Expect possible backups, flight delays as Sea-Tac shuts down one runway until December

SEATTLE -- Sea-Tac International Airport has shut down its longest runway for a construction project until early December, leaving two runways to handle all aircraft traffic.

“It’s been stuck, just stuck, just limbo,” traveler Larry Nozinus complained Thursday night, saying his flight was delayed for an hour and a half.

"We landed and then we were on the tarmac for about 30 minutes waiting to park,” Nozinus said.

He wasn’t aware what was causing the delay on the tarmac.

“I noticed a bunch of planes parked on the tarmac though,” said Nozinus.

More than 1,000 planes land and take off at Sea-Tac daily. With one of the three runways shut down for construction, it means travelers should anticipate longer wait times.

Sea-Tac Airport spokesman Perry Cooper says there could have been a lot of factors, not only runway construction, for backups, such as weather and departure delays at other airports.

“But we do recognize that when we do have construction and one runway shut down, we know we have a lot lower rate coming into the airport,” said Cooper.

He said the largest delays so far were for about 90 flights on a single day last week.

"But keep in mind, 90 flights -- compared to 1,250 or so is what we average this time of year throughout the day,” he added.

The construction includes sealant work on both the landing spaces on either end of the runway.

“We’ve already been at work this spring and summer updating taxiways, replacing concrete panels, and other projects to improve safety and create upgrades where necessary," Cooper said.

"What comes next will be fixing expansion joints on the touchdown zones at each end of 16L/34R, relocating a taxiway connected to the runway, and upgrading the taxiways near the North Satellite. With the expansion of the North Satellite to the west, we have to adjust the taxiways to allow aircraft movement to safely and efficiently pass by the new facility,” said Cooper.

During a major portion of the construction (70 of the 90 days, upgrading taxiway B), the long runway will actually be used as a taxiway for aircraft. Air Traffic Control will have this option available to them to keep traffic flowing.

In some cases, during north flow, this could increase your taxi time. During peak periods, it may be necessary to taxi aircraft to the north of the airfield and then all the way back to the south end, by use of Taxiway T (Tango) in between the center (16C/34C) and westernmost (16R/34L) runways.

“We have to get to some place tonight, so that delayed us,” said Alex Markovic, who arrived in Seattle to visit family. He says they landed about half an hour late and found out through text messages from United Airlines. “The reason had something to do with too many planes landing in the airport,” he added.

If the weather cooperates, Cooper said, the runway should reopen in early December.

Sea-Tac airport says the busiest time of year for the airport is the summer months, and that’s why they held off construction until the fall. But, that means the runway will be closed during the busy Thanksgiving travel period.

Cooper says the best thing travelers can do is check ahead with their airline for their specific flight for any delays or cancellations.