SFO decorated for the Niners! (Photo: Courtesy of SFO/Niners)
In Yahoo Travel’s Airport Review series, we dissect everything you need to know — from check-in to takeoff to landing.
Airport star rating: 3.75 stars. A medium-sized airport for those looking for cleanliness and thoughtfulness. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) generates that laid-back Northern California vibe you carry with you to the sometimes-not-so-friendly skies. Get de-stressed at this United Airlines hub, and perk up with creativity during a layover.
Creative and artistic flourishes abound at SFO (Photo: Ko Im)
The good: At each boarding area is a hydration station, where you can fill your water bottles with San Fran’s famously pure tap water. There’s no need to poke around for an outlet near the floor, as there are plenty of charging stations. Plus, this is one very well decorated airport; you feel like you’re walking in a museum, and the chairs look as if they’ve been plucked out of an IKEA catalog. If you want to get work done in an aesthetically pleasing environment, SFO’s your spot.
You want a water fountain? Go to a gym. This is a “hydration station” (Flickr/Nicki Dugan Pogue)
The bad: The residual fog causes delays that are at or above the national average wait time. While SFO’s food choices are far and above the typical mall food court options you see at airports, we’re surprised that there aren’t more vegetarian/vegan and local options (Napa/Sonoma wine and sourdough combos, please).
Walkability: The airport is circular with branches (like a tarantula). It’s very easy to get from terminal to terminal. Some moving walkways are springy like a moon bounce.
Security and immigration: Security is pretty efficient, with wait times generally under 30 minutes. The TSA PreCheck partnership with airlines makes it an even quicker Bay breeze to carry your laptop past guards without taking your windbreaker off. There’s a shower near the international terminal where you can freshen up, as well as landscaped, fenced-in relief areas for your furry friends.
Delays: SFO won’t win any awards for punctual flights. According to government statistics, its on-time departure and arrival rates rank 20th and 27th among major U.S. airports.
Those clouds could mean another delay. (Photo: Courtesy of SFO/Facebook)
Terminal 1: Leave your sweet tooth in San Francisco. Enjoy an organic treat from Three Twins Ice Cream before you take off on AirTran Airways, Southwest Airlines, and US Airways. This terminal also houses duty-free shopping for makeup hounds, alcohol hoarders, and luxury shoppers.
This wing contains a great number of commissioned art pieces. If you feel like closing your eyes, though, the Yoga Room is dark and intimate.
SFO was the first U.S. airport with a dedicated yoga room (Photo: Ko Im)
Terminal 3: While operationally functional, Terminal 3 is undergoing a redesign scheduled to end next year. Plans call for reflective ceilings, white walls, and open windows. The benches are even conceptualized as places to “recompose.” A sculpture garden, rotating art exhibit, and small aquarium are also in the works.
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International: Find one of four XpresSpas here for a massage, wax, or mani-pedi, as well as organic facial add-ons. If you’re in the mood to imbibe, inhale the breathtaking view of the city (that is, if the fog allows) from the stylish Virgin Atlantic San Francisco Clubhouse. You have to shell out $40 to get into Level 5. Downside: It’s open only in early afternoon through late happy hour.
Public spaces: You can definitely feel the influence of Northern California’s tech start-ups at SFO, especially in the new area the airport dubs “#Converge@flySFO.” This area allows travelers to pitch their new intellectual breakthroughs right in the airport, with the help of a whiteboard and a magnetic chalkboard. Call it what it is: a standard Silicon Valley-esque, idea incubator — and one of the hippest airport innovations you’ll ever see in an airport.
Perfect for airport brainstorming sessions (Photo: SFO)
Transportation: From SFO, you can take BART to destinations throughout the Bay Area. And, of course, there’s always Uber, which is headquartered in San Francisco.
Hotels: W’s Aloft San Francisco Airport Hotel is winning buzz for its pet-friendly and hip vibe and its convenient location only a half-mile away from the airport.
Aloft San Francisco Airport (Photo: Courtesy of Aloft San Francisco Airport/Facebook)
In short: SFO is easy on the eyes with its intuitive design. You don’t feel confined, but it’s also easy to stay wired. For the quick-tripping hipster, this airport provides a delicate balance of work and play. SFO injects its own high-tech flavor, and it’s not afraid to change with the times.