The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is predicting that this year’s Thanksgiving week could be one of the busiest travel periods in the airport’s history, with numbers matching pre-pandemic levels.
The Port of Seattle is expecting the busiest airport travel days to be Wednesday, Nov. 22, Sunday, Nov. 26, and Monday, Nov. 27.
AAA estimates 1.3 million Washingtonians will take to the skies, roads and rails this holiday week.
On Wednesday, Puget Sound area traffic is expected to be at its worst between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. as 156,000 people are expected to be arriving, departing and connecting flights at the airport. For Sunday, the number jumps to 158,000 people, followed by 148,000 on Monday.
Plan for roads will be congested in the coming days. The Washington State Department of Transportation is predicting that Interstate 5 from Lacey to Tacoma will experience heavy congestion for hours Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
On Wednesday, peak congestion of about 5,000 cars going north between Lacey and Tacoma typically happens between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., according to WSDOT. On an average day, traffic starts to subside after a few hours. This Wednesday, you can expect heavy congestion from 6 a.m. to nearly 6 p.m.
On Thanksgiving Day, peak northbound congestion is expected between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Southbound traffic will experience heavy congestion from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday. Saturday and Sunday will follow typical I-5 traffic trends, with heavy congestion expected between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. both days, according to WSDOT.
According to AAA, Seattle is among the country’s 10 worst metro areas for traffic. Drivers heading south from Bellevue on I-405 can expect the worst traffic this holiday weekend, with travel times expected to be nearly 3.5 times longer than normal.
One of the biggest tips for avoiding traffic is to plan ahead and leave earlier than you originally planned. But according to the Port of Seattle, more than one-third of the airport’s passenger volume arrives before 9 a.m., causing congestion at TSA security checkpoints and on the drives. Two more peak periods happen from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
It’s recommended that those headed to the airport consider using public transportation, using a taxi or another rideshare service to avoid congestion during those peak periods. If curbside pickup/dropoff is the only option, you should ignore the departures and arrivals signs and use the fastest-moving lane.
The airport has been under construction for some time, with $546 million going toward reconfiguring the terminal’s north end ticketing area, expanding the security checkpoint and more. Current construction has some entrances barricaded and areas walled off. It’s expected to be completed in two phases through 2025 and will affect ticketing and baggage claims at the airport.
You can get through TSA security checkpoints quicker by using the free service, SEA Spot Saver, which reserves your time at TSA Screening as early as five days before your arrival. The airport also has an app called FlySEA, which has an interactive map of the airport for dining, shopping and other services.
International travelers can download the Mobile Passport Control app, which allows U.S. and Canadian citizens, and those with a green card, to complete the customs process online.
Lastly, a tip for future Thanksgiving weekends: Fly the Monday before the holiday. According to AAA, flying the Monday before the Thanksgiving travel rush is the best option for travelers. The airport sees less traffic that day, and tickets are cheaper, at an average of $486. Traveling on Thanksgiving Day could save travelers some money, too, with an average price per ticket of $454.
Train travel is becoming more popular in Washington state, so Amtrak has expanded its services in the Northwest for the holiday season, adding two trips per day on Wednesday and Sunday between Seattle and Portland.
However, Janet Matkin, spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation, told The Olympian some trains are already full, and travelers who don’t already have tickets will need to be flexible. She said travelers should be thinking now about booking during the Christmas holidays.
Amtrak Cascades trips run from Bellingham to Portland.
The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are just as busy for trains as they are for cars and planes. Amtrak recommends travelers book early and arrive early, allowing plenty of time at the train station to pick up tickets, and make the boarding process easier.
One-way adult fares between Seattle and Portland start at $26, according to Amtrak’s website. All Cascades trains require reservations. You can purchase an eTicket at AmtrakCascades.com, or a physical one at some station ticket machines or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.
The best news for travelers is that the weather is expected to mostly clear across the state.
The NWS isn’t expecting snow on Snoqualmie or White pass through Thursday. On Tuesday to Thursday, travelers could see some rain over the passes, but temperatures should be above freezing.
While weekend forecasts could change, the weekend is looking dry through midday Sunday. Snoqualmie Pass is expecting highs near 40 every day, but lows at 30 degrees or below.
While it’s difficult to forecast, there could be early morning fog in the region, which can reduce visibility on roadways, the NWS says.
In South Sound, highs are expected to be in the mid 40s all week, with lows in the mid 30s.