Exploring The Catacombs of SeaTac

Deep within a major international airport lies a world unseen.

Within in the food court of SeaTac International Airport is a pair of double doors with a simple sign on it; “Authorized Personnel Only.”  Curiously, there is no lock on these doors, and no security officers present.  Just a single bubble cam in the corner.  Through these doors is a massive freight elevator.  Underneath the ticketing level lay two more full levels unseen to most.  One for storage for the companies as well as a loading dock.

Boasting a 45,000 lb weight capacity, the massive elevator will take you down to these levels.  On the very bottom level is the where the supplies for the franchises are kept.  The sign on this door is a little more daunting; “WARNING Restricted Area Authorized Personnel Only…Subject to Arrest and Prosecution”.

There is also a mezzanine level just above the ticketing level.  An unlocked door leading to a pair of stairs.  Up on this level are the offices for many of the franchises operating at the airport.  There is also a huge Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Credentials Office, where all crew and employees get certified.  But here comes the weird part.  Not far from the Credentials Office is a full auditorium with theater seating.  There is also a large glass-walled chapel up on this level.  The door to the mezzanine level is before any security checkpoints.  That means that people can literally walk in from the streets and have access to any of these places.

Behind the scenes of the airport are major operations invisible to the public.  The airport itself is a hugely complex economic entity.  Thousands of employees of dozens professions work at the airport every single day.  With millions of patrons every single day, the airport requires these thousands of employees to keep things running smoothly.

As with any entity this large, comes this brings some serious economic complexity.  And as a system funded by public money, it raises the question of necessity.  Certain aspects of the airport are obvious, the qualities that define it as a transportation hub.  But others are not so clear, like a full auditorium and chapel.  It would not be surprising to hear of patrons having problems with this situation.  In a hurting economy, everyone’s wallets are tight.  One begins to wonder to what other areas that money could have been delegated.

These concerns begin to arise in people once they realize just how complex the airport really is.  “I think that it’s a complete waste of tax money,” said Max Wienke, a Junior at Aviation High School, “it’s not necessary.”

The complexity continues with the business side of the airport.  Along with being a transportation hub, it is also a hub center for business.  Very rarely do you have so many different people moving through a single location.  Max Heigh is the owner of Deli, a local clothing store in downtown Seattle.  He and his family also own three different restaurant locations at SeaTac.  There is one Great American Bagel and Bakery location in the A-Concourse, another in the D-Concourse, and Bigfoot Wine and Spirits in North Satellite.

There is a hierarchy amongst employees at the airport, different positions carry different levels of security clearance.  “As an employer, the TSA provided very specific guidelines for us to follow,” said Heigh.  As a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), they carry serious powers of prosecution.

As an employee, they had a relatively rigorous registration process.  I had to provide proof of birth and identity as well as get fingerprinted.  It was a requirement that I sign a form releasing my information from the Social Security Admistration (SSA) to the DHS.

SeaTac’s groundbreaking was on 2 January, 1943.  All this information begs the question, did they have the vision for this complexity almost seven decades in the past?  It’s hard to believe that the initial million dollars dedicated to the project has grown and evolved into the multimillion dollar entity that we see today.

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