By land or air, travel plans loom large over Thanksgiving weekend

Projections call for 156,000 travelers on Wednesday, peaking at 158,000 travelers on Sunday, then declining to 148,000 by Monday.
Travelers line up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Photo courtesy Seattle-Tacoma Airport

Projections call for 156,000 travelers on Wednesday, peaking at 158,000 travelers on Sunday, then declining to 148,000 by Monday

Randy Bracht
The Center Square Washington

Flying in or out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this Thanksgiving holiday weekend? Driving over Snoqualmie Pass or along the I-5 corridor to enjoy turkey and pie with family or friends?

Join the crowd.

At Sea-Tac, airport officials anticipate one of the busiest Thanksgiving travel periods in the facility’s history between Wednesday and next Monday. Projections call for 156,000 travelers on Wednesday, peaking at 158,000 travelers on Sunday, then declining to 148,000 by Monday.

The airport normally averages about 126,000 travelers per day.

Along with packing in more people over the next several days, travelers may encounter ongoing construction from curb to gate, part of a $546 million modernization project that is expected to be finished in the fall of 2026. 

The Port of Seattle, which owns and operates the airport, says the improvements are financed by a combination of development funds, future revenue bonds, and a cost-share reimbursement agreement with home-based Alaska Airlines.

To strive for a lower-stress, more predictable trip, airport officials offer these tips:

  • Arrive early, at least two hours before boarding time for a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. Add even more time if you need to park or check luggage.
  • Be aware of the busiest times to enter the terminal: More than one-third of daily passenger volume arrives before 9 a.m., causing congestion at TSA security checkpoints and on the drives. Other peak periods are between 2-5 p.m. and 9-11 p.m.
  • Drivers should expect serious congestion during peak periods. Consider public transportation, van shuttles, or ride shares. If driving and parking is the only option, plan on an extra 45 to 60 minutes to find a spot. Don’t park on the shoulder of airport drives: it’s dangerous and illegal and violators will be cited.  Drivers waiting to pick up passengers can park temporarily in the reconfigured cell phone lot.
  • For information about flights, baggage policies, and flight check-in, contact your airline directly.  
  • Be flexible.

For those traveling by vehicle for the holiday, the Washington Department of Transportation also has tips for trips.

State highways across Washington will see higher-than-usual traffic, especially on Interstate 90, where lengthy delays can occur. Travelers can use WSDOT’s online tools and the department’s app and social media accounts to track current travel conditions.

Charts are available which show peak traffic flow periods – usually mid-morning through mid-afternoon — on Interstate 5 between Lacey and Tacoma, on I-90 between North Bend and Cle Elum over Snoqualmie Pass, US 2 between Stevens Pass and Skykomish, and the I-5 corridor between Bellingham and the Canadian border.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a chance of rain or snow on Wednesday on both mountain passes, but little to no snow accumulation is expected. Sunny skies with high temperatures in the 30s and low in the 20s are predicted from Thursday to Sunday on both Snoqualmie and Stevens passes.

Nonetheless, DOT officials advise drivers to slow down on potentially icy roadways and give themselves extra travel time due to congestion.

It’s also recommended that drivers carry chains as a precaution, check vehicle fluids and tire pressures before leaving home, and pack a “winter car kit” with extra supplies – warm clothing, ice scraper and brush, jumper cables, snacks and water, and other emergency items.

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.

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