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San Francisco Area Airport Mad at Other San Francisco Area Airport

"We are standing up for Oakland and the East Bay."

Oakland International Airport wants travelers to know it serves the San Francisco Bay Area, so much that a name change is in the works. 

The airport, which currently has the official name Metropolitan Oakland International Airport (OAK), has requested a name change with the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners to “San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport (OAK).” Commissioners say that the move will make the airport’s location and service area clearer to travelers bound for the region, and voted unanimously in favor of the proposal at a meeting on April 11.

Port Commission President Barbara Leslie said, “We are standing up for Oakland and the East Bay; this will boost inbound travelers’ geographic awareness of the airport by highlighting the airport’s location on the San Francisco Bay.” She further explained, “This name will make it clear that OAK is the closest major airport, for 4.1 million people, three national laboratories, the top public university in the country, and California’s Wine Country.”

Not everyone in the Bay Area is in favor of those plans. Officials at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) just across the bay from OAK, are not taking their rival airport’s name change plans lightly. 

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SFO Airport Director Ivar C. Satero explains, “We anticipate the new name being considered by the Metropolitan Oakland International Airport will cause confusion for the public, either through a misunderstanding of its physical location or its perceived relationship to SFO. This concern is only compounded considering SFO’s status as a major international gateway.

We request the Metropolitan Oakland International Airport not proceed with any name change that would incorporate the use of ‘San Francisco’, as this would only result in confusion and inconvenience to the traveling public we all serve.”

San Francisco’s City Attorney used stronger language, saying that moving forward with the name change would be in violation of federal trademark laws, and they would sue.

In a letter to the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners, City Attorney David Chiu claimed that moving forward with the name change “would give San Francisco strong federal trademark infringement and federal trademark dilution claims and related common law and state claims against the Port of Oakland in a court action.”

The cities of San Francisco and Oakland and their respective airports both sit directly on San Francisco Bay. A trademark case would hinge on clarifying whether travelers would confuse “San Francisco” and “San Francisco Bay Oakland” when choosing an airport—particularly, Satero says, for inbound international passengers unfamiliar with the region’s geography, and the fact that there are two international airports in close proximity. 

The straight-line distance between the two airports is just 11 miles. SFO sits on the western edge of the San Francisco Bay, while OAK sits on the East. The two airports are also roughly equidistant from most parts of the city of San Francisco, and both are served from San Francisco by the local BART transit system. 

Three airlines serving Oakland endorsed the airport’s plans for a name change. Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Volaris made statements in support. Of the three carriers, only Southwest Airlines also serves SFO.

Airlines have long made efforts to educate travelers—outside of airport’s official names—about alternate airports in large cities. Searches for “San Francisco” on the websites of Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines all returned options for SFO, OAK, and San Jose Norman Y. Mineta International Airport (SJC) which is also nearby. All four airlines serve each of the three airports. Searches for San Francisco on the website for Spirit Airlines, which does not serve SFO, show options for departure from OAK and SJC. 

Airport name changes to improve marketability are not uncommon. In the Los Angeles Basin, the Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) was renamed from Bob Hope Airport in 2017 in hopes of gaining greater regional recognition. Several cities in the United States also have multiple airports, including Houston, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, but it’s worth noting that unlike in San Francisco and Oakland, the airports in those cities are both in the same city, and share a common airport operator.

A second reading of the proposal is scheduled for May 9. If the vote is again in favor, Oakland will move forward with the renaming, unless it is blocked by a court action.