Seattle-Tacoma International Airport 101: The best way to get to Sea-Tac

Jan 11, 2020

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If you’re flying out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, there are plenty of ways to avoid traffic getting to the airport and make that flight from the eighth-busiest airport in the U.S.

The airport, known as Sea-Tac, is located about 15 miles south of Seattle and 20 miles north of Tacoma. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) serves about 50 million passengers a year. As of early 2020, 32 airlines operate at SEA, serving 91 nonstop domestic destinations and 29 international destinations, including seasonal operations. Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are the top carriers for both domestic and international passengers.

To get to the airport, you can use light rail, bus, car, ride-hailing and ride-sharing services, taxi, shuttle van, limo and town car. If you bike there, there are spots to lock up as well.

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Here’s a rundown:

Public transportation

In 2018, Seattle ranked in the Top 10 for worst-traffic cities in North America, so if you’re headed to or from downtown Seattle during many parts of the day, the Link Light Rail will be your fastest and least-expensive option.

(Photo by Diana Robinson Photography/Getty Images)
Seattle traffic is notoriously rough, so plan ahead if you’re traveling to or from Sea-Tac. (Photo by Diana Robinson Photography/Getty Images)

Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail currently runs from the City of SeaTac to downtown Seattle to the University of Washington — with expansion plans in the future. The service operates from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Saturday; from 6 a.m. to midnight on Sundays.

Depending on the time of day, trains arrive and depart about every 6 to 15 minutes.

The SeaTac/Airport Station light rail is connected to the airport parking garage via a covered (but not totally enclosed) walkway (0.3 miles). A free Train-to-Plane shuttle cart for those with mobility issues or excess luggage operates daily from 5 a.m. to midnight.

Transit time on the Link Light Rail from the airport to downtown Seattle is about 35 minutes.

Buy tickets ($3) at the machine in the station or download and use the Transit GO Ticket mobile app to purchase a ticket on your phone. Day passes are available. You won’t need to show your ticket to get on the light rail, but fare checkers often board trains to check tickets.

King County Metro and Sound Transit offers bus service to many other Puget Sound destinations. The King County Metro bus stop is by the Light Rail Station; Sound Transit buses pick up at the south end of the main terminal on the lower level. Details on the routes/cities served, fares and pick-up/drop-off locations are on the SEA airport website.

Ride-hailing and shared shuttle service

Uber, Lyft and Wingz are the three app-based ride-hailing services currently authorized to serve SEA airport.

These services may drop passengers off at the terminal on the upper (departure) or lower (arrival) roads but Lyft, Uber/UberX and Wingz may only pickup in the designated area on the third floor of the parking garage (by rows G through J in the orange and purple sections). Attendants are on duty to help passengers connect with rides.

Transit time between the airport and downtown Seattle can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.

Ride-hailing fares between SEA and downtown Seattle range from $35 to over $50, depending on time of day and type of service.

Scheduled Airporters and shared shuttle vans, including Shuttle Express, also serve SEA airport. Fares for the Shuttle Express Downtown Airporter start at around $25 per person, with scheduled stops at a variety of downtown hotels, including Crown Plaza, Fairmont Olympic, Grand Hyatt, Hilton, Renaissance, Sheraton, Warwick and Westin. This is a good option if you have luggage and are going to one of these hotels or a destination nearby.

Taxis

There are two taxi options at SEA airport: flat rate and metered.

Both flat rate and metered taxis wait for passengers on the third floor of the parking garage, on the north and south curbs.

Choose the right taxi option for your transportation needs — flat-rate or metered. (Photo by july7th/Getty Images)

Flat-rate taxis are bi-color vehicles with four-digit vehicle numbers and offer a flat price based on your destination’s ZIP code.

Single-color taxi cabs have three-digit vehicle numbers and operate like traditional metered cabs with a drop price and per-mile charge.

Seattle Yellow Cab, Orange Cab and others offer a $40 flat rate from the Seattle’s downtown hotel district to SEA airport. (At certain times a $1 gas surcharge may be applied). There is, however, no flat rate from the airport to downtown Seattle, but rates generally start a $40, depending on time of day.

Car service

Limos and town cars, pre-booked and booked-on-demand, are a more expensive option, of course, but also a convenient option.

STILA limos and town cars are available on the north and south curbs on the third floor of the parking garage, in an area designated as the Ground Transportation Plaza. STILA offers flat-rate fares to downtown Seattle for $45 and drivers may pick up passengers curbside if requested.

Many other limo services, including Blacklane, serve SEA airport as well, but only STILA has cars officially stationed in the transportation plaza.

Other options

If you’re renting a car, board a shuttle outside the bag-claim level at either the north end of the terminal (by Alaska Airlines) or the south end (by the international airlines) for a short ride to the off-site rental car facility. Shuttles operate 24 hours a day.

If family or friends offer to pick you up at the airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has a cellphone lot with 200 parking spaces, free Wi-Fi, free parking for up to 20 minutes and electric charging stations.

Bottom line

There are a variety of options for getting to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), including public transportation, taxis, limos, shared shuttle vans, rental cars and, of course, friends and family willing to make the drive.

You best option may be determined by budget, traffic, time of day and the amount of luggage or number of kids you’ve got in tow.

Not sure what to choose or need more information? Call the Ground Transportation Booth for help: (206) 787-5906.

Featured photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images.

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