San Francisco Shuffles Its Gate Numbers

SFO - San Francisco

If you flew through San Francisco (SFO) yesterday, you may have noticed things looked a bit different. No, no. It’s not that the planes can actually run on time when there’s a cloud in the sky. (I mean, please.) The big change is cosmetic. All gates changed their numbers. Nothing like a good gate shuffle to get the blood pumping.

The old system of numbering at SFO was to use straight-up numbers increasing in a counter-clockwise manner. Gate numbers started in Terminal 1 and then topped out with gate 90 in Terminal 3. This has been somewhat problematic for awhile.

When the International Terminal opened in 2000, those gates numbers took on a modified numbering system. They still had numbers that fit into the overall system, but now they added the concourse letter in front. At least, that’s what happened officially.

When I flew JetBlue up to SFO in May of this year, I landed at gate A11B. Not all airlines used the letters however. United flight 837 took off from gate 97, or so United said, on Tuesday. That’s technically gate G97, but United didn’t bother with the letter.

The opening of the the new Terminal 1 had to be the catalyst for the change. The old twin banjo concourse in Terminal 1 (the non-Delta gates) had 22 gates numbered from 20 up through 38 (using A/B as needed). The Delta gates began at 40. But the new concourse has 28 gates. They could have just gone crazier with the A/B designations, or they could re-number everything. They chose the latter.

As of yesterday, every single gate at SFO has officially been re-numbered. Now, the terminals become somewhat irrelevant and instead, it’s the concourses that matter more. As was the case in the International Terminal before, each gate will start with the letter of the concourse. But instead of having the numbers increase around the circle, each concourse will now start with gate 1. Here’s the map with before-and-after numbering.

A1-15 (International Terminal) – Alaska (Intl), Frontier, Hawaiian, Sun Country, and several International carriers
The old A gates are the closest to their original numbering, but this re-numbering allowed SFO to get rid of the A/B designators so it’s sequential throughout that concourse. As an aside, I would imagine that the remainder of the domestic airlines will move into B once that work is done.

B1-27 (Terminal 1) – JetBlue and Southwest
The new concourse in Terminal 1 never had old gate numbers, since, well, it’s new. But these B gates replace the old gates 20-38. Note that all those in red have yet to open.

C1-10 (Terminal 1) – Delta
Delta’s gates are due to eventually be re-done, but for now, they just get a number change. Eventually there will be one new gate added to C (technically between B and C) once the construction is done.

D1-18 (Terminal 2) – Alaska and American
This is the old international terminal that was re-done as Virgin America’s home. It will eventually become all Alaska’s, I believe, and American will move into Terminal 1.

E1-13 (Terminal 3) – United
These are the old gates in the 60s that American used to use before moving into Terminal 2. After American moved out, United moved in and fixed the place up. This will also include 70/71A/71B.

F1-22 (Terminal 3) – United
The meat of United’s operation is concentrated here in what used to be gates 72-90.

G1-14 (Terminal 3) – United (Intl), its partners, and some international cats and dogs
United continues to use the G gates, but the gates now have lower numbers than they did in the old days. For example, G92 is now G1.

This seems like a lot of effort, but will there be enough benefit? I’d think it probably is worthwhile. After all, the use of A/B designators got somewhat out-of-control as they tried to shoehorn the number of gates they had into a fixed set of numbers. I count more than 30 in the old system, including a couple of C gates. Those are ALMOST all gone. Inexplicably, gate 73A becomes F3A, the only one to use that in the entire airport.

This change also eliminates some of the quirks of the old numbering system. For example, 72 and 81 were about as close to each other as 72 and 71B or 76A and 81. A change in the first number made people think it was a different terminal (as is the case in Los Angeles) even though it wasn’t. So this should reduce confusion.

This is similar to what Honolulu did last year, and in an environment where the number and location of gates can change, it does make sense. There is more flexibility when you start with the concourse, because then you can have up to 99 gates without needing to re-number. And there is no chance any concourse is going to have 99 gates.

I’m sure it’s been disorienting for travelers who didn’t realize the change was coming, but as with everything else, people will eventually get used to the new system.

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23 comments on “San Francisco Shuffles Its Gate Numbers

  1. It’s going to mess with those of us who are SFO-based and have grown to know and love(?) the old system.

    For everyone else, it makes a lot more sense, and we will eventually figure it out.

  2. F3 and F3A make sense because they share a gate area and even the initial, fixed part of the air bridge, with a soft barrier down the middle.

  3. F3 and F3A use the same boarding door from the concourse, but the jetbridge splits to two separate aircraft parking stands.

  4. The map shows a gate 13 in concourses A, B, E, F, G but not in concourse D. Curious. Wonder what Alaska had to do with the omission of gate 13 in its concourse. Or is it a map error? (Also no gate 13 in concourse C, but that concourse has only 11 gates.)

  5. Does LAX have any plans to make a future gate numbering change like this? It’s the other US airport I can think of with full sequential numbering.

    1. Jimmy – No plans that I’m aware of, and there’s really no need at this point. They don’t have letter concourses anyway, so this would require a whole re-numbering/lettering of Terminals as well. Effectively, the terminal number is the first digit with the exception of Bradley which is in the 100s. They re-numbered Terminal 1 a couple years back to start at 10, so the new Concourse 0 will be 1-9. Then the new Terminal 9 can have gates in the 90 range.

      1. It is the airport that has terminals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and… Tom Bradley, so consistency may not be their big thing.

  6. “There is no chance any concourse is going to have 99 gates.”

    DEN Concourse B says hello. It won’t have 99, but it’ll be close after the newest expansion!

    1. On that note: The signs for the concourses in the train and directional guides at DEN now just say:

      Gates A1- A99,
      Gates B1- B99, etc,

      so they never have to change the signage as they expand. But to an outsider, “Wow 300 gates”

  7. After finishing the Terminal 1 upgrades, SFO should connect Terminal 2 and 3 airside. Then the entire airport would be connected airside (albeit in a horseshoe). It would be great to breeze through Pre-Check at Int’l G, stop in the AMEX lounge at terminal 3, then be able to catch my flight in terminal 2 – all without re-clearing security.

    1. Eh…that’s like me flying United out of LAX at T8 and going to Bradley’s “secret” TSA screening spot where there’s almost never a line and then hanging out at the Star Alliance lounge before going all the way down to T8 to get my flight. Sure it’s a nice experience…but it’s a lot of walking. Though to be fair the distance between G and T2 behind security at SFO would be like 1/3 the distance between Bradley and T8 currently is with the idiotic underground passages they have because they don’t want to have modern decent connectors between T4 and 5 and 5 and 6.

  8. Makes far more sense.

    And water in disposable plastic water bottles are availability in precisely none of the concourses – before or after the renumbering, no?. THAT is uniquely SFO.

    1. Don’t worry. Others will in due time adopt it when they realize there are no reports of travelers dying of dehydration in the boarding areas of SFO ;) It’s not the first time San Francisco is paving the way for progress.

  9. The map doesn’t show it, but oddly enough it looks like the old gate 84A/B/C/D is now F13K/L/M/N. (This is a gate with a single jetway that leads to a set of stairs and four RJ parking spots.)

  10. This is very much nitpicking, but the one thing that bugs me about the new numbering scheme is how the “neck” of Terminal 2 is numbered.

    I’m fine with parts of terminals that only have gets on one side of the internal area having sequentially numbered against (instead of mostly even numbered gates on one side of the terminal hall and mostly odd numbered gates on the other side), but when a part of a terminal has gates almost directly across the hall from each other and they aren’t similar in number, it sets off my OCD and confuses me. In this case, while I can understand the logic (Terminal 2 is basically a pod with a tail, or a stubby tadpole), having gates D1 & D2 directly across from gates D16, D17, and D18 really bothers me.

  11. Curious why airports use letters so phonetically similar in scenarios like this (“did she say B or C or G?”) Why not A, C, F, H, M?

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