For decades, people flying into and out of our region pass through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, one of the busier such facilities in the nation. With its location halfway between the two major cities in the Puget Sound region, a name that includes both cities is appropriate. A look into the airport’s history shows the financial backing that came from Tacoma and Pierce County, and a legal basis for Tacoma to be in the official name.
In 1942, Port of Tacoma Commission, the City of Tacoma and Pierce County lobbied for the selection of Bow Lake for a new regional airport. They pledged $100,000 toward construction costs, which climbed above $4 million by 1944. This was done with the agreement that the name of the airport would include Tacoma.
On Sept. 15, 1944, Port of Seattle Commission voted to rename the facility Johnson Field in honor of Philip G. Johnson, the president of Boeing, who had died the previous day. Officials from Tacoma voiced opposition and this name change was dropped.
Years later another name change was proposed upon the passing of a notable public figure. U.S. Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson died on Sept. 1, 1983. The Port of Seattle wanted to rename the airport Henry M. Jackson International Airport, after the legendary politician. The fact there was an airport in Jackson, Miss. called Jackson International Airport proved to be a complicating factor, as management of that facility threatened legal action to have exclusive use of the name Jackson. Polls of Seattle and Tacoma residents indicated a strong preference for keeping Seattle/Tacoma International as the name of our airport. Jackson’s widow, Helen Jackson, stated that the family would be neutral in this debate. By a 3-2 vote, Port of Seattle Commission voted to revert to the old name in 1984. Again, opposition from Tacoma led to the proposal being dropped.
This brings us to today. Airport management is seeking input on the Sea-Tac Airport Brand Identity Project. Tacoma political and business leaders have been crafting their response to this marketing effort, particularly “refreshed and consistent signage and messaging,” as referenced in a draft letter recently shared at a Tacoma City Council meeting. A recent survey produced by airport management suggested a name change is under consideration.
E-mails sent in February by airport management indicated they are “affirming the legal name will remain ‘Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.’” It is important to draw a distinction between the legal name and any unofficial names that may be used. Our local leaders want the name as presented to the public to have the full name, or at least the shortened nickname “Sea-Tac.”
Marketing consultants may be recommending that Tacoma be dropped from signs in and around the facility. But Tacoma and Seattle had an agreement in the early 1940s that should remain in place. Any references to the airport, be in signage or marketing materials, must continue to recognize Tacoma.