You might know that Seattle’s main airport is Seattle-Tacoma (SeaTac). The airport is about 13 miles south of downtown. However, if flights out of SeaTac or expensive or lacking destinations, you do have other options when flying out of the city. In addition, Seattle is in the beginning stages of planning another major airport that in the decades to come could relieve congestion from the airport.
Let’s dive into airports around Seattle. We’ll explore how many airports are in Seattle, your options for traveling out of the city, and why Seattle is looking to add another major airport.
Airports Near Seattle
There are five major airports within a reasonable drive of Seattle and a new airport is currently in planning stages. They are:
- SeaTac International
- Paine Field
- Boeing Field (King County International)
- Vancouver International Airport
- Portland International
- New Seattle Airport
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac)
- Annual Passengers: 51.8 million (2019)
- Hubs: Alaska, Delta
- Distance from Downtown: 13 miles
- Top Domestic Destination: Anchorage
- Top International Destination: Vancouver
The most important airport in the Seattle area is Seattle-Tacoma International, also known as SeaTac. The airport is the 9th busiest in the United States and serves a variety of domestic and international routes. If you’re flying out of SeaTac, be aware that about 48% of passenger traffic is from Alaska Airlines and 20% is Delta. The two airlines both operate SeaTac as a hub, routing connections through the city.
Prior to Covid reducing international air travel, SeaTac reached more than 50 million passengers in 2019. This is up from a little more than 30 million passengers at the start of the decade. That makes SeaTac one of the fastest-growing airports in the United States, and the stress of all this traffic does show. SeaTac often has long security lines and the areas around the gates can get quite crowded. The Port of Seattle recently renovated the N gates and International gates, but is embarking on a $4.6 on upgrades to make the travel experience more “predictable and convenient.”
Paine Field (Snohomish County Airport)
- Annual Passengers: ~700,000 (2019)
- Hubs: Alaska (Horizon Air Brand)
- Distance from Downtown: 21 miles
- Top Domestic Destination: Phoenix
- Top International Destination: N/A
If you’ve visited Seattle in the past, there’s a decent chance you’ve visited Paine Field. Boeing has long used the airport for the construction of wide-body jets like the 777, 767, and 747. As such, the field has long been a popular tourist destination as Boeing hosted its Everett Factory Tour there.
Unfortunately, as of early 2023 Boeing still hasn’t resumed these tours of its Everett plants since Covid began, but there are other uses for the airport. Paine Field resumed commercial air service in 2019, and will plans are for the airport to continue expanding in the years to come.
It’s worth noting that Paine Field is small, it has just two gates. However, it does include amenities such as a coffee stand, bar, and even a Beecher’s Cheese stand. As of this writing about 18 flights were scheduled from the airport each day. The main occupant of the airport is Alaska Airlines and its regional Horizon Air brand. Alaska only flies to West Coast destinations from the airport. If you’re looking for anything east of Phoenix, you’re out of luck.
While Paine Field is small today, there are plans to take the airport to about 4.3 million passengers annually. For perspective, that’s larger than the annual passengers at an airport like Omaha’s Eppley Airfield.
Boeing Field (King County International)
- Annual Passengers: N/A
- Hubs: Kenmore Air
- Distance from Downtown: 6 miles
- Top Domestic Destination: San Juan Islands
- Top International Destination: N/A
Boeing Field sits just six miles from downtown and is an unmistakable sight when heading south to SeaTac from downtown. Throughout its history, Boeing Field has hosted a variety of passenger flights, but it’s mostly a cargo airport. In 2018 there were more than 183,000 aircraft operations at the airport and 384 planes are based there.
There is some light passenger traffic from the airport today. If you’re visiting the San Juan Islands, Kenmore Air has daily flights to both San Juan and Orcas Islands. In addition, prior to Covid JSX was using the airport for flights between Seattle and Oakland. Service for that route has yet to begin as of early 2023, but with air travel rebounding, there’s a good chance more passenger air travel will be based out of the airport in the years to come.
Vancouver International Airport
- Annual Passengers: 26.4 million (2019)
- Hubs: Air Canada, Pacific Coastal Airlines, WestJet
- Distance from Downtown: 139 miles
Vancouver might be closer to Seattle than you think. The airport and downtown Seattle are just 139 miles apart by freeway. Yet, there is one major obstacle getting to Vancouver: the border. Wait times at the border between the United States and Canada can often stretch, which makes trips from the city challenging.
Yet, if you’re starting a trip off in Seattle and want to experience the Pacific Northwest, a trip that leaves comes into or leaves Vancouver is an excellent idea. The city has a vibrant downtown full of shops, restaurants, and night life. In addition, getting to nature is just a short drive from the city itself.
Another reason to consider Vancouver’s airport? It has significant connections to Asia. Routes out of Vancouver you can’t currently find at SeaTac include direct flights to Shenzen, Manila, and Chengdu.
Annual Passengers: 19.9 million
Hubs: Alaska Air
Distance from Downtown: 173 miles
Top Domestic Destination: Seattle
Top International Destination: Vancouver
Like SeaTac, Portland saw dramatic growth in the prior decade. That growth has led to wider destinations from the airport and operators beyond Alaska putting a focus on it. Airlines like Southwest, Delta, and United now all fly more than a million annual passengers in and out of the airport.
The airport is 173 miles south of downtown Seattle, which is a non-trivial distance, especially on sections of interstate that can back up with traffic. However, the relatively close proximity gives you another option when planning flights to Seattle. For example, you could fly into Portland and out of Seattle. Or, if your flight is canceled into Seattle, flying into Portland or using the airport as a connection point gives travelers to Seattle another option.
New Seattle Airport
- Currently in Planning Stages
Don’t bother punching “New Seattle Airport” into Google Maps, it doesn’t exist. Well that is, it doesn’t exist yet.
The volume any airport can handle is dependent on the number of runways and existing space for expansion around the airport. Unfortunately, SeaTac is running out of space to expand and Paine Field is only capable of expanding to meet a small fraction of the expected growth in air travel from the region in the decades to come.
That’s why a June 15, 2023 deadline has been set for a state commission to recommend a site for the construction of a new airport to the state legislature. All of the locations being considered are south of the city of Seattle. One location is in rural King County near Enumclaw. Two other locations are in rural Pierce County while a fourth is in Thurston County closer to Olympia.
The airport would be built to accommodate up to tens of millions of passengers a year and provide relief to SeaTac. The problem? Nobody wants the airport built next to them. Opposition to the airport will likely drag the process out for a significant time, meaning if you’re looking for another airport option in the Seattle area you’ll likely be waiting for another couple decades!