On Sunday I embarked on my first flights since the COVID-19 pandemic started months ago. I went from thinking I might be able to enjoy a quick trip to Europe at the end of March (LOL) to canceling the couple trips we had planned this spring. It’s been a long three months of no travel, but I finally broke the stay-at-home streak.
My flights to Tucson took me through SFO. There were more people than I anticipated on the Arcata to San Francisco segment (I counted 21), and I kinda expected SFO to maybe be a bit busier than I’d initially imagined it would be. That was a poor guess. Terminal 3 was the quietest I’ve ever seen it. And it was so weird.
An Eerie Layover at SFO Terminal 3
I’ve been through San Francisco International Airport many times. More often than not I pass through Terminal 3, which is where United flights are located at this hub airport.
We parked in Concourse F, at the end of the shorter arm. I’ve boarded at this gate a few times headed home, so it was no surprise we deplaned here. Heading up the stairs, I was greeted by a quiet terminal. This is normally the quietest corner of Terminal 3, but there was hardly anyone. Aside from staff and those of us stepping off the plane, there were maybe 10 people in the entire area.
The Concourse F center food court area was even more depressing. It was like a ghost town compared to the normal hum. There were all of two food kiosks open: Ladle & Leaf and Green Beans Coffee Co. Nothing else. I would encounter a sign further along in the terminal detailing the handful of vendors open. It is depressingly few.
I made my way to Concourse E, but there was literally nothing to eat besides Burger King (which had a gigantic 6-foot-spaced line). I backtracked all the way to Ladle & Leaf where the line was shorter to grab something to eat .
Concourse E was just as empty as Concourse F. I’ve only boarded out of here a handful of times, but it’s a nice spot with good views out the end of the concourse. There were a few gates with upcoming flights, and maybe 50-60 people in the entire wing of the terminal waiting. This is far fewer than one would expect.
Literally everything was closed. There are normally a couple options for sit-down dining, but since that isn’t allowed in most of California right now, everything is shuttered. Not to mention it might not even be worth opening with so few passengers.
There was some activity at my gate and the one beyond since both had flights that would soon be boarding. Load factors were light, though (ironically, this E175 flight to Tucson had more passengers than our flight two years ago). There were still plenty of seats. Middle seats in each set of three had stickers encouraging people to keep their distance.
I walked around a few other areas of the Terminal before arriving at the gate just in time to board. At least one United Club in Terminal 3 and one in the International Terminal are operating, however. The Club near Concourse E was still closed. Almost everything is closed. The entire wing of the terminal leading to the Centurion lounge and International Terminal G is quieter than I’ve ever seen it.
Both Priority Pass restaurants in Terminal 3 are closed as well, which should not be a surprise. Yankee Pier was my favorite of the two when I had access.
SFO was about what I expected it to be, but it was so strange to see in person. Oddly, this was even the *best* travel day we’ve had since we hit a low point back in April, based on the official TSA numbers. This past Sunday 253,807 travelers cleared TSA checkpoints. Contrast this with the 2.62 million people who flew on the same weekday last year. Sundays are normally peak days, but there was nothing peak about traveling during the pandemic.
I fully expect travel to pick up as more and more states ease restrictions and more people are willing to take to the skies. It’ll be a slow progression, as many are unwilling to fly in the near term. But it’s still possible we see a decent summer travel season, at least domestically. But who knows…some European countries are starting to open up in June. It’ll be nice to see SFO, and other airports, return to normalcy.
Have you flown in the past couple months? What was your experience?