Although it’s been discussed for a while, Puget Sound Business Journal this week announced that Sea-Tac Airport is moving forward with plans to spend $38M on a new hardstand terminal to expand Concourse D, which mostly serves Alaska Airlines and American Airlines. Sea-Tac has been growing tremendously in recent years and is contemplating even larger expansion plans for the future. The hardstand terminal is a short-term solution.
Hardstand gates are unusual in the United States. Most aircraft board through covered jetways or, in the case of smaller regional aircraft, by walking outside and climbing stairs at an apron near the gate. Boarding outdoors is very common at Concourse C and the North Satellite because of Seattle’s role as a hub to many smaller cities in the Pacific Northwest. Recent upgrades at Concourse C to provide ramps and shelter make them some of the nicest I’ve ever used.
But these hardstand gates are different. Passengers will board a bus that will then transport them to an aircraft parked at a remote stand. This is more common in Asia and some parts of Europe; I remember some very long bus rides in Shanghai and Hong Kong. It’s not limited to small planes, either, as I once exited a 747 at a remote stand in London.
A presentation from the Port of Seattle in 2016 shows the location of two remote stands on the peripheries of the the airport. There simply aren’t enough gates at the terminal for all the planes coming in and out of Seattle.
Fortunately for travelers, their use is (1) likely to be temporary and (2) likely to be concentrated during peak season in the summer, when weather is much better. I’ve boarded plenty of planes — large and small — in the rain in Seattle and can tell you it’s not that big a deal. Seattle is more “wet” than “rainy.” The bigger issue will be how this affects passengers with mobility issues and flights with tight connections.
Long-term, the airport continues to discuss serious expansion plans, building dozens of new gates to the north of Concourse D. Given the long walk, I believe the port authority is still discussing whether to construct a separate check-in terminal for these gates or expand the existing terminal. But for more discussion of the different options, I refer you to The Urbanist, which has a great post on the topic from last year.