San Jose Closes Up Shop on Terminal C

When I started business school in 2002, there was plenty of construction going on around San Jose Airport. Now, 8 years later, nothing has changed. There’s been virtually nonstop construction since then, but a huge milestone has been reached now that the passenger terminals are complete. That means, a little nostalgia is in order.

San Jose Terminal C

For a long time, San Jose has had Terminal A and Terminal C. There was a huge spot in the middle just waiting for a Terminal B, but it wouldn’t be built for years. Terminal A was the home of the shrinking American hub (and Reno Air before that) and growing Southwest operation. The cats and dogs were in the old Terminal C, which still boarded via air stairs.

Now that Terminal B has been finished, C is toast. Terminal A, which was woefully underbuilt for its purpose (and I mean, it was just rough), is now connected to Terminal B behind security and there’s now a cohesive airport. But not everyone is celebrating.

Personally, I love the old terminals, and C was old at about 45 years of age. Above, you can see a great shot of it from the ramp side, completely dwarfed by the massive new parking garage that was just a surface lot when I used to fly in and out. Like most old terminals, Terminal C was an absolute mess. Most of the decent food was outside security, and the security checkpoints were awkward; shoehorned into a space that was obviously never designed to handle it. But that’s part of the fun of these old buildings. They have some serious character.

Now, San Jose has a huge, bright, and airy new terminal that cost a ton of money. In fact, the cost per enplanement is expected to approach $16 by next year. That’s way too high for an airport like this, and some airlines have pulled back service knowing where these costs were going.

In fact, San Jose knows it needs to get costs down, but the aviation director doesn’t really provide any compelling ways for that to happen. It’s not easy when you have a huge amount of debt that you have to pay off. Unlike Terminal A back in the day, this has been overbuilt now. And the airport may suffer for awhile until it’s able to really pay down its debts, just like SFO did for a few years after building its massive international terminal.

But for now, let’s not worry about that and just say goodbye to Terminal C and the small piece of history that dies with it.

Happy 4th of July to all the Americans reading here. (Thanks for screwing that one up, King George III!) I’ll be back here again on Tuesday.

[Photo via Wikimedia Commons]

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29 Comments on "San Jose Closes Up Shop on Terminal C"

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SirWired
Guest
I fly to SJC several times a year, and I’m not the least bit nostalgic for the old terminal. For a city the size of San Jose, that airport was a disgrace. Terminal C was dingy and appears to have been designed before there was security at all, since some gates had NO services besides a bathroom and a couple of vending machines once you were scanned. Airstairs? To board a 757? In the 21st century? Terminal A went down the toilet when the hub was closed, and it was never designed for flyers originating in SJC. Luggage claim was… Read more »
tking18
Guest

Terminal C will be missed, not for its facilities (which were lacking), but by the fact that it was one of the 2 major airports that I know of (KOA is the other one) where PAX boarded by airstairs. It was always nice to see the size of the giant 757 or 767 that you were boarding.

MartyNearDFW
Guest
I love old airports. Your home airport, Cranky, LGB is one of my faves. I love the character and charm of the old main terminal and I’m kinda sad AA doesn’t fly there any more. SJC is a decent airport — I’ve flown through there several times. I’m sorry I never had the chance to fly through Terminal C there. Speaking of old airports, did you know that the old terminal for Meigs Field (CGX) in Chicago is still there? It’s part of the Chicago Parks Department now and it’s open to the public. Not much in there except a… Read more »
Brian Lusk
Guest
The first time I boarded a flight out of SKC was in the late 1970s, and the set up reminded my of Stillwater, Ok. In Stillwater, you checked in at the ticket counter and then went to a hold room behind the counter. That’s what we did on Continental. My own airline at the time, Delta, had ticket counter space on the curb side of the lobby like a rental car counter with no connection to the rampside. Because of that, United handled bag check and the ramp/gates. What we were told back then was that the city had a… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Brain, years and years and years ago SJC was like that. You boarded/arrived from an area behind the ticket counter.

Oliver
Guest

Dude, the 4th of July is on Sunday, not Monday. Has Cranky Enterprises turned into such a big company that it’s workers get a comp day for the holiday falling on a weekend day? ;)

Eric
Guest
I feel ya on the loss of the last ‘old skool’ terminal in the USA (SMF being a runner up). Yes…there was nothing like clearing that trainwreck called security at 0600 after a 9 hour min layover….and when they were the test location for that air poof machine body scanner on the far left side lol. Then schlepping my bags to the LAST gate at the end of the concourse to navigate red ropes to the airstairs…for my long morning climb to the door of the Bus. How there were not more ground incursions on that ramp is simply amazing…given… Read more »
Paul Robichaux
Guest

As a San Jose resident, I’m sooo glad to see terminal C go. It always reminded me of the old Smith terminal at DTW. I won’t miss its “character”, its poor layout, or its dirt.

A
Guest

Wasn’t Austin, TX able to build a brand new airport with relative ease in the mid-90’s, for a city of about the same size of San Jose?

I too don’t understand the excessive costs and long lead times to get new terminals built. Of course there are challenges to construction on an already operating terminal, but SJC is no ORD or ATL in terms of traffic.

MeanMeosh
Guest

Big difference at AUS, though – they “built” the new terminal out of the defunct Bergstrom Air Force Base. A lot of the infrastructure was already there, and just had to be spruced up.

PJ Fiske
Member

WOW! An old terminal FULL of airline history. PSA, Air Cal, TWA (among others)…so long terminal C. Thanks for the memories! C ya.

Bill Hough
Guest

Here are some shots from the last arrival and departure from Terminal C:
http://myaviation.net/?pid=01805086
http://myaviation.net/?pid=01805090
http://myaviation.net/?pid=01805093

David SF eastbay
Member
I kind of like using stairs to board/deplane, at least on nice days. Remember the days planes used their own build in stairs? I remember those Air California/AirCal 737’s landing and a little door would open below the main door and the stairs would slide out and drop down. Then a ramp worker would flip up the side rails and go up and open the cabin door and extend the safety rail at the top. That and PSA with it’s 727’s would drop the rear stairs for loading and unloading. Both those events seem to long ago, but were more… Read more »
Brian in Holland
Guest
I’ve passed through San Jose just once; I remember it for its bad signage. I found no signs indicating how to get to other terminals; I eventually learned from an idle TSA employee that one was meant to go to Ground Transportation, which labeled not only rental cars, hotel shuttles, etc., but also a poorly marked curbside spot to wait for a shuttle to the other terminal. How should pax know there’s a shuttle, or that they’re not meant to walk? Of course, if you arrived in terminal C it stood to reason that there were at least TWO other… Read more »
SirWired
Guest
I have nothing against the idea of airstairs. In a nice, small airport in some tropical location, with a long, unhurried boarding process, they’re fine. In SJC, with acres of toasty tarmac, and screaming APUs from the crowded jets, they weren’t the least bit charming. I’ve been in small airports with terminals that are a relic of the 50’s that I rather liked. SJC C was just old, dingy, crowded, and disorganized; not a single charming thing about it. And don’t get me started about the fact that the moron who designed the airport roadways made sure you had to… Read more »
Oliver
Guest

Regarding the roadways, I think it wasn’t considered a major problem when we were still all using horse buggies to get to the airport.

James Williams
Guest

SJC was old but the experience of boarding with air stairs was awesome. Boarding from both ends cut 10mins off boarding time and it was nice to be on the tarmac and take it all in. I don’t have any of the misgivings of other commenters are I usually took mid-day or red-eye flights from SJC.

It wasn’t designed for security but I never spent more than 5 mins there.

I had no idea that my trip last week was going to be my last out of C.

BJ
Guest
It is interesting that many low cost airlines now want to board with airstairs only as it improves turn around times. They also try to get power in/power out which requires large apron real estate. Have a look at what AirAsia does at KLIA! My point, that I’m slowly getting around to, is that SJC seems to have missed it’s market somewhat. Build what is practical and cost effective – not some shining symbol to times of the past. Most true low cost carriers would not fly in to somewhere charging $16 a pax. Their model is built on volume… Read more »
Doug Swalen
Guest
Sorry Brett, but whatever charm Terminal C had it lost decades ago. Using stairs to get on a plane isn’t enough reason to keep an over the hill way past its prime terminal open. In the 70s, sure the SJC was a charming airport. You could walk onto the tarmac and into the control tower if you were flying out on general aviation aircraft. I did once. Hell you could even go to the south end of the airport and hang out at the old yellow terminal and have lunch or something. Plane spotters could turn the corner off Coleman… Read more »
Bill Hough
Guest
Several comments on Doug’s post: “They walled off the old observation deck twenty or more years ago.” The old deck was reduced in size by the 1969 expansion to the south, but the deck itself remained open till the end. Unfortunately, when security was consolidated a couple of years back, in late 2007 or early 2008, you had to be a ticketed pax to access it. “The fenced off the old spotting grounds.” True, stupid, but beside the point. You can still park in the SJSU lot and watch the planes. Unfortunately, the airport wants to redevelop that area so… Read more »
Anon
Guest

If you really are at Gate 17, wouldn’t it be a shorter walk to go from Terminal A?

ferrelled
Member

Ah SJC Terminal C. Thanks for bringing back the memories. Parking the car right in front of the terminal for a 1 1/2 minute walk to the ticket counter with a wait of what, two or three people. And up the stairs. And, on the return, picking up the luggage from that odd, off-to-the-side luggage claim area. Weird. But fun.

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