Sea-Tac Airport sees hundreds of flight delays amidst snow

Snow and ice saw hundreds of flights delayed in and out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Wednesday, and with wintry weather expected through Thursday, more flight hiccups are likely to follow.
At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Flight Aware showed over 250 flights delayed at the airport for the day, and more than 70 outright canceled.
Snow letting us know winter is far from over across Puget Sound
Port of Seattle spokesperson Perry Cooper said that cancellations and delays are one strategy that airlines can use to allow for the extra time, space, and staff needed to deice planes.
“When they know these things are coming ahead of time, when they know there’s a set of snow that’s coming, they can thin out their schedule by having some cancellations,” Cooper said.
While the airport is responsible for deicing the runways and tarmac, it is up to the individual airlines to deice their planes. It can take up to half an hour to deice a single plane. If this is done at the gate, it prevents another plane from taking that spot. There are other places where planes can be deiced on the tarmac, but space can be limited at Sea-Tac.
“We’re one of the smallest footprints of an airport around the country with the amount of passengers we have here,” Cooper said.
The largest share of canceled and delayed flights on Wednesday belonged to Alaska Airlines, which uses SEA as its main hub. FlightAware showed 37 Alaska flights and 10 Horizon flights canceled as of 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and 89 Alaska flights and 29 Horizon flights delayed.
Alaska Airlines told KIRO Newsradio in an email that it was preemptively canceling some flights in light of the winter storm.
“Reducing or ‘thinning’ the number of flights helps ease congestion at the airport and allows us to maintain a steady flow of aircraft instead of creating traffic jams. A reduced number of flights allows us to focus on deicing our aircraft,” the airline said.
Alaska noted that thinning out flights creates more of a buffer not just for deicing, but also for longer time spent taxiing.
“We intentionally slow our operations to allow time for the extra steps required during snowy or icy conditions,” Alaska said. “It takes longer for aircraft and other equipment to move around at the airport, much like driving on the interstate during similar wintry conditions.”
Some travelers who spoke with KIRO Newsradio at SEA on Wednesday said their travel plans had been disrupted — and not just by the snow Seattleites woke up to that morning. The frosty weather in Washington is part of a larger winter storm hitting much of the northern United States. That means that even if your flight is fine getting out of Seattle, the conditions at your destination could cause problems.
That was what happened to one Buckley mother and daughter traveling to Wisconsin for a funeral.
“We were supposed to fly to Milwaukee, and we got here and our flight had been changed to Friday … so now we’re flying to Chicago,” the daughter told KIRO Newsradio. “There’s an ice storm in Milwaukee. Chicago dodged it somehow, but Milwaukee got it.”
Photos: Parts of northern U.S. shut down ahead of winter storm
Even for those whose flights left on time, the snow and ice created challenges.
Linda Panattoni of La Conner, who was flying to Atlanta for a college reunion, got stuck behind multiple spinouts and car accidents on I-5. She ended up getting to the airport so late that she missed her flight. Panattoni was able to get on another flight out, but it required waiting at the airport for 12 hours.
“Traffic was awful — there was snow on the road,” Panattoni said.
When she got to the airport, she found an additional hurdle.
“It took forever to get parking — I’m up on the eighth floor, and I have handicapped parking,” Panattoni said. “I’ve never seen this airport this busy, where you don’t get parking. You usually just get parking, even at Christmastime.”
Cooper said that the airport is experiencing a rush this week with the overlap of Presidents’ Day and midwinter break for many schools, along with the post-pandemic return of midweek business travel. This means parking is limited, especially at the Sea-Tac garage. Cooper urged people who plan to drive themselves to the airport to arrive extra-early for their flights to allow for finding a parking spot.
“If you can use public transit, that’s a great option. Light rail is a great option. It’s not necessarily always nearby, but if you can do that or even stop [and park] at one of the light rail stations or have someone drop you off at one of the stations, or use an Uber, Lyft, the shuttles, those are options as well for you too so you can stay off the drive,” Cooper suggested.
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