Thursday, June 05, 2008

Arriving in Seattle: Navigating the Airport

Last Friday, flying back from the PNACAC conference, people’s experience arriving in SeaTac (Seattle Tacoma International Airport) was very much on my radar screen. Of course, the services and experience vary based upon whether you arrive in the North Terminal, the South Terminal, or the Main Terminal (however, all roads – or underground subway tracks – lead to the Main Terminal.)

SeaTac’s main terminal was renovated a few years ago, and is actually pretty civilized for an airport. Now, instead of paying handsomely for a school cafeteria lunch you can actually get a decent meal. In fact, Anthony’s is a fine dining experience where you can get great seafood and a good glass of wine (the Fish Bar is actually good as well if you are in a hurry.)

It used to occur to me that it was an incredible irony that the airport in Seattle only served plonk wine and flat beer; now you can enjoy a great wine tasting experience at Vino Volo (immediately next to Borders, and a few shops down from Ivars’ Seafood Bar) and you can get microbrews. The Dilettante Café is a slice of heaven. Seattle is well known for its chocolate (some artisanal and/or organic – but after all, this is the Pacific Northwest) and Dilettante is an uber chocolate dessert destination. When ordering a slice of Rigo Yanki Cake or ephemere torte, your challenge will be deciding whether you want to eat it or to rub it in your hair. You can also blow money with lots of shops selling totchkes, the Body Shop, and the like.

Something that isn’t new but has been a long standing option at SeaTac is the opportunity for a massage. In the B concourse you can access one of the massage bars, which have happy hours (yes, I realize it staggers the imagination…)

Of course, that is all good news when you are leaving Seattle. But what about your arrival in Seattle? Here are a couple of very practical tips:

Ground transportation is not located in the main terminal, but across a sky bridge in the garage. After arrival and exiting you will be required to go downstairs to baggage claim. You will need to go back upstairs to access the sky bridge. There are two elevators, but they are hidden (one near the door) and the dark grey décor makes it more sporting finding them. If you are using a luggage cart you will need to use the elevators; otherwise the escalators up from baggage claim are your most direct route the sky bridge. By the way, if you smoke you will have to go outside the terminal to do so… if you don’t smoke, beware of those who do chain smoke adjacent to the doors outside baggage claim, so be prepared for the aroma of cigarettes.

Once you enter the garage you will need to go downstairs (here the elevators are obvious and convenient; the escalators are easy to find and readily available as well.) Important comfort note: THERE ARE NO BATHROOMS IN THE GROUND TRANSPORTATION AREA; the bathrooms are only in the main terminal. Take care of your needs before looking for a cab.

Shuttle Express is the most economical option for getting into downtown. It can also require a L O N G tedious wait on backless benches (they like to pack them full :)

The Grey Line Buses go to many of the major hotels, but waiting for one and getting to your destination might seem like eternity. Taking a cab downtown is easy, relatively cheap (not much more than Shuttle Express) and fast. Taking a limo into town is pretty reasonable too, and incredibly comfortable. I regard time like money and I put a priority on time and comfort in getting to a destination. So, if you can swing it I recommend a cab. It will be about a 15-20 minute ride from the airport to one of the conference hotels.

Happy travels,

Michael K. McKeon
Dean of Admissions
Seattle University