SeaTac Airport Now Lets You Make TSA Screening Appointments

Filed Under: Security/TSA

If you’ve flown through a US airport recently, you may have noticed that security wait times are in some cases getting long. Some TSA checkpoints simply aren’t staffed to handle the influx of travelers, though the TSA is working on hiring thousands of people ahead of the summer travel rush.

Well, one major US airport is currently running an innovative pilot program that could decrease airport security wait times.

The new SEA Spot Saver program

Seattle Tacoma Airport has launched the SEA Spot Saver program, which allows you to reserve a time that you want to clear security, and it’s intended to decrease the amount of time you have to wait.

This program is initially being offered daily from May 4 through August 31, 2021, and it’s available from 4AM until 12PM. The program is completely free for passengers, and it’s intended for those who don’t have access to any priority screening options, like TSA Pre-Check and CLEAR.

How does the program work? It depends on whether you’re flying Alaska Airlines or another airline.

If you’re flying Alaska Airlines:

  • You can schedule your appointment up to 24 hours in advance or sign-up once you arrive at the airport by scanning the QR code on SEA Spot Saver signs throughout the airport
  • You will receive a QR code that you can use when you arrive at your scheduled time, which will be emailed to you
  • Then you just have to head to the TSA Checkpoint 5 at your scheduled appointment time (there’s a 15 minute grace period); this is closest to the C, D, and N gates

If you’re flying another airline:

  • Once you arrive at the airport head to Checkpoint 2 and scan the QR code, or text “ready” to 833-435-0591 once you’re in the terminal; there’s no option to make an appointment in advance
  • You’ll then get a message asking how many people are in your group, and after that you’ll be given your estimated wait time; you can reply “update” at any time to check your place in line
  • You’ll be informed at the five minute mark when you’re ready to be screened
  • There’s no option to schedule your appointment in advance
  • You can use Checkpoint 2, which is closest to the A, S, and B gates
  • These passengers can’t make advance reservations, but rather have to add their names to the list once they’re at the airport
  • Once you get confirmation that it’s your turn, simply show airport staff at the line your confirmation text

This could be awesome (if well executed)

Assuming it’s well executed, this seems like a great concept, as it’s a win-win-win:

  • People won’t have to spend as much time in line, but rather can have a seat and get some work done, go shopping, use the bathroom, etc.
  • This will be great for landside retailers, since people usually standing in line could instead be in stores
  • This is great for the TSA in terms of managing the flow of passengers

Unfortunately I suspect good execution of this is a big “if.” Or at a minimum, I doubt this can be scaled well:

  • The same number of people will be screened no matter what, the question is just how you can best manage the flow of people into lines
  • You want enough people in line so that there are no gaps, but not so many people that dozens (or hundreds) of people are waiting unnecessarily
  • If this becomes popular, I could see people adding themselves to the list before they get to the airport (based on knowing the phone number to text), and that could lead to no-shows and make it hard to manage expectations

I’d be curious to hear some firsthand reports of this as it launches.

Bottom line

SeaTac Airport is trialing a new “SEA Spot Saver” program, intended to allow people to reserve their TSA screening time. Some passengers can reserve spots up to 24 hours in advance, while others can reserve a spot when they get to the airport.

The idea is that this program allows you to multitask — rather than waiting in line you can hang out somewhere else in the terminal, which I’m all for. But like so many things in life, this all comes down to execution.

What do you make of the SEA Spot Saver program? Do you think this has potential?

  1. No one wants to make another appointment and interact with another half-baked, failure-prone tech system. Just hire enough people so we don’t have to worry about it

  2. This sounds like the Verifly program they Have at Denver – you make an appointment for screenings.

  3. SeaTac barely has any landside retailers they could instead be spending their time in – does a Hudson News and a Starbucks count?

  4. Still do not get this… why someone would reserve this while you could simply wait in line and do it whenever you want? what if you arrive late or earlier?

  5. …Or just get precheck? My goodness.

    I would imaging the venn diagram of people who use this program, and people who bring a lot of guests to the Centurion Lounge has a lot of overlap.

    Also probably a lot of selfies about their ‘upgrade’ to Main Cabin Extra.

  6. @Jerry – that’s simply not an option for many people who live in and around Seattle.

    There’s a large contingent of staff (and their families) working for the various large technology companies in the area that do not qualify for TSAPre/Global Entry.

  7. This -> “SeaTac barely has any landside retailers they could instead be spending their time in – does a Hudson News and a Starbucks count?” and the wine bar (which I suspect is closed in the mornings).

    Plus the morning rush queues block the front of some of these landslide spaces, so its not a pleasurable waiting area.

    I am sure its well intended but will interesting if anyone uses it more than once.

  8. @UA- I’ve never heard of this—that one’s employer could disqualify them for PreCheck/GlobalEntry. I’m truly curious; could you tell me more?

  9. @Scudder: @UA did not say that an employer could be a disqualifier for PreCheck/Global Entry. From the TSA website: “The TSA PreCheck® application program membership is only open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents. Applicants may be ineligible due to incomplete or false application information, violations of transportation security regulations, or disqualifying criminal offenses and factors.” … this means that people lawfully present in the US working on a H1b visa aren’t eligible since they are not US citizens/nationals, nor are they green card holders.

  10. @UA you make a good point, but Indian, UK, German, Korean, Taiwanese, Mexican, Swiss, Singaporean passport holders (and others) can apply for Global Entry and are then eligible. That covers a lot of the travelers you refer to.

    Nonetheless, H1B visas aren’t unique to Seattle, and I think this program is silly.

  11. Zero faith that SeaTac can do this competently. Every time that I flew there it is complete chaos. Worst airport experience in the USA.

  12. @Esquire – There will always be queues, even with more staff checking ID’s and working the scanners. Plenty of people would be happy to use a service like this if it meant not having to stand squeezed up against strangers in a queue during COVID.

    @Henry – To your first question about why people wouldn’t just want to stand in line breathing strangers air. Yes, you’re about to go on an airplane with a bunch of strangers which has it’s own risks, that doesn’t mean you need to go around taking preventable risks. I’ve got the vaccine but I don’t go around licking sweet sweet door knobs.

    As for TSA, the article seems to indicate it will not be part of this reservation program. I’m guessing their lines are short/spaced enough.

  13. @Capo Maf1a – “Worst airport experience in the USA.” – you need to visit more airports dude.

  14. @Henry

    SeaTac can be insane at times. I’ve seen TSA lines take over an hour. If someone can reserve a time and breeze through it’s a total win.

  15. @Jerry – Mexican nationals qualify for the TN visa. Seeking the H-1B in such a case is nuts.

    Not every foreign national working for a technology firm in Seattle is there on an H-1B visa – plenty of those in that situation are on other visa types (I’m not sure where this idea of “foreign tech worker” = “H-1B holder” comes from, but it’s very common).

    For Indian nationals, the first step of the application process actually has to occur in India, which is impossible at present and non-trivial at the best of times for those already in the US.

    There are plenty of people working for the large technology firms in-and-around Seattle that do not qualify that are not from the countries you’ve listed – for example, there’s a large number of Australians here that normally travel frequently, do not have a simple path toward permanent residency due to their visa type and do not qualify for Global Entry/TSAPre.

    And Australians are but one example.

  16. The last two times I’ve flown out of CLT and LAS (once just two weeks ago) it took me less than 15 minutes to get through TSA without pre-check of any kind. Now perhaps I was just very lucky. But I can’t imagine myself having to make an appointment to get through TSA.
    I get to the airport early and I do not rush. I’m a 70 year old lady. Travel alone most of the time and I don’t have to hurry.
    If this works and you can sail through TSA, then God bless your cotton socks. I hope that it makes you happy.
    I’ll continue to get to the airport when I get to the airport.

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