Seatac security
August 22, 2023 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I know this must be so dumb, but I never fly anywhere. I will be taking a flight out of my small town (and thus no-line) airport and arriving at SEA. This flight was not booked together with my international flight later the same day. Will I have to stand in any long-ass lines in Seattle? Or can I just go to the gate for my next flight? (I will have only a carryon bag if it matters.) My partner has TSA precheck and I don't want to be stuck in a 2-hour line without him so I want to know whether I should get it too.
posted by HotToddy to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (11 answers total)
Yes, you will land in the domestic terminal at SEA and will likely have to go through security to get to international departures.
posted by Juniper Toast at 4:09 PM on August 22, 2023

There is absolutely no need to go through security when transferring between two secure terminals, unless you, I don’t know, take it upon yourself to go outside and walk to the other one via the tarmac, or something.

And in this case it really doesn’t matter because Seatac only has one terminal. You’re fine.
posted by rhymedirective at 4:12 PM on August 22, 2023 [6 favorites]

The "secure" area of Seatac is all connected. You can walk between any two gates after a domestic landing.

On your way BACK, you will probably go back through TSA security after customs (this is because if you had checked luggage, you would have access to it as part of customs/immigration). There are exceptions, in particular if you're flying from a Canadian airport where you clear US customs before departure. I don't know the situation at Seatac, but in most airports this is a TSA checkpoint specifically for international arrivals who are continuing domestically, so a 2 hour line is very unusual.

Precheck is 100% worth it, and so is Global Entry (which includes Precheck), if you fly more than occasionally.
posted by toxic at 4:21 PM on August 22, 2023 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Ohhhh it never occurred to me that I would have to go through it on the way out.
posted by HotToddy at 4:29 PM on August 22, 2023

Not SEA specific info, but it's generally been my experience that the outbound trip does not require going through security again at the connecting airport. (The gate agent will probably need to take a look at your passport though). On your return, you will need to clear customs and then go back through security.

TSA Pre can be granted quite quickly (like within one business day after doing a "walk up" appointment). Since there is such a backlog of Global Entry applicants, Mobile Passport Control is allegedly a helpful feasible alternative.
posted by oceano at 4:29 PM on August 22, 2023

Most US airports have international + domestic departures in one secure zone, no additional security required.

If you apply for Global Entry, you can do the interview when you return to the country and have to go through immigration anyway. (Unless they are crazy busy).

All that said, I haven't had to wait that long in any TSA line in quite some time -- never more than 20 minutes or so, even when the place is packed, at any major or minor US airport.
posted by so fucking future at 4:36 PM on August 22, 2023

Yes, if your flights were booked together, the gate agent would check your passport before letting you on the first flight; since they're not, expect to be called to the podium a little before boarding the second flight to show your passport. (Or, once someone's there at the gate, just go up when there's no line. Sounds like you have a looooong boring wait ahead of you.)
posted by praemunire at 4:36 PM on August 22, 2023

You will need to check in again in Seattle when you arrive. That doesn't mean you'll have to leave the secure area, but I'd prioritize this when you land, because they won't have any way of knowing you've arrived at the airport. When you arrive in Seattle, get to your departure gate -- or, if there isn't a gate agent there yet, any gate with an agent for the airline for the international part of the trip -- and check in with them. Don't wait til boarding time. If you have a short layover, hustle to your departure gate quickly to check-in. Don't just wait to board the plane, as you won't be checked in yet. And yes, they'll check your passport and for any needed visas.

There are maps of the airport. You can figure out which gates typically serve as the arrival gates for your domestic airline and figure out what gates typically serve as departure for your international airline, and you'll see how you can get from one to the other without going through security.

And it does matter that you'll only have a carry-on. If you checked a bag, you'd likely have to leave the secure area and go to baggage claim to get your bag and then check in at a regular check-in line and go back through security.

I strongly reject the premise that this question is so dumb. Air travel can be confusing, and international travel even more so, and how on earth would you know all this if you didn't travel all the time?

Finally, your partner isn't obligated to go through TSA Pre. If you are on the same flight and you are a nervous traveler, you can certainly ask your partner to stay with you. I went through the regular line with my partner on a recent trip because I like hanging out with him. The TSA agent made a joke about my sacrifice, but it was no big deal and only added a few minutes extra.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:11 PM on August 22, 2023 [4 favorites]

Assuming your return flight also goes through SEA, you might want to read their official guidance for international arrivals and check out the map of the international arrivals facility.

Based on the guidance I'm seeing there, it doesn't matter if you've checked a bag or not (beyond having to wait additional time for the bag to arrive at the carousel) or that you booked the flights separately or not, you'll have to go through the passport control on the way in and then go through the TSA security checkpoint again for the domestic leg of the flight.
posted by Aleyn at 7:22 PM on August 22, 2023

SeaTac is my regular, so if you do have to go through security for some reason (I've idiotically walked out, not realizing that I'd passed the security exit), I can confirm it sucks. The lines look awful but they're impressively fast, especially if they've got the dogs working. They have time estimates clearly posted. If you aren't going to make it to your gate in time, get airport/airline staff to put you in the first class or staff tsa line.

However, once you're through security (which you will be at landing), SeaTac is delightful. If for some reason you do have to go through security after landing, ask if there's a specially designated one for international flights +/ which is fastest.

I'd check in for your international flight before domestic departure, then find an agent for your airline (or if desperate, grab an Alaska agent, I've found them better than most) as soon as you land to see if they want anything from you. I assume they will not, once you've showed your passport. Ask for a better seat if you're in the middle - that's when seats open up.

If your domestic flight is delayed, say something to staff on the plane or ground immediately as your ticket won't be known by your international flight. They may be able to put a note on your ticket or contact the airline. In addition, they may put you in front when you land so you get off the plane first and they may be able to call a golf cart for you. If you get a golf cart, get cash in hand immediately for a tip. Mostly just start running (yes, this is personal experience) and if one sees you/is able, they'll pick you up.

I assume you won't have that issue, but if you do, now you have an idea of options beyond panic. :)

Free app I find helpful: "Flight view free" (yellow icon) - it's always had flight and gate info long before airlines, staff, or info boards (and the airline's app and site too). You'll want to know if the gate you're aiming for when you land has changed without having to wait or stand and read a bunch of rapidly updating monitors. It will push updates to you if the gate changes and when the flight status changes (its nice to know you're delayed 30m before everyone else so you can jump the line).

I put my flights in, save them, then go look at 'my' airplane's previous flight (it's an option in the app) and monitor that too on the theory that if the prior flight is delayed, you'll be departing late and knowing that will give you time to get in line/get into the hold queue (or both at once) to talk to an agent before everyone else from your flight does the same once the (predictable) delay is announced.

That's all I've got. Safe travels and I hope you have a wonderful trip!
posted by esoteric things at 8:19 PM on August 22, 2023 [5 favorites]

For your international return to SeaTac, download the Mobile Passport Control app. In fact, download it today and fill in your details before you leave. This will save you from enormous suffering if multiple international flights arrive at the same time (very likely), as was the case with my return from EU a few weeks ago. It reduced a chaotic, 60-90 minute line for passport control to THREE minutes. You simply approach the agent under an MPC sign (it was to the far left of the agent kiosks on my return), flash the app, and they'll direct you to a very short line.

Also, the TSA lines have been a horror show lately--especially on days that cruise ships return to port. I'm talking 2-33+ hour waits, with lots of ranting on social media about missed flights. If you don't have PreCheck, you can bypass the madness by reserving a spot in line with the SEA Spot Saver. You can register up to five days in advance, however you only have a 15 minute window to arrive at the designated checkpoint. You should be fine if you reserve a spot the moment you pass through passport control.
posted by prinado at 4:56 PM on August 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

« Older Suggestion for films/shows to watch with my mom   |   I don’t trust FLCCC, please stop. Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments