Checking on it: Unusual flight pattern over West Seattle?

Just wanted to let you know — we have an avalanche of e-mails and calls regarding planes taking a different flight path heading west, and apparently lower than usual, over West Seattle tonight. The first phone call we made, to a regional FAA operations center, did not yield any information, and Boeing Field operations says nothing’s unusual there either. Still checking! (Tammy at Boeing Field did say the “flow” of flights switched between north and south – but that isn’t unusual, she said.) By most accounts, there were at least three planes that flew out this way, between about 7:30 and 8:15. ADDED 9:06 PM: Nothing definitive yet – this seems to be over (let us know if you see/hear otherwise) – if no answers emerge tonight, we will keep checking tomorrow. To summarize why this caught people off-guard, here’s an e-mail quote from Karen: “It didn’t last long, maybe four to six planes. We were sitting on our deck looking directly at the bellies of those planes. They looked legally high enough but made us uncomfortable.” ADDED 10:54 PM: In comments, WesCAddle offers a partial explanation (three comments, starting here).

48 Replies to "Checking on it: Unusual flight pattern over West Seattle?"

  • Todd August 27, 2009 (8:49 pm)

    Yup. The first plane I noticed was about 7:30 PM. Seemed like it flew west, above Andover.

  • Karlynn August 27, 2009 (8:51 pm)

    I noticed one about 7:45 as I was heading west over the WS Bridge. It was heading north (looked like from Boeing Field) and then west over the bridge, flying very low. I thought it odd, but didn’t think to call or email anyone. :-)

  • Graysongirl August 27, 2009 (8:55 pm)

    Yes, we had one going west flying low about 8pm. I thought it was weird too. Generally only small planes are flying doing the east/west pattern by our house.

  • CR August 27, 2009 (9:04 pm)

    Noticed the same thing. Enjoy aircraft so sat on the deck for the fly overs. Been here 10+ yrs and have not observed that flight pattern before.

  • schwaggy August 27, 2009 (9:04 pm)

    Alaska is supposedly testing a new fuel-saving approach in to Sea Tac which involves not only the new headings but the way in which they come out of altitude. It’s a faster decent instead of a staggered one.

  • fiz August 27, 2009 (9:06 pm)

    Well, they can just STOP THAT, Schwaggy! We’re four blocks south of you and they were coming out right over us.

  • silver shadow August 27, 2009 (9:08 pm)

    There were more than 3 at least 5 including a large 4 engine plane (747 or A340) and all but one were low and throttles near the stops (so they were loud).

  • silver shadow August 27, 2009 (9:14 pm)

    I’ve seen that flight pattern twice before when planes are taking off to the north: 1) When the Blue angles are flying in town…and 2) Soon after “911” whenever there was a game at Safeco Field (which is what I thought was going on tonight).

  • johnnyblegs August 27, 2009 (9:30 pm)

    It seems to be just that one around 8 that buzzed my house so loud! Weird that only one jet would deviate from the flight pattern.

  • Sean August 27, 2009 (9:31 pm)

    One of them around 8:30 – 8:45 was a UPS plane. I think they only come out of Boeing Field. ?

  • Christopher Boffoli August 27, 2009 (9:31 pm)

    I saw and heard them too as I was out taking pictures this evening. That first one did look surprisingly low. The three or four I saw were all large airliners. They seemed too low to have taken off from Sea-Tac. I assumed they all came from KBFI.

  • silver shadow August 27, 2009 (9:37 pm)

    I don’t think there is any way that those planes could have originated at Boeing Field and been in that location over WS.

  • Gene August 27, 2009 (9:41 pm)

    There was also a formation of propeller fighters that flew over North Admiral tonight around 6:10pm – quite low. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my camera out in time.

  • Lisa K. August 27, 2009 (9:45 pm)

    Several of us commented on this during the Delridge ice cream social: a few large passenger planes flew quite low, directly overhead. None of us could recall seeing this low, westerly flight pattern before. At least a couple small planes head out that way every day on a regular time schedule, but the large airliners were unusual.

  • Tom August 27, 2009 (10:11 pm)

    SeaTac Airport has a flight tracking app.

    Go to 8:04 PM this evening. There’s a couple of UPS planes that went over W Seattle.


  • islander August 27, 2009 (10:12 pm)

    Nice bird watching @ 42nd and Brandon. Three came directly over our house… third one must’ve had Rolls Royce engines, it was almost silent as it flew off into the sunset. Enjoyed it once – hope it doesn’t become a regular thing.

  • WSB August 27, 2009 (10:17 pm)

    Thanks. That’ll help when I hit up more folks tomorrow to say “what was that all about” but the question remains for now, WHY the south/low pattern.

  • Doug August 27, 2009 (10:31 pm)

    Heard and saw the same thing.. possibly a UPS plane. Unusually low and incredibly loud. Nothing we have ever seen before.

  • WesCAddle August 27, 2009 (10:35 pm)

    Looks like Sea-Tac (KSEA) was in a South Flow (Landing and departing airplanes to the south) and Boeing Field (KBFI) was in a North Flow (Landing and departing airplanes to the north) for a short time between around 7:45pm to 8:30pm. This is very rare. Usually when KSEA is in a South Flow KBFI will follow suite.

    The situation you had for about :45 minutes tonight was airplanes landing at KSEA to the south and airplanes taking off to the North out of KBFI. If you think about it, you can’t really have planes blasting off out of KBFI straight out over the city with planes coming in for landing over the city into KSEA. So looks like the had two UPS and two ABX (Airborne Express) B767’s depart KBFI and make a sharp left turn over West Seattle during this time. At around 8:30 KBFI switched to a south flow to match KSEA.

    Probably TMI but that seems to be the scenario. I wouldn’t expect to see this in the future except for VERY rare cases.

  • WesCAddle August 27, 2009 (10:41 pm)

    BTW- The B767’s (UPS and ABX) were approximately 2000 feet as they crossed West Seattle west bound. About the same altitude they are over Nolla Outer Marker (Magnolia) landing at KBFI every day.

  • WesCAddle August 27, 2009 (10:46 pm)

    (I wish I could edit my post to add this, but alas, I can’t figure out how)…

    I forgot to mention…the reason for the low altitude and sharp left turn over West Seattle would be to keep the four KBFI departures under the flight path of the KSEA arrivals landing south.

  • WSB August 27, 2009 (10:54 pm)

    You rock. Although the question remains then, what would cause such an unusual … confluence? … of “flows”? weather? or? – TR

  • LeroniusMonkFish August 27, 2009 (10:55 pm)

    WesCAddle – You are 100% correct. During this timeframe the flow of traffic was changed at KSEA and required the departing Boeing Field aircraft (ATN DC-8, 2 – ABX 767’s and 2 UPS 767’s) to turn to the West after departing KBFI instead of turning East towards their destinations so as not to conflict with the southerly flow of traffic going into SeaTac.

  • WesCAddle August 27, 2009 (10:58 pm)


    I would venture to say this was simply I controller deciding to let of few planes out of KBFI to the North (during a KSEA south flow) for any number of reasons. Blocked taxiway restricting access to 13R, maybe KSEA informed KBFI they were switching to a North flow and then they changed their minds, etc.

    I think it is nothing more than an anomaly, and I don’t think weather had anything to do with it.

    Probably won’t see it for another 18 years ;)

  • LeroniusMonkFish August 27, 2009 (10:59 pm)

    Usually the change of flow/direction is due to the fact that the wind had changed and in this case was now coming out of the south…you always take off and land into the wind…or at least try to.

  • WSB August 27, 2009 (11:04 pm)

    I’ll inquire with the port’s PIO tomorrow anyway, just out of curiosity. It’s been a while (since the last helicopter search!) since we’ve received so many e-mails etc. about something … and besides the thread here, a sizable thread on our FB wall too
    (a few status’es down)

  • Gabriele August 27, 2009 (11:06 pm)

    In English please? :-O

  • WesCAddle August 27, 2009 (11:12 pm)


    Like I said, probably TMI (Too Much Information) ;)

    I’ll put it this way, Boeing Field controllers were doing a great job preventing metallic rain this evening.

  • Lura Ercolano August 27, 2009 (11:15 pm)

    We went through downtown earlier this evening and noticed military planes doing some formation flying over Elliot Bay. I suspect whatever they were doing might have caused other flights to be re-routed.

  • LeroniusMonkFish August 27, 2009 (11:17 pm)

    Gabriele – Normally both the landing and departing aircraft out of SeaTac and Boeing Field fly in the same direction. Apparently SeaTac changed their traffic to a southerly flow for arrivals and departures. Boeing Field hadn’t switched theirs accordingly during this time for various possible reasons??? If the departing aircraft to the north out of Boeing Field had climbed out over Elliott Bay and then turned eastward they would have created a conflict with the aircraft coming in over downtown seattle landing to the south at SeaTac.

  • k August 27, 2009 (11:22 pm)

    It’s so cool that you guys know this stuff!!
    Thanks for sharing is with us.

  • LeroniusMonkFish August 27, 2009 (11:27 pm)

    Not sure about WesCAddle but I got my Commercial/Instrument pilot ratings out of Boeing Field back in the late 80’s…the WS aircraft sightings always interest me when I see them here on the WSB.

  • MissBeth August 27, 2009 (11:29 pm)

    Wow…welcome to my daily world W. Seattle!!

    I live in Skyway – in the Westhill area.
    When the new runway at Seatac opened, the noise level here at my little mobile castle increased greatly!

    I am fascinated though from reading thru all the comments here by the “flow” thing, as I always have wondered why planes seemed to be taking varied flight paths over my house. Now it all makes sense, so thanks for the education!!!!

    Most of the time the plane noise along with huge helicopters and the trains below are just white noise, but when they do something out of the norm THEN I notice!

    If it’s another 18 years for you, consider yourself lucky you don’t live in my world!! Just sayin’ :)

  • Mark August 28, 2009 (8:46 am)

    I’ve lived in the Shorewood area for over 35 years and this summer I have noticed more and more airplanes flying directly over my house, which isn’t in the flight path. I know during SeaFair the planes are directed this way because of the restricted flight path for the Blue Angels, but there is continuing traffic even after the Blue Angels leave. The planes originate from SeaTac airport (owned and operated by the Port of Seattle). Boeing field and the FAA won’t tell you what you need to know, the Port of Seattle is who you need to contact and the more complaints we send the more they’ll understand that the just can’t deviate from the regular flight path. Airlines also know that they aren’t supposed to deviate, but if no one complains, they just keep doing it.

    The Port of Seattle is who you want to call and complain to or request more information. There is an online form you can use: or you can call the Noise Abatement office at 206.787.5393 or 1.800.826.1147. You can call these numbers 24hrs a day.

  • hopey August 28, 2009 (9:14 am)

    Mark, you do understand that Sea-Tac is using the third runway right now because the first runway is under construction? That is the main source of flight path deviations. Once the first runway reconstruction is completed, I’m sure it will all settle down. I’m not sure how useful it is to keep bugging the Port of Seattle about it until after construction is done.

  • jsv888 August 28, 2009 (12:16 pm)

    I heard one and looked out the window because it sounded like it was landing on top of my house. It looked like a private/corporate jet.

  • Randy from Georgetown August 28, 2009 (5:32 pm)

    Very interesting to know the downstream effect of last night’s unusual Boeing Field Air Cargo flight departures. I live very close to BFI and, as was said previously, it is very rare such a “split flow” departure is allowed for the heavy jets. That is, for them, they typically depart in the same flow direction as Sea-Tac. Usually, only the turbo-props are allowed to depart north while Sea-Tac flights arrive to the south. Obviously, the air traffic controller let them do this last night while directing them over W Sea to avoid the heavy jets arriving into Sea-Tac.

  • WSB August 28, 2009 (5:45 pm)

    I have some more information that we’ll publish this evening – from the results of a Boeing Field noise investigator checking into the situation on behalf of a WSB’er. Although it still doesn’t confirm exactly what led to all this – wind change? or? – Sea-Tac has pointed me back at the FAA and I don’t know if the FAA will see my new inquiry till Monday. But I seldom give up on a mystery … TR

  • La August 28, 2009 (7:46 pm)

    This is why I love you, WSB and WSB readers. We live in the Pigeon Point neighborhood. When we heard the first loud jet engine and then saw two additional commercial-aircraft-sized aircraft flying right over our house, due west, my first thought was: “Is there something going on with the Museum of Flight?” My second thought was: “This better not be some new flight path nobody warned us about!” My third was: “The West Seattle Blog will tell me all about it tomorrow.”

  • Wide Eye August 29, 2009 (9:58 am)

    Hopey…I used to work for the Port of Seattle in the Noise Remedy Department and even if Runway 1 is under construction and they are using #3, doesn’t mean they can deviate from a North/South direction in take-off. Shorewood is not in the FAA’s flight plans and most of the planes have to fly further North (over Seattle) before making any turns Westward or Eastward. So it does make sense to “bug” the Port because any planes that deviate from FAA flight patterns, the airline is fined for. If we just sit quietly then they just assume that we have no problem with the noise and can change the patterns in the future. Don’t take it for granted, speak up and let them know there is a problem, that’s why there is the Noise Hotline…put it to use.

  • Wide Eye August 29, 2009 (10:04 am)

    Wind is a factor in which way Planes take-off and land. Planes land with the wind at their tail and they take-off into the wind. Thus the planes at both airports should be in sync..i.e. if a plane lands at Seatac from the South, then a plane taking off at Boeing field will be taking off to the North and vise versa.

  • Caleegraphy August 29, 2009 (8:01 pm)

    Aug. 27 was not the first time jets came over our area this month. I live in Highland Park at 15th SW and SW Henderson. About two weeks earlier, two jets flew very low over our house. The first jet was going east to land at about 6:30 in the morning. The second took off going west at 11:30 in the morning two days later. The clouds were low so you could not see this jet, however it was loud enough for me to run outside and look. (Wish I could remember the dates). My daughter lives in the flight path of the 3rd runway. The noise was equal in loudness to being in her yard on 116th S. and S. 14th. The jets do not come over us when the blue angels are in town. They are diverted south, as the angels do turn arounds over our house, using the water shed as a spotting point (i use to work at the mof and spoke to the piolets). It is noisy enough that they approved our airspace for the helicopters to approach Boing Field.

  • WSB August 30, 2009 (10:43 am)

    We read that, but this wasn’t just one flight, and it was cargo traffic as well as passenger. (And the article notes the test flight depicted there happened in the middle of the night, and turned over Elliott Bay, not over oh say WS.) We’ll be talking to the FAA on Monday – also have some flight-path information from Boeing Field that we’re saving for that followup (in which they described it as an unusual case, not something routine) since other things got in the way of us publishing it on Friday night – TR

  • Schwaggy August 30, 2009 (11:10 am)

    As always you guys are on it. I look forward to what you find out!

  • sonic_07 August 30, 2009 (12:15 pm)

    I work at BFI and fly for a living. So I ask, who cares? Really.

  • Caleegraphy August 31, 2009 (6:11 pm)

    IT is 6:04 pm and a Southwest Airlines jet just came from the Northwest flying to the Southeast over Highland Park. It was definately in a decent. What the H. is happening and why is there no info??

  • WSB August 31, 2009 (6:37 pm)

    I did not hear back from the FAA today – I was pointed to their media person late Friday; that person replied Friday evening, saying to give him a call, but it was after business hours before I got that message – I wrote back today asking for a good time to call (and adding that I wanted to know more about the “quieter flight” proposal the Times reported over the weekend and its West Seattle effects) but didn’t get a reply. Will just go ahead and start calling tomorrow morning – TR

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