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How to beat Sea-Tac Airport’s Thanksgiving crowds inside and outside

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Welcome to Thanksgiving eve, the busiest day of the year at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

An estimated 155,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport Wednesday, according to airport officials, as people fly to holiday destinations or arrive here for a visit home.

You are already out of luck for on-site parking, with reservations sold out for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. While dreaming of grandma’s stuffing may not be enough to get you through the travel chaos, these tips to spend less time in line for security and passenger pickup and drop-off just might.

And remember: Another large surge of travelers will come to airports on Sunday, after people tuck into a plate — or two or three — of their favorite holiday food and start to make their way home.

Reserve your spot in the general security line

If you have a flight that leaves between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m., there’s no need to wait in a line to go through security, according to Sea-Tac spokesperson Perry Cooper.

Last summer, Sea-Tac piloted a “spot saver” program in which people can schedule in advance a 15-minute window to go through security during peak morning travel hours. This way, travelers who don’t have TSA PreCheck or another premium service can just walk up during the designated time and skip waiting up to a half-hour in the general security line, he said.

People can reserve a slot up to 72 hours in advance or while at the airport. The program is available at TSA checkpoints 2, 3 and 5, which lead to all gates.

Switching the levels

Mornings are a busy time for the upper-level departure lanes outside the airport. Then in the afternoons and evenings, the opposite situation occurs: The lower arrival level becomes backed up.

According to Sea-Tac’s analysis, the morning peak for the departure drive is between 5 and 7 a.m., and the evening peak for arrivals is between 8 and 11 p.m. Often, that means cars are stretched all the way back to the ramps.

Sea-Tac installed signs last summer advising people to use the opposite levels during those times. You may have an especially speedy pickup if your traveler doesn’t have checked baggage, Cooper said.

Baggage claim is on the lower level of the terminal, so people getting off a flight at Sea-Tac without bags can walk directly through the ticketing area on the upper departure level without needing to take an escalator or elevator.

Wait in the cellphone lot, not shoulders

A persistent problem occurs when people park illegally on the shoulders of the road leading to the airport when waiting for a pickup call, according to airport officials. This not only creates congestion, it’s also a safety hazard.

The cellphone lot was improved this year to include a new entrance and road. Previously, cars entering and leaving the cellphone lot had to pass each other, creating a hazard, Cooper said.

Material from Seattle Times staff reporter Amanda Zhou and The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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