There’s been a lot of hype of San Francisco’s new $383 million, 640,000-square-foot T2, and rightly so. T2 is equally shared by American Airlines and Virgin America; both airlines control seven gates each. They each have about thirty departures a day (31 and 34, respectively), and both airlines hosted a sneak-preview day for media a couple weeks ago. The journalists arrived in style, either on an American Airlines 1930s DC-3 or in a Virgin America A320 with Sir Richard Branson aboard–I hear the highlight was seeing Branson’s Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo spaceship flying alongside as all three buzzed the Golden Gate Bridge before arriving at the new terminal. Sadly, I couldn’t make those festivities due to prior engagements (Canadian Media Marketplace), but both airlines flew me in (and out) separately.
GOOD TO KNOW: SFO (FlySFO.com) provides nonstop service to more than 65 U.S. cities on 21 domestic airlines and to 32 international points on 27 international carriers.
Arriving at SFO’s T2
When I stepped off the jetway after deplaning the Virgin America flight from Los Angeles, the first thing that caught my attention was the smell–it was the same scent as a brand-new car. It was a very welcoming treat, and that’s before I saw the terminal’s soft curves, natural light, and all its offerings. As many of you know my favorite airport in the world is Hong Kong International, so when I spotted a uniformed Cathay Pacific pilot walking off the plane with me, I asked him what his impression was of this new terminal. He said he’s already been in it a couple times and he’s very impressed, which in turn impressed me.
Welcome To San Francisco
When you follow the exit signs and go down the escalators toward baggage claim, you are greeted by a Welcome to San Francisco sign, recently hand-signed by mayor Edwin M. Lee.
The baggage claim area still has the low ceilings of the original 1954 building, but there’s no sign of the past here. Everything is bright and shiny with colorful signs.
Animal Relief Area
One sign that caught my attention walking out of the building was the Animal Relief Area. Dog lovers are going to love this–I’m not sure how the pets will feel, though, because it was so clean it didn’t look used.
AirTrain to BART
The cheapest way into the city (besides getting a friend to pick you up) is taking BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). To get to the airport’s BART station, just follow the BART signs. On the top floor of T2 is the free AirTrain, which will drop you off after about a five-minute ride at the BART station. It cost me $8.10 to go from the airport to the city’s last stop (Embarcadero). Note: A taxi is roughly $40 to the city center.
On my tour of T2 with American Airlines’ awesome SFO general manager Denise Marrs, I learned that American (and the other airlines) stopped charging the $2 for curbside check-in back in 2008. How did I miss that announcement? I think many others did too, since most curbside check-in has little or no wait, including at SFO. If you are checking bags, you might as well do it curbside.
When I returned to SFO via BART/AirTrain from my night in the city, I entered T2 from the third floor, where there is a good-size departure board with an elevator directly behind it and escalators to each side. To the left is American Airlines’ check-in area, and to the right is Virgin America’s. What surprised me most is that the area wasn’t as big as I imagined. But Denise said that’s because fewer and fewer passengers are using agents these days to check in–especially in tech-savvy San Francisco. Most passengers check in online.
In the check-in area there’s no retail. The only place to get a newspaper or something to eat or drink is a Starbucks, which is next to the American Airlines check-in and before security. What you will find at both airlines’ check-in areas are some cool wing-shaped lights.
One of the best attributes of T2 is how green it is, and what better place to have a green airport than San Francisco? “T2 is the nation’s first terminal renovation built to LEED Gold specifications. The original goal was LEED Silver, but the project team worked very hard to exceed that. We managed to recycle 93 percent of our construction waste, diverting more than 18,500 tons from our landfills,” said Turner Construction senior vice president Michael O’Brien.
T2’s design elements include:
-Contractors recycled 90 percent of construction debris from T2.
-Sustainable Building Materials, including terrazzo flooring with recycled glass chips, recycled-content carpet, and innovative and efficient use of structural steel.
-Natural Light: Skylights bring daylight into the ticketing lobby and retail areas, providing a healthier work environment, while significantly reducing electricity requirements during daylight hours.
-Cleaner Air: An innovative displacement ventilation system uses filtered air to improve indoor air quality, while using 20 percent less energy.
-Car-Free Connection: T2 connects to BART via SFO’s AirTrain people-mover system, so that travelers and employees alike can easily go from airport to city on mass transit.
-Zero-Waste: Waste stations replace traditional garbage cans with easy-to-use compartments for composting, recyclables, and trash.
-Locally Grown: Local, organic food vendors, offer wholesome food grown and prepared in a healthful manner.
-Water Conservation: A dual plumbing system allows for reclaimed water from SFO’s water treatment facility to be used for toilets and other uses throughout the airport. Moreover, T2’s plumbing fixtures use 40 percent less water than typical fixtures.
-Paperless Ticketing: A paperless ticketing system throughout the terminal increases efficiency and saves trees.
-Reclaimed water reuse program.
-Use of “Greenguard” certified woods and USGS-approved furniture sourcing.
-Lighting is 35 percent more efficient than California Energy Codes, with night/day motion sensors.
-Energy-efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation with occupancy sensors.
-All of Virgin America’s computers and office equipment are 100 percent EnergyStar certified.
-Use of low-emitting VOC paints, coatings, and building products.
-Air filtered by the top-quality filtration system in the base building.
-SFO requires ongoing source separation of all recyclable solid waste to enable attainment of 75 percent recycling by 2010 and 90 percent by 2020.
-Preferential parking for hybrid cars.
My favorite part of the new terminal, which surely will score high with eco lovers and budget-minded consumers, is the Hydration Stations. Near security, instead of a trash can where you have to throw away your full or empty water bottle, they have a drain. Simply empty your bottle there (after you chug as much of it as you can), and then once through security go over to one of the special tap-water hydration stations and fill it back up. The water tastes pretty good and it’s from the “pristine Sierra snowmelt.”
I went through security twice on Tuesday, since I took a tour and then left to meet with Virgin America. What’s interesting is that SFO’s security (Covenant Aviation Security, under the guidance of TSA) said they have now been instructed to ask each passengers his or her last name, which is a smart Israeli security tactic, but it’s not clear if the TSA will take this on themselves or not. What drives me crazy about the TSA is that their rules are not consistent–not only between different airports but even between terminals.
Once through security, you are in a place the airport calls the “recompose” area. Turner Construction and Gensler Design created it to reinvent the airport user experience for the modern traveler. The recompose area is a calming space with cushioned ottomans to allow passengers a quiet and unhurried place to reassemble their clothing and carry-on items. You certainly won’t miss the three original ceiling installations called Every Beating Second, created by American artist Janet Echelman. Echelman is known for reshaping urban airspace with monumental, fluidly moving sculpture that responds to environmental forces including wind, water, and sunlight.
Speaking of T2’s artwork, besides Echelman’s work you will find dozens of art works by local and international artists. The five permanent new public art works commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission for T2 include: Norie Sato’s Air Over Under; Kendall Buster‘s Topography; and Echelman’s Every Beating Second. There are also a couple pieces that you will see a couple slides from now that are in the children’s play area. Note: Some of the art exhibits have cell phone-accessible narrations of the works by guides.
What I’ve always loved about SFO for as long as I can remember visiting are their terminal art exhibits. They are all presented by the SFO Museum, and the current one in T2 is titled “A Century of Silver and Metalwork from the Margo Grant Walsh Collection,” which will be on display through October 2, 2011.
Children’s Play Area
T2 has two unique children’s play areas, both with original artwork that double as play pieces by Bay Area artists Walter Kitundu and Charles Sowers. One features Charles Sowers’s Butterfly Wall and the other is Walter Kintundu’s Bay Area Bird Encounters.
American’s Admirals Club SFO
The only lounge in T2 is American’s Admirals Club. At 9,400 square feet it’s nearly double the size of their old club in T3, and it seats 165 people versus 90. It’s also a whole lot sweeter. Walking in feels like entering the lobby of a five-star hotel. There’s a fire roaring, and a sitting area with–get this– fake trees. There’s also comfortable seats, a mini business center, friendly agents, free Wi-Fi, plenty of electrical outlets, a stylish bar, free snacks, and two showers. On top of all of that it’s environmentally friendly, and is the first Admirals Club with LEED Silver certification. FYI: If you do not have a membership to the Admirals Club, you can still get a day pass for the club for only $50.
SFO T2 Dining
T2 has 21 concession locations with 29,909 square feet of retail development. The Dining & Shopping Marketplace was inspired by San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building: The restaurants and retailers are some of the best in the Bay Area, all focusing on locally sourced, organic offerings. Vendors include: Andale, Cat Cora, Lark Creek Grill, Napa Farms, Burger Joint & Vino Volo, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, The Plant Café Organic, and Pinkberry. It’s the first airport dining program in the nation to recruit Slow Food vendors and requires the use of compostable utensils and containers.
SFO T2 Shops
The retail shops include: I-Tech X-perience, Kiehl’s, Mango, Mosaic Fine Art and Craft Gallery, Natalie’s Candy Jar, Greetings From SF. Pacific Outfitters, SFO News Express, Sunset News, and XpresSpa.
SFO T2 Wi-Fi & Power Outlets
While touring the Admirals Club I learned there’s free Wi-Fi in the whole terminal. In the club there’s no time limit, but in T2 users have up to 45 minutes free. What’s also nice is there are more than 350 power outlets all over T2, so there’s no vying to find one. T2 also has work-oriented counter seating and laptop work tables.
SFO T2 Gate Area
The biggest surprise you will find in the gate area is the club-like lounge seating featuring the stylish egg chairs designed by Denmark’s Fritz Hansen. We had one of these chairs growing up, so I’m particularly biased toward them.
SFO T2 Bathrooms
One of the first photos I took of T2 was of the bathroom sign, which I loved. Inside you will find touchless soap dispensers and water faucets along with Dyson high-speed dryers. Note: The Admirals Club doesn’t offer the touchless stuff, so they need to work on that–it’s the only thing I found that needed improvement in the whole terminal (besides my cell service).
United Airlines Three Colors
This is totally random, but when I stepped off the AirTrain I spotted three United airplanes with each of their three latest paint jobs, including their newest one after the merger with Continental. Pretty good shot, eh?
Virgin America Headquarters
Virgin America is very active on Twitter, and since they saw my tweets that I was touring T2, they invited me to tour their headquarters as well. Within minutes they sent Katie and Jessica from the marketing department to pick me up and drive me the 10 minutes to their Burlingame office. As you probably know, Virgin America is the only airline headquartered in California, and they launched in August 2007. What’s cool is that not only is their terminal LEED® Gold certified, but their corporate headquarters is LEED® Silver certified too. I met with Jesse McMillin, design director, who created the office’s Virgin wall of fame. One of the neatest things he did was name their conference rooms after letters in the pilot’s alphabet (info). Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the control center, which had a room filled with people staring at their computers. The wall in front had a live map of all the Virgin planes and their current positions, their schedules, and a feed to the news just to make sure they are the first to hear about any incidents.
I debated whether to spend another night in S.F. to see friends, but since I had so much work to do, and my bags were stored inside the Admirals Club, I figured I might as well go home. I grabbed some chicken tacos ($10.50) to go from Andale inside T2 and hopped on an earlier flight to LAX (AA was kind enough to allow me to change for free). The gate agent asked if I wanted a middle seat exit row or an aisle in the second-to-last row. I hate the back of the plane since it’s the bumpiest, so I chose the middle exit row. I thought I made a huge mistake when two big dudes sat down on either side of me, but I noticed a whole vacant exit row across the aisle in front of me. Score! Some passengers must’ve missed their connection, so their loss was my gain.
The Parking Spot
Since I only went up to San Francisco for the night, I parked at LAX. I usually park at Park One since they are the most convenient, but I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t feel like paying top dollar. I had a 20 percent off coupon for The Parking Spot, which has two locations at LAX. I parked at the Sepulveda one not only because it’s closer to my house but because it’s right next to In-N-Out Burger (they even have a sign in their parking garage pointing travelers toward it). If you are willing to park in the uncovered area up on the roof it’s just $13.95 a day–$5 cheaper than being in the covered lot. There’s no elevator on the top floor, so keep in mind you will need to walk down a level, but there is good plane spotting from up there. What was neat was when we were landing, I spotted my car from the air. Too cool! Oh–what I also like about The Parking Spot is you never have to wait too long for one of their shuttles, and they give customers free bottled water.
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