Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hosted a “reveal reception” March 3 in preparation for opening its new $986 million International Arrivals Facility, which has been under construction for nearly four years.
The project’s most visible addition to the airport is a 780-foot-long pedestrian bridge over the taxiway that separates Concourses S and A. It’s the longest bridge of its type in the world, and its 85 feet of clearance allows for even the tallest of contemporary aircraft to safely pass beneath, even the behemoth 777x and its 64-foot, 7-inch tail. An airport spokesman said that the design even includes a calculated safety factor in the event a plane’s front landing gear were to collapse while beneath the bridge, which would raise the tail height even further.
The skybridge is wide, with expansive views and a moving walkway. It’s essentially a cable-stayed bridge, and the cables were left visible. It’s this reporter’s guess that there will be much dawdling on the way to customs and immigration on sunny days, when Mount Rainier will be clearly visible from the bridge
Ryan Calkins, president of the Port of Seattle Commission, lauded the facility’s grand views and much-improved service areas as Seattle’s “front porch to the world.” Washington State Governor Jay Inslee talked about how the Seattle area had hosted refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s and from Afghanistan in the 2000s, and the new facility should open in time to greet refugees from the current war in Ukraine.
There were two musical interludes; the first with local indigenous songs, and the second operatic, neither of which I’d seen before at an airport event. Tinglit Tribe and Shungukei Dei Thunderbird Clan flute maker/player George Montero performed traditional songs with his granddaughter JoyAnnRose Higgonbotham.
Seattle Opera singer Ginger Costa Jackson and pianist David McDade also performed two songs, including a very operatic version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
The bridge is the most visible portion of the project and likely of the most interest to AvGeeks. From that perspective, the biggest downside is that it’s designed to be accessible only to arriving international passengers deplaning from the S concourse and for whom Seattle is their destination.
The new facility includes sterile corridors such that the A concourse will also be used for international arrivals. Passengers arriving at those gates will walk down the windowed newly-constructed corridors to enter the international arrivals hall for customs and immigration processing.
The current international arrivals facility is located in a windowless basement area, and is 50 years old. International travel volume has long surpassed the current facility’s design capacity of 1,200 passengers an hour, such that, if more than one large-capacity international airliner lands at the same time, the baggage carousel needs to be manually cleared of bags by airport staff to keep the belts from clogging.
The new 450,000 square-foot arrivals hall boasts a much expanded capacity of 2,600 passengers per hour from a total of 20 gates (eight of them newly international-capable), seven baggage carousels and 40 customs stations.
The current procedure for clearing customs at Sea-Tac isn’t the smoothest. After deplaning, you first pass through immigration, which could take a long time for those without Global Entry. Then you ride an escalator into a basement area to wait for your bags to arrive on one of a few carousels, then proceed through the customs area before dropping your bag onto another carousel, before making your way through the airport to the main bag claim to finally get to retrieve your bag and go on your way.
The new procedure takes you over that awesome bridge (if arriving at the S gates), into the brightly-lit, airy new facility, where you’ll collect your bags, then pass through a single-stop customs inspection at one of the numerous new stations, some with facial recognition, and then you’re out the door.
There is no exact date yet for when the facility will open, but officials said they are working to have it open sometime this spring ahead of the busy summer travel season.