Travel

Sea-Tac completes construction of north concourse in time for anticipated travel spike

SEATTLE — Just days before the U.S. opened its borders to vaccinated international travelers, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport celebrated the end of major construction in its North Satellite Modernization Project.

The North Satellite building is nearly 50 years old, and the estimated $710 million renovation that began in 2017 includes significant seismic upgrades, 20 gates (eight new, 12 remodeled) and some sustainability features: captured rainwater to flush toilets, around $21 million of recycled construction materials used in the project, and renewable natural gas, a lower-carbon alternative to traditional natural gas often produced from landfill waste.

The north concourse has also leaned into Pacific Northwest aesthetics, with an emphasis on large windows and natural lighting, some regional dining options (Skillet, Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen) and artists known for their work with natural materials, including a life-sized, abstracted sculpture of a Western Red Cedar’s root structure by John Grade.

For months, U.S. travelers had been able to fly overseas from the airport, but on Nov. 8 the U.S. lifted the 18-month restrictions that have walled off international travelers from entering the U.S. Foreign nationals flying into the U.S. will need to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test (either PCR or viral) taken within the past 72 hours; unvaccinated U.S. travelers returning to the U.S. must show proof of a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours of departure. Foreign visitors crossing the land borders from Canada and Mexico must show proof of vaccination, but no test result is required.

The lifting of travel restrictions, a recent lull in pandemic numbers and the completion of the North Concourse come just as the airport gears up for what will likely be a busy holiday travel season. More details are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At a Thursday evening Travel Trends event to celebrate the reopening of the North Satellite, hospitality and travel-industry experts said they were already seeing surges of travelers, and looked forward to more.

“We’re so ready,” said Matt Hagerman, executive vice president of Columbia Hospitality, a Seattle-based company that owns resorts, hotels, golf courses and other properties around the U.S. “For months, we had no customers — closed restaurants, empty hotels — so there’s a new appreciation for guests.”

Kevin Lemme, an executive at Alaska Airlines, said flights are already brimming. “Right now, our capacity is 50% of 2019 levels,” he said, “but our bookings are only down 10%.”

Those who are traveling are tending to travel big — fulfilling the “revenge travel” prophecy industry trackers started discussing months ago.

“One-third of our travelers are increasing the star ratings for their hotels — they were going to three-star hotels and now they’re staying in four-star hotels,” said Nissy Atassi, senior director of global communications for Expedia. “2022 will be the year of the GOAT trip, ‘the greatest trip of all time.’ "

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