Seattle - Tacoma International

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Last Validated Sep 2010
City Seattle, WA
Position 47°26'59.60"N 122°18'42.40"W
Runway(s) 16L/34R, 16C/34C, 16R/34L
Elevation 433 ft


Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, or Sea-Tac as it commonly called, was developed as a direct response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Initial construction was completed in October 1944, but full civilian operation did not commence until dedication of a modern terminal building on July 9, 1949. Sea-Tac officially became the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on that day.


Sea-Tac features three parallel, north-south, runways. The passenger terminal is located near the south-eastern side of the airport along side State Route 99. In the same area, the Delta and Alaska Airlines hangars can be found. A small bizjet terminal is located between the runway 34L and 34C tresholds. Cargo aprons are mainly located on the north-eastern side of the airport.

Getting There

The airport is located at the intersections of State Route 518, State Route 99 and State Route 509, about 2.4 km west of Interstate 5.

Around the Airport

1Highline-West Seattle Mental

Facing east, this spot is best when aircraft land from the north, arriving on the 16s. It can also be used for departures off the 34s. Runway 16R passes almost right overhead so you need a wide angle to get them. Runways 16/34C is the most common application of this spot and requires a 200+ lens to shoot well. This spot is best from about 2pm and gets better through the day. Runway 16R is mostly used by narrow body traffic like Alaska and Southwest Airlines. Runway 16C is mostly used by narrowbody visiting carriers and Horizon Air. From I-5, follow the signs to the airport, and then pass by it continuing on 518. Take the exit for Des Moines Memorial Drive, and turn right at the end of the ramp. Turn left onto S 144th St, and bear left to stay with it. Take the first right and park at the back of this lot. To the north is a small field, behind the porto cabins, where you can take photo's. To the east of this lot is also a field and a school. Do not go to the school yard or field during school hours. For navigational purposes, you can use 1010 South 146th Street, Seattle, WA.

2Baseball Field

While facing east, generally only good for runway 16C arrivals. At this spot you need to dodge trees, power lines, and other obstacles. Light conditions are good from the afternoon with approximately 50 to 200mm lenses. From I-5, follow the signs to the airport, then continue on the 518. Take the exit for Des Moines Memorial Drive, and turn right at the end of the ramp. Turn right onto S 144th St, and then take the first right onto 16th Ave S. Continue to the end of the road where the park is. It is a baseball field, that can often get busy on weekends or after the 9-5 shifts on the weekdays, with little league games. Our 'favourite waste of time' is not generally known, so be ready for some suspicious looks and questions.

3Water Tower

At this spot you are facing west. Runway 16L, mostly used by widebodies and other regular traffic, is closest to you so 70 - 200mm will do best. Runway 16C is a bit further away and would require 150 - 300mm. Runway 16R is quite a distance away and requires 300+. This spot is best for runway 16 arrivals from sunrise until about noon. Runway 34 departures will be high but are possible. The water tower is located off of S 146th St, to the north of the airport. Coming from the I-5, follow the directions to the airport and then take the exit for 99N and then bear left to the S 154th St. Turn left and follow 154th St across the highway and then turn right onto 24th Avenue. Follow 24th Avenue until you pass the tower and turn left onto 146th Street. When you park your car, do not block the gate to the tower. Usually there is ample parking available.

4Perimeter Road

During the weekend this is an alternative for spot 3 to photograph approaches to runways 16C and 16L. Then the parking lot of a company at the north side of the Perimeter Road/Air Cargo Road can be used. The advantage compared to spot 3 is that aircraft are a bit closer and lower on the approach.

5Sea-Tac parking Lot

This spot is best for departures, facing west, on the two closest runways. You need a larger lens, 200mm or more is recommended, as you are away from the action. As you are on airport property, it is advisable to go into the terminal and find an officer to notify about you being up there. Follow directions from I-5 or from 99 to the airport and follow the signs for the hourly parking or take the Seattle bus system to the airport if you are staying in one of the local hotels.

6South 188th Street

This spot is probably one of SeaTac’s best for the runway 34 arrivals, since all three runways are close to the road. There are multiple locations along the road from which to shoot. Everything, from a wide-angle to a high zoom, can be used though a 70 - 300mm lens would be best suited for most shots. Runway 34R will be backlit until the afternoon. Wide bodies will mostly use runway 34R. If you have a ladder, you can take 34R arrival shots with famous Mt. Rainier in the background. Arrivals mostly use 34L and 34R, with a minority arriving on 34C when traffic gets busy. Departures are mostly on 34C. When using this spot, do not stay in the ditch on the side of the road for the obvious reasons. Also remember that 188th Street is a busy road, so be very careful when crossing the road. This location can be reached from the 509 or the 99, by turning onto 188th. It is advisable to park along 16th Avenue and then walk to your favourite location. Do not park along South 188th Street itself. Again, using common sense also works best in this case.

Up close and personal, Alaska's Boeing 737-890 N564AS arriving on runway 16R, a 141mm photo taken at spot 1. (Chris Ufkes)

Spot 6 is great for landing shots during the afternoon. If you are creative, you could even take pictures with Mt. Rainier in the background. (Leo Hoogerbrugge)


119.900Tower rwy 16L/34R & 16C/34C (east)
120.950Tower rwy 16R/34L (west)
120.100Approach (199-300)
120.400Approach rwy 34 (301-340)
125.600Approach (arr west)
125.900Approach rwy 34 (076-160) & rwy 16 (301-340)
126.500Approach (161-198)
133.650Approach rwy 16
119.200Departure rwy 16
120.100Departure (199-300)
120.400Departure rwy 34 (301-340)
125.900Departure rwy 34 (076-160)
125.900Departure rwy 16 (301-340)
126.500Departure (161-198)
126.870North Ramp / Cargo
122.270South Ramp

Based Operators

Alaska AirlinesB737
Horizon AirlinesCRJ700

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