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Seattle-Tacoma International Airport kicks off 75th anniversary after near record volumes in 2023

2024 expected to surpass pre-pandemic passenger levels.

The Port of Seattle kicked off 75th Anniversary celebrations for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) today, unveiling a special anniversary logo and announcing a year-long partnership with the Museum of Flight to recognize the airport’s place in regional aviation history. Additionally, after near record-breaking passenger volumes in 2023, the airport is planning a variety of in-terminal events throughout the year to surprise and delight passengers with music, entertainment, artwork, and other activities.

“SEA is excited to take a journey through 75 years of history and stories that have shaped the airport’s role in the community,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Hamdi Mohamed. “In 1942, the Port of Seattle answered a growing call to build a new airport that would serve civilians and support economic activity for the region. Now, 75 years later, SEA continues to meet the call to serve our customers and region in a meaningful way. This includes the opportunity for more than 23,000 quality airport jobs and $22.5 billion in total economic impact. This year will be an excellent opportunity to honor the ongoing commitment to promoting economic opportunities and quality of life.”

Today’s speakers gave their remarks on the same spot where aircraft parked on the ramp in front of the newly dedicated main terminal in 1949. Back then, it was outside – today, it’s inside the recently renovated Central Terminal. The original building is still inside the upgraded terminal, but little from that time remains visible. A couple of Easter eggs that travelers can see include a plaque from the dedication ceremony on a column in the Central Terminal and the 1950s art deco exterior of elevators that go up to the Port of Seattle Police Department. Here’s a photo gallery of historical images and video.

Today, the Central Terminal features an iconic 60-foot window wall where passengers can view planes on the airfield as they sip their favorite coffee in relaxing rocking chairs or at tables with modern amenities. The Central Terminal is just one of over 80 projects currently underway as part of $5 billion in capital improvements over the next five years at the airport under the umbrella of Upgrade SEA. Images capturing the transformation of the airport over time will be displayed around SEA, online, and in an updated version of a book on the airport's history to be released in July 2024.

Sustained growth over the decades, including a strong 2023, continues to drive further transformation and upgrades that will improve the customer experience. The airport recorded its busiest day ever on July 24, 2023, with an estimated 198,000 passengers departing, connecting, and arriving. On December 30, the new International Arrivals Facility welcomed a record number of international travelers passing through Customs (8,583). [Note below: That number has already been surpassed in 2024.]

“In 2023, SEA served nearly 50.9 million passengers, just short of 2019 pre-pandemic record-setting volumes, but we’re forecasting to reach and surpass those traveler volumes in 2024,” said Lance Lyttle, Managing Director, SEA Airport. “We had four record-breaking months in February, September, October, and November. When we think about this in comparison to our first million-passenger year in 1954, it’s pretty incredible to see how far demand for travel at SEA has come. It’s a great time to celebrate all that we’ve accomplished, look to it for inspiration, and continue to find innovative ways to accommodate the demand for travel into the future.”

To celebrate this year, the Port will release a new edition of its publication, ”Rising Tides and Tailwinds,” with new chapters and stories tracking the airport’s evolution to the present day. A mini docuseries exploring SEA Airport history will be published later in the year. Passengers and SEA Airport fans can be on the lookout for fun activities like airport scavenger hunts for prizes, read monthly blog posts highlighting historical moments, and take era-inspired photos in the Central Terminal. In honor of the July 9, 1949, dedication ceremony, expect several customer appreciation events in early July. If you plan to take a trip in 2024, share your journey through the airport by tagging @flysea to become a part of SEA’s next 75 years of history.

A look back at 2023 numbers:

  • As expected, 2023 final passenger volume numbers fell just short of 2019 record levels at SEA Airport.
  • Total passengers at SEA were nearly 50.9 million (50,887,260), up 11% from the previous year but down 2% from 2019 (51,829,239), making it the second busiest total ever as travel continues its recovery from the pandemic.
  • SEA broke monthly passenger totals in four separate months: February (3,211,313), September (4,471,360), October (4,364,612), and November (3,976,412). [Note: Overall single month records are over 5 million.]
  • The forecast for 2024 shows a 3% increase in passenger traffic, rising close to 52 million annual passengers – which would exceed SEA’s largest volume set in 2019.
  • SEA saw its busiest day ever for overall passenger traffic with over 198,000 travelers going through the airport on July 24, 2023.
  • Multiple records were set at the International Arrivals Facility for passengers going through Customs, with the highest for the year at 8,583 on December 30. That has already been surpassed in 2024 with 9,019. (Note: Some international travelers are pre-cleared for entry at origination airports and do not go through Customs at SEA.)
  • Overall domestic traffic for the year was at 98% of 2019 levels (45,089,764).
  • International traffic was at 101% (5,787,496) of 2019 levels even without the return of most China services lost during the pandemic.
  • Europe traffic in 2023 was 21% above 2019, with volumes to Mexico up 91%.