or on a barstool before your next flight.

Seattle’s celebrity chef Kathy Casey thought about that travel challenge and came up with a creative solution. She’s opened a pop-up concept at SEA airport called the Shot Bar in her existing Rel’Lish Burger Lounge on Concourse B.

The bar is a quick-serve counter with ‘grab ‘n go’ shots of alcohol served in the tiny two-ounce version of the familiar red Solo cup. That makes it easy to “Just order, shoot your shot and go,” according to an announcement declaring the Shot Bar the first concept like this to open in a U.S. airport.

Shots are $7 for a single. $10 for a double.

Here’s the menu. Let us know if you think this will – or should – catch on.