Airport review: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

IATA CODE

SEA

THE FLIGHT

VS106 to London Heathrow, premium economy class

THE ARRIVAL

It's a lazy Uber from the city centre, taking about 25 minutes and costing $US34. And this is particularly lazy, given the Link light rail goes from several convenient stations to the airport, costs $3 and takes  about 40 minutes.

THE LOOK

Sea-Tac is primarily functional, aside from the gates for domestic flights, where the ceiling curves upwards to join massive floor-to-roof windows. This makes the gates bright places to hang out, and a good spot to watch planes land. Elsewhere, they've tried to doll up the building with sprinklings of art – look out for pillars covered in mosaic tiling and the odd glass art installation suspended from the ceiling.

CHECK-IN

It's a few steps from the kerb, and no queue (although, admittedly, I'm three hours early). Everything's done in a couple of minutes, and then it's a few steps to the security line. It's probably possible to make this even more efficient, but I'm not sure how.

SECURITY

The queue looks annoyingly long, but moves fairly quickly. This is the US, so it's shoes off, but weirdly I'm told I don't need to take small liquid items out of my carry-on bag – which must be the first time this has happened for nearly two decades. I'm out the other end about 15 minutes after joining the queue.

FOOD AND DRINK

Sure, there's a Subway and a Starbucks, but you don't need to rely on them. Anthony's Fish Bar – an airport branch of the popular waterside restaurant in the city – is arguably the star, with dishes such as seared, Cajun-spiced northwest rockfish for $US21.55. Wine bar Vino Volo is an interesting option, too, with pastas, salads and charcuterie plates alongside its tasting flights of Washington State wines.

The pub options, however, are the most impressive – the Seattle Taproom and log cabin-esque Stonehouse have 16 taps each, most of which are proudly given over to local craft beers.

RETAIL THERAPY

A clear decision has been made to eschew international luxury brands in favour of shops that have a genuine local feel. Made In Washington sells locally-made teas, boxes of smoked salmon and chocolates, while Ex Officio does outdoor gear and Sacred Circle specialises in Native American art. The biggest surprise is the Sub Pop store, from which the record label that broke Nirvana sells band hoodies, limited edition vinyl and music biographies.

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PASSING TIME

There's free unlimited Wi-Fi throughout the airport, without a faffy sign-up process. There's also a fairly rudimentary play area – a big map-like play mat with some soft planes and cars to clamber over – and a not especially glamorous spa. It's $US55 for a 30-minute Swedish massage, but it'll be done on a chair in full view of passers-by.

ONE MORE THING

International flights go from the rather gloomy S gates – a couple of minutes' train ride away from the main terminal. While waiting for said train, check out the inexplicable but cute exhibition of ships in bottles.

THE VERDICT

By the standards of American airports, Seattle-Tacoma is superb. It's not quite at the international top level, but neither is it pretending to be. It works well, keeps processes smooth and throws in admirable doses of local character and creative flair. The not-flashy industriousness mixed with glimpses of flair is a good fit for the city.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

4

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