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San Francisco sues Oakland over ‘hasty and unnecessary’ airport renaming

Two individuals at an airport hold hands behind a queue barrier, one with colorful socks, the other with a suitcase.
San Francisco filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday, alleging Oakland is violating trademark law. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Following through on its promise, San Francisco filed a lawsuit against Oakland in federal court on Thursday, alleging the city violated trademark law when it changed the name of its airport earlier this month.

Last Thursday, Port of Oakland Commissioners unanimously voted to change Metropolitan Oakland International Airport to San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport. 

The tweak, they claim, will help boost service and help advertise the airport’s proximity to San Francisco Bay.

Days before the vote, however, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu warned Oakland that it could face a legal challenge if the name change was approved. In addition to a trademark issue, Chiu asserted the new name may confuse travelers, especially those who do not speak or read English.

The 39-page lawsuit calls Oakland’s name change “hasty and unnecessary” and claims it “ignores [San Francisco International Airport’s] longstanding protected mark, brand, and identity.” 

In a statement, Chiu wrote that he had “hoped Oakland would come to its senses” in light of his legal threats.

“This new name will cause confusion and chaos for travelers, which will damage the travel industry for the entire region,” he wrote, pointing out that a Portuguese company, Azores Airlines, had already started using Oakland’s new moniker. 

The image shows an airline's booking webpage with a scenic backdrop and a promotional offer from Oakland to Azores.
Azores Airlines’ homepage has already started using Oakland’s new airport name San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport as referenced in a San Francisco's lawsuit. | Source: Screen capture

“We want to see the entire Bay Area thrive as a tourist destination and expand our offerings to visitors, but the renaming is not a legal or practical way to go about it,” Chiu said. 

SFO Director Ivar C. Satero joined Chiu on Thursday in support of the lawsuit, calling Oakland’s decision “detrimental” to the passenger experience. Mayor London Breed has also spoken out against Oakland’s move, saying that the city didn’t need to make the change to have its airport stand out.

In an interview on Thursday, Port of Oakland spokesperson Robert Bernardo said "no one can deny the geographic fact that Oakland is in the San Francisco Bay."

He added, "We trust that our travelers understand the San Francisco Bay Area has more than one airport."

At the port commissioner’s meeting last week, officials pushed back against claims that Oakland was infringing on San Francisco’s name—and that the change could help shine a light on an airport that’s long been in the shadow of SFO.

"This is really not about San Francisco," said Danny Wan, executive director of the East Bay city's port, during the meeting. "We’re not trying to confuse people. We’re not trying to copy them."

The airport will still use OAK as its three-letter code, and a second reading is required by port commissioners to make the name change official. The change is expected to cost about $150,000. Oakland’s airport is roughly 20 miles from downtown San Francisco, while SFO is about 15 miles south of downtown.

In the run-up to the decision, Oakland’s port conducted polling that showed broad support for the move. The results showed over half of Oakland and East Bay residents comfortable with the name change—while about two-thirds said they were in support after reviewing information showing how the new title could benefit the airport.