Changes to Sea-Tac International Airport branding causing concerns in Tacoma

Changes to Sea-Tac International Airport branding causing concerns in Tacoma
SEA Airport Managing Director Lance Lyttle speaks at the branding event on January 22, 2020. (KIRO 7)

SeaTac, Washington — Seattle-Tacoma International Airport unveiled a new SEA airport brand identity Wednesday, but some people are objecting to the branding change.

Staff said the changes are meant to reflect the spirit of the Pacific Northwest. The changes include new brightly colored signage, uniforms and the flySEA.org website.

“We want SEA to celebrate and represent the originality, diversity and beauty of the Pacific Northwest as we go into a monumental year and decade,” SEA Airport Managing Director Lance Lyttle said in a statement. “Our new brand identity and promise also stands up for our values and makes a clear commitment to the kind of experience we intend to offer.”

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Money from Tacoma was a major factor in why Sea-Tac is located where it is, and why it wasn’t named after a Boeing executive.

As the Tacoma News Tribune Editorial Board wrote, “Tacoma leaders are raising their voices determined not to see our city bumped from the airport’s identity like an economy-class passenger on an overbooked flight to Newark.”

Several weeks ago, airport marketing staff contacted Pierce County about the upcoming branding project and gave the impression they might experiment with a different airport identifier, the newspaper reported.

Wednesday’s announcement is not the first Sea-Tac branding change to draw significant complaints.

In the early 1940s, the location decision for Sea-Tac came down to two locations: The current site or another location west of Lake Sammamish where the Lake Hills area of Bellevue is today. But 2,000,000 cubic yards of dirt needed to be graded for the Bellevue site, and the sharp rise of nearby Squak Mountain (1,930 feet) was a concern.

Tacoma offered $100,000 -- roughly $1.5 million today with inflation -- if the current site was selected and the airport was named Seattle-Tacoma Airport. The Port of Tacoma ended up contributing $70,000 with another $15,000 coming from the City of Tacoma and the final $15,000 coming from Pierce County.

The first flight, a United Air DC-3, landed at Sea-Tac on Oct. 31, 1944, and the airport and terminal was officially dedicated July 9, 1949.

Sea-Tac was going to be named Johnson Field after Phillip G. Johnson, the Boeing president who died of a cerebral hemorrhage the month before the first flight landed. But the money from Tacoma and Pierce County changed that.

On Sept. 13, 1983 -- less than two weeks after the unexpected death of U.S. Sen. Henry M “Scoop” Jackson -- the Port Commission voted to rename Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as Henry M. Jackson International Airport.

That decision was made without a public hearing and led to complaints. A West Seattle resident started a campaign to change the name back to Sea-Tac, and she gathered roughly 24,000 signatures.

A 3-2 Port Commission vote on Feb. 28, 1984, changed the name back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The city of SeaTac -- spelled without a dash in the name -- was not a city when the airport was dedicated. The airport site was referred to as the Bow Lake area. Though the SeaTac area name was used after the opening of the airport, the city of SeaTac wasn’t officially incorporated until Feb. 28, 1990.

Sea-Tac was not built in Seattle because a provision in the city charter prevented municipality investment in a project outside the city limits. As a result, it was the Port of Seattle that led the effort to get federal funding in 1942.