Sea-Tac Airport’s Refurbished North Satellite to Open for Anticipated Summer Travel Boom
With many people fully vaccinated and ready to take their first flight in over a year, summer air travel is set to take off. Just in time, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is opening a welcoming new space in its busy North Satellite Terminal.
The facility, which houses the N gates that primarily serve Alaska Airlines flights, has been expanded and updated as part of a $ 700 million project that will fully open at the end of June, a months before the scheduled date.
After a year in which Sea-Tac and all the businesses that depend on it have been rocked by the pandemic, airport general manager Lance Lyttle said he was “extremely encouraged” by the signs of openness from the company.
“As more and more people get vaccinated, we are witnessing what we call the ‘journey of revenge’,” Lyttle said.
He is delighted that construction work on the North Satellite Project, which began more than four years ago, has continued and even accelerated during the pandemic and is nearing completion.
Passengers departing from Gate N this summer won’t escape the usual security hassles, but once they’ve switched to the ticket side, they’ll find more light, more space, and new dining and selling options at the detail.
A media sneak peek on Tuesday of the not quite complete installation showed what will greet passengers as they disembark from the airport’s underground trains at the North Satellite.
As they ascend the escalator, they will ascend to a giant sculpture by local artist John Grade immediately above, depicting the expanding root structure of an old western red cedar, and above that , a vaulted ceiling accented with wood to evoke a river flow.
At the top, through a light-filled central atrium, travelers will see jets moving just outside through a 45-foot-high wall of floor-to-ceiling windows.
Behind the escalator, a low stage will present musical performances. Around the edges of the atrium and on the mezzanine, dining options will include PF Chang’s, Beecher’s Cheese, Tundra Taqueria, and SEA Roast Coffee House.
And while Sunbelt airports may favor solar panels, Sea-Tac puts our local weather to work. Rain from the roof of the North Satellite will drain into underground tanks and be used to flush the toilets in the toilets, saving about 2.8 million gallons of drinking water per year.
Expansion for more traffic
The total cost of the project – paid for by airline and passenger ticket fees as well as airport-generated revenue – is now expected to be $ 10 million lower than the $ 710 million budgeted.
Sea-Tac’s original north satellite opened in 1973, when just over 5 million people a year passed through the airport. By 2019, that number had risen to nearly 52 million.
Lyttle said passengers accustomed to the old facility, with low ceilings and limited light leaving it gloomy in typical Pacific Northwest weather, “will move from the 20th century to the 21st” when they enter the new. space.
“With the glass walls, natural light, high ceilings, dining and retail options, spectacular visual art and a stage for the performances, it will be a whole different experience,” said Lyttle.
Two new doors opened on Tuesday to help manage an increase in traffic around Memorial Day. Lyttle said Sea-Tac expects up to 40,000 passengers a day to pass through security during the Memorial Day vacation.
Eight more doors will open by the end of June, while two more will open later once one is adjusted to allow larger, wide-body jets to enter. moor.
This will allow Alaska’s new partner, American Airlines, to use this door for the 787 and 777 as well as the typical narrow-body 737 that Alaska flies.
Eight doors had already opened in 2019 when the first phase of the North Satellite expansion was completed, so the additions will bring the total to 20 doors. Sixteen of these will be leased exclusively to Alaska Airlines, so nearly half of the local airline’s traffic will pass through the terminal.
Coming out of a shocking year
The project is nearing completion after an unprecedented year of losses in the aviation world that dealt a fatal blow to the airport.
“In April of last year, you could roll a bowling ball around the airport without hitting anyone,” Lyttle said. That month, only 259,000 people passed through the airport, up from more than 4 million a year earlier.
Many food concessions have been closed. Uber, Lyft, and car rental companies have seen their businesses disappear.
Lyttle said the airport lost around $ 350 million in 2020 and expects to lose around $ 100 million this year.
Only government stimulus funds allowed the airport to continue operating and avoid layoffs among airport staff of around 1,100 people. The airport received $ 192 million last year and an additional $ 37 million as part of the second stimulus package this year.
“It doesn’t make up for all the money lost, but we wouldn’t have any way to survive without it,” Lyttle said.
He said total passenger traffic for 2020 was down 61% from pre-pandemic levels, and he expects 2021 traffic to be down 30%. Lyttle expects to receive an additional $ 150 million from the American Rescue Plan Act later this year.
Overall, approximately 20,000 people work at Sea-Tac, in related jobs such as material handlers, caterers and many more. To protect all the businesses that depend on it, the airport deferred rent, eliminated guaranteed minimum payments from dealers, and helped them apply for federal aid.
Now that life is starting to return to something like normal, many of the existing food and retail concessions at the airport are reopening. Not all news from the North Satellite will be immediately available next month; they will open in several phases.
After a larger-than-expected increase during spring break, which resulted in long lines at the parking lot three times in March and April, the airport is adjusting checkpoints to try to avoid a recurrence on weekends. next end.
As the pandemic cloud over the airport lifts, Oliver Konkel, a resident engineer at the Port of Seattle that operates the airport, noted one positive aspect: The slowdown in traffic has actually sped up the project to build the North Satellite.
He said that due to low passenger numbers last year, contractors were able to close some of the doors and close all four escalators at one point – something they never could have done in time. normal.
“It saved us a month on this project,” Konkel said.