Written by Dobrina Zhekova | Updated on August 10, 2023
As the country’s eighth busiest airport and a gateway to the Pacific Northwest, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (or Sea-Tac) services 33 airlines and over one hundred domestic and international destinations. So if your next trip includes a long layover here, the good news is that Sea-Tac offers plenty of amenities to keep you occupied and entertained.
The airport recently completed major improvements to one of its main concourses and added a new International Arrivals facility. It now boasts modern amenities and technology that saves passengers time and offers them more ways to spend their layovers at Sea-Tac. The project is part of a larger, multi-billion dollar investment to improve traveler experience by cutting wait times, lounge expansions, adding more retail and dining options, and more.
So to help you make the most out of your layover at Sea-Tac airport, we broke down the most essential things to know and the best things to do here. But first, let’s get familiarized with how big Sea-Tac really is.
Knowing how large the airport is will help you decide how much time out of your layover you can spend shopping, dining, or sightseeing.
Even though Sea-Tac is the busiest airport in the Pacific Northwest, it is fairly small, about 2,500 acres (San Francisco’s airport is almost double that size, for example). While that’s good news for some (you don’t need as much time to commute between gates in the airport), it is bad news for others—long security lines have become standard due to the number of passengers and the lack of TSA agents and kiosks.
The airport has a main terminal with six concourses split between two wings—the north main terminal (concourses A, B, and South Satellite) and the south main terminal (concourses C, D, and North Satellite). A train system connects all the concourses as well as the south and north terminals, so it should not take you more than five minutes to get from the north to the south terminal and a couple of minutes between the concourses.
Also, good news: most airlines operate their flights out of the same concourse, so if the same carrier operates your arrival and departure flights, you shouldn’t have to commute far to get to your gate during your layover. Here’s a handy airline location guide.
Airport lounges provide a quiet place to relax and unwind from busy wait and dining areas. And Sea-Tac has several that you can choose from. Because of the pandemic and in an attempt to limit the number of passengers in lounges, many airlines made theirs only available to travelers with certain types of credit cards or tickets. Here’s what you need to know:
- The Club SEA: This stylish lounge has locations at Concourse A (open daily 5 am – 12 am) and S (open daily 6 am – 7 pm) that anyone can purchase a day pass for (rate: $50). Both offer plenty of seating, complimentary food and beverages, WiFi, and TVs)
- Alaska Lounge: Alaska Airlines recently renovated both of its lounges at Sea-Tac (concourse C and D), and the airline pulled all the stops. Floor-to-ceiling views, gourmet coffee, large buffet stations, local brews, free WiFi, and chic design await Alaska Airlines members here. While purchasing a day pass is not an option here, there are other ways to get access to the lounges.
- American Express Centurion Lounge: This brand new lounge in the main terminal (open daily 5 am - 10 pm) has plenty of premium amenities to make your stay more comfortable—healthy snacks, chef-prepared food with a focus on local ingredients and flavors, a long selection of drinks, including cocktails dreamed up by one of the country’s most prominent mixologists, Jim Meehan. Plush seating, free WiFi, power outlets, and a bar with stunning views round out this lounge’s draws. No day passes, but you can still get in if you have certain types of American Express cards.
- United Club: Free WiFi, snacks, and a bar are offered in United’s lounge, located in Concourse A (open daily 4:15 am—10:00 pm). One-time day passes are sold for $59.
- Delta Air Lines Delta Sky Club: Take advantage of this spacious, sunlit lounge with beautiful views, comfortable seating, communal-style tables perfect for working, and power outlets if you are a Delta Sky Club member or frequent Delta Traveler (learn more ways to access the lounge here). The lounge is located in Concourse A and is open daily 4:15 am to 12:00 am.
- USO Center: Military members and their families can access the lounge, which offers many family-friendly amenities such as a play area with games, workstations, sleeping areas, luggage storage, a movie theater, and snack and drinks. The lounge is located in the main terminal and is open Mon, Wed, and Sat (8 am—4 am the next day) and Tues and Thur from 8 am—12 am; the lounge is closed on Fridays and Sundays, and unfortunately, it is not available to veterans.
Need a quiet place to make a business phone call or to get some work done? You can reserve an “escape pod,” plush private cabins equipped with a table, LED lighting, WiFi, a 24-inch screen, and seating, perfect for reading, making calls, or maybe even taking a nap (just note that you can’t recline or lie down). There are 11 Escape Pods in Sea-Tac available for booking throughout the airport (here are the exact locations) in 15-minute intervals for up to two hours. Since there are few of them, we recommend you book yours well in advance.
Sea-Tac now has even more retail and dining options. Here are our favorite eateries out of over 45 restaurants:
- Salty’s at the SEA and BrewTop Social: This two-level dining spot offers authentic Pacific Northwestern flavors (seafood lovers, rejoice) by the iconic Seattle restaurant as well as many local beers. The raw bar with poke, oysters, and prawns is best enjoyed with a glass of white wine. Or, if you prefer something more solid, choose from an extensive menu with breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings. Open daily 6 am-10 pm.
- Lucky Louie Fish Shack: This is another eatery focused on offering fresh and sustainable seafood options (creamy clam chowder, shrimp salad, honey salmon teriyaki) as well as their famous fish-shaped creamy cheesecake waffles with sauces. Open daily from 5:30 am—10 pm (and 8 pm on Tue, Wed, and Sat)
- Beecher’s Handmade Cheese: Get your Beecher’s cheese fix at this walk-in spot, including a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and melts, mac&cheese, as well as soups and salads. Open daily from 6 am—8 pm.
- Africa Lounge: It’s arguably one of the most popular restaurants in Sea-Tack, this eatery treats patrons to Congolese fare, such as spicy beef sambusas, African-inspired cocktails, and décor that couldn’t be more on theme. Open daily from 6 am-9 pm.
- Floret: Vegetarians will love Floret’s meat-free options, including black bean and corn quesadilla, avocado toast, black bean burger, grain bowls, and citrus and snap pea panzanella. A selection of local coffees and kombuchas is also available. Open from 4:30 am—8 pm.
For a full list of all dining options in SeaTac, visit the airport’s dining directory. Don’t want to wait in line? Nineteen restaurants participate in the airport’s meal delivery program that enables travelers to order food for delivery anywhere at the airport.
Sea-Tac has an impressive cultural program that immerses travelers in local art and music, making their layovers more pleasant. The airport’s concert series, which was canceled during COVID-19, is now back. Live performances by four different artists are held every day from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm at multiple locations throughout the airport. Check out the latest schedule here.
A self-guided art walk is also available through the airport’s app to those looking to stretch their legs and peruse the airport’s top-notch public art collection of glass, sculpture, mixed media, and photography by local and international artists.
Smarte Carte’s Baggage Storage operates a storage facility on the arrivals level of Baggage Claim 9. You can drop off your luggage and larger items such as strollers, wheelchairs, bicycles, and frozen or refrigerated items (nursing mom, take notice) so you don’t have to lug them around. Rates are available here.
Sea-Tac airport also includes nursing rooms and suites, which offer a quiet, private place with adjustable lighting, rocking chairs, power outlets, and more. Nursing rooms are in Concourse A inside the children's play area and concourse D on the lower level near gate D24. Learn more about Sea-Tac’s nursing rooms here.
If your layover happens to be during rush hour, consider areas outside of downtown, where traffic could significantly slow you down. West Seattle, for example, is an excellent option with its boardwalk, stunning waterfront views, and sandy Alki Beach. A 1913s lighthouse is also available to tour in the spring and summer. Hit The Junction is a lively commercial area packed with stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. And if you’d like some peace and quiet (and get some steps in), head to Lincoln Park, Seahurst Park, or Angle Lake Park (which is a short 5-minute drive from the airport).
Another great option if you’re short on time is Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden, a serene 11-acre park with two spectacular gardens, including a Japanese one bursting with colorful blooms.
Lastly, if you have your mind set on visiting places like Pike Market or the Needle, your best and safest bet is a private car with a chauffeur to pick you up and drop you off at the airport.
As we mentioned, Sea-Tac is smaller than other airports that service a similar number of passengers, which unfortunately results in notoriously long wait lines. So before you decide to leave the airport, make sure your layover is long enough and give yourself plenty of time for security and luggage check-in — ideally, at least six hours on a normal day.
During busy travel seasons, holidays, or weekends, unless you travel with a carry-on only and have expedited check-in such as TSA Pre-Check, you will need a lot more time since security lines sometimes tend to go outside the airport.
Sea-Tack has five checkpoints:
- The main terminal checkpoint is open 24 hours for general screening and limited hours for CLEAR (6 am - 4 pm) and TSA Pre-Check (10 pm to 4 am).
- Checkpoints 1 and 2, most convenient for gates A and S, are open from 4 am until 1 pm for checkpoint 1, and 11 pm for checkpoint 2.
- Checkpoint 4, convenient for gates C and D, is open from 4 am—10 pm.
- Checkpoint 5 is operational from 4 am to 8 pm for gates D and N.
Travelers at Sea-Tac can take advantage of the expedited screening programs (TSA Pre and Clear, which are membership-based) and SEA Spot Saver, enabling them to schedule a screening appointment in advance via the airport’s app.
While there are many ground transportation options from Sea-Tac to Seattle and Bellevue, the best way to ensure you return to the airport on time is to hire a car service with a professional driver who knows the city’s traffic patterns very well.
Public transportation can be unreliable and slow (the Light rail trip to Pike Place, for example, could you about 40 minutes), while taxis or ride-share apps have one big disadvantage—you never know who the driver is and how well they know the region.
Planning on Leaving Sea-Tac? Consider a Professional Car Service
Starline specializes in airport transfers and tours in Seattle and Bellevue, and our drivers have decades of experience in the region. They can recommend the best and fastest route to reach your destination and even give you a few local recommendations for under-the-radar gems to visit — all while driving you in elegant, clean, and pleasant cars.
Call or contact us for a quote on your private layover tour in Seattle.
“I will definitely contact this company again! The driver arrived on time, was polite, neat, the car was clean, he helped with luggage, and most importantly, he safely took us to the airport! Starline, You are the best! Thank You!”
–Avanes B. (Google Review)