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Oakland just changed its airport name. San Francisco is pissed

Passengers in a waiting area with a blue airplane outside the window and mountains in the backdrop.
Metropolitan Oakland International Airport will become San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Oakland officials have approved changing the name of the city’s airport to San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport, a controversial move that is ruffling feathers with its neighbor across the water and could set up a fierce legal battle.

Port of Oakland commissioners gave the official thumbs up in a unanimous vote on Thursday, doing away with the Metropolitan Oakland International Airport moniker to better advertise, in their view, the travel hub’s proximity to the San Francisco Bay and bring in more service.

The site’s three-letter code, OAK, will stay the same.

"This is to boost Oakland," said Danny Wan, executive director of the East Bay city's port, during Thursday's meeting. "This is to bring more business to Oakland."

Port spokesperson Robert Bernardo said the name change must go through a second reading among the commissioners for it to be officially implemented.

But the simple name swap, which is expected to cost $150,000 in operating expenses, could carry legal penalties. 

Mayor London Breed talks with City Attorney David Chiu.
Both Mayor London Breed and City Attorney David Chiu are pushing back against the Oakland airport name change. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

On Monday, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said the city would sue to block the name change.

In a letter, Chiu argued that it would infringe on the trademark of San Francisco International Airport and confuse travelers, especially those coming from abroad.

"While the proposed new name is very likely to cause confusion and mistakes broadly, the problem will be particularly acute for an audience of international travelers who may not speak or read English," Chiu wrote. 

Mayor London Breed also called out Oakland’s move, saying the city should try to improve its airport instead of using San Francisco’s name.

"[Oakland] does not need the name San Francisco as part of its airport to stand out," Breed wrote in a letter to Oakland Port Commission President Barbara Leslie.

But the Port of Oakland's Wan pushed back on those claims on Thursday.

"This is really not about San Francisco," he said. "We’re not trying to confuse people. We’re not trying to copy them."

In a statement on Thursday, City Attorney Chiu wrote, “We are disappointed that Oakland did not take the opportunity to work collaboratively with us to develop alternative names and to avoid litigation. We will have further updates in the coming days.”

A spokesperson with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Oakland port officials conducted polling that shows over half of Oakland residents and the broader East Bay are comfortable with the name change. About two-thirds said they were in support after reviewing information about how the action could improve demand and bring more flights to the airport.

The survey was conducted in 2023 with over 1,400 East Bay registered voters.

“The airline industry is perceived as being reluctant to sustain certain new routes and destinations to and from OAK, in large part based on the lack of awareness of OAK’s geographic advantages and the centrality of Oakland to the San Francisco Bay by air travelers residing outside of the local region,” a memo from Thursday’s name change vote reads.

This week, The Standard turned to readers to crowdsource names for Oakland’s airport. The ideas included names like, “Raiders Airport of Las Vegas in California,” “Brokeland International,” “No Sports San Francisco Bay Area International Airport,” “The Athletics-Raiders-Warriors Departure Field” and finally, “The There's No There There International Airport,” a nod to Gertrude Stein.