There have quite a few issues happening of late with one of my home airports, San Francisco (SFO), and I thought some of these developments might of interest to those of you who travel to the West Coast with some frequency.
United Terminal Confusion
First is an issue that has been covered quite a bit on the travel blogs the past few months — United’s multiple terminal problem. Once the merger with Continental happened last spring, United’s presence at SFO officially became too big to fit into a single existing terminal, Terminal 3. It is currently renovating the terminal to allow for expansion, but that won’t be done for at least a year. So, starting in June, United began operating some of its flights out of Terminal 1, where Continental used to be located before the merger. Additionally, United also began operating a few non-international flights out of its gates in the International Terminal.
So, what’s the problem? SFO is one of those airports where each terminal has its own security checkpoint and the terminals are not connected on the “sterile” side of security. So, for passengers on connecting flights who needed to switch terminals, there is no way to do this without exiting security. To solve this problem, United set up shuttles, but those shuttles have been fraught with delays. Adding to the confusion is the fact that United has been less than transparent or consistent about which flights go from which terminal. Furthermore, United has been using a really bizarre gate numbering system at times and also doesn’t have a check-in counter at Terminal 1 for the folks who know that their flight is departing from there. Madness.
When I last flew United returning from Hawaii in July, our flight actually arrived into the International Terminal. Our bags, however, had to be claimed at Terminal 3. My husband, in-laws, and I all know SFO quite well and I must admit that all us traveling together were incredibly confused trying to follow the signage to the right place when we disembarked.
Things appear to be getting better, with United finally deciding to operate only the United Express smaller flights from Terminal 1 from now on, but I’m not sure I can take another year of this!
Some coverage of the United terminal issue:
- From Cranky Flier: Attention Airlines: Less Information is Not Better
- SFO Airport Site
- FlyerTalk Discussion
Weekend Runway Closures
Second is a problem relevant to all airlines at SFO — runway closures. On many weekends this fall, SFO is closing one of its runways to do repairs to bring them up to current federally-mandated standards. I guess they chose the weekends to avoid inconveniencing business travelers, but this means that they are massively inconveniencing leisure travelers who are more likely to be families. And, as those of you with kiddos know, delays are that much harder to deal with when you have a cranky, overtired infant or toddler.
My family suffered an hour and a half delay last weekend aboard Virgin America thanks to these closures. On times when the runways are closed, SFO is cutting arrivals in half (from 60 per hour to 30 per hour), meaning that they are holding incoming aircraft at their places of origin and not letting them take off. Big bummer.
My advice? Fly OAK! I’m a little partial to OAK since I live a mere 12 minutes away from it, but it really is a much easier airport. Security lines are shorter, parking is easier, and it often has cheaper flights. Unfortunately, over the past several years, OAK has lost a number of its cross-country flights and several airlines have reduced their presence or pulled out entirely. But Southwest and a few super low-cost carriers have really stepped it up. OAK is the airport to use for flights that are shorter haul (LA area, Seattle, Las Vegas, etc.).