Getting around San Francisco International Airport
January 31, 2008 4:16 PM   Subscribe

I need some San Francisco Airport help, ASAP!

I just talked to my dad, who's in Beijing and supposed to fly into San Francisco tomorrow. My dad's sort of a control freak when it comes to airports, and he likes to know his way around them, since he travels a lot on business, usually changing planes on a hurry.

Anyway, he's worried because he has no idea on how to get from the international terminal where he'll arrive (United 888, Beijing - San Francisco), to the terminal where he'll get on a plane to Houston (Continental 1536, San Francisco - Houston). He's also a bit worried about making it on time (2 hour difference between one plane arrives and the other one leaves), as he has to clear customs (we're mexican) and he's carrying two pieces of luggage (he's used to a small carry-on).

So, anyone who knows their way around SFO, please help.
posted by CrazyLemonade to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
The info I have so far is:

United 888, Arrival
San Francisco, CA (SFO)
Fri, Feb 1
Scheduled: 8:54 AM
Estimated: 8:54 AM
Reason: --
Gate: INTL
Baggage claim: --

Continental 1536, Departs
City: San Francisco, CA (SFO)
Check-in Terminal: Terminal 1
Scheduled Time: 10:50 a.m.
Estimated Time: 10:50 a.m.
Scheduled Date: Fri., Feb. 1, 2008
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:18 PM on January 31, 2008

Ah, I don't know SFO by heart, but it's a really simple airport to get around in my experience.

He'll arrive in the international terminal. When he's ready to get to Terminal 1, all he needs to do is go UP!! As far as he can go. I think it'll be level 3. Anyway there's a free Tram that goes to all terminals up there - a red line and a blue line.

The International Terminal has the BART station and some parking lots on one side, and Terminal 3 on the other side. I've never been past Terminal 3, but it's like a 2 minute Tram ride from the International Terminal to Terminal 3....soooo....I can't imagine it would be too long to get to Terminal 1.

So yeah. Just tell him to go up the stairs/escalator to the top, and take the Airport Tram to Terminal 1.
posted by Squee at 4:31 PM on January 31, 2008

Customs in SFO is fairly efficient compared to many other places. The only holdup is usualy waiting for your luggage. He should be fine unless the plane is severely delayed.

Here's a map of SFO.

Once he exits customs he'll be at the front (bottom of that map) of the International terminal on the lower level. He walks left as he exits and follows the signs to Terminal 3.

There is an Air Shuttle at SFO but I strongly advise not to take it. Walking will get you there much faster. As I recall Continental is one of the first counters as you enter Terminal 3.
posted by vacapinta at 4:31 PM on January 31, 2008

SFO is a small airport - it's not like LAX or anything, and stuff is very close together. Continental is in terminal 1. Here is a map of the airport. There's a people-mover (a train) that takes people from one terminal to another (scroll down a little for the AirTrain info). Two hours is tight, but doable if Customs/Immigration doesn't give him a hard time.

Or what vacapinta said. (darn you fast typists!)
posted by rtha at 4:32 PM on January 31, 2008

Oops, I meant Terminal 1 where I said Terminal 3. everything else stands.
posted by vacapinta at 4:34 PM on January 31, 2008

International terminal is G, continental is Domestic terminal 1. the airtrain is a free shuttle that runs frequently in a loop throughout the airport, so that transfer should be easy as long as he takes the RED line.

no idea how to estimate customs and baggage arrival time before that happens though, my feeling is 2 hours will be just right.
posted by flaneuse at 4:34 PM on January 31, 2008

There's a light rail that goes around the airport in a loop. If I'm remembering correctly, all the international flights are in one terminal, and all the domestic flights are in another. All he needs to do is take the rail over. There are plenty of maps around.

Airports are hellish, but he should be fine with two hours. Good luck!
posted by svolix at 4:35 PM on January 31, 2008

Unless he gets totally bogged down at customs, this will be a breeze.

Vacapinta's instructions are perfect, including his addendum that Continental is in Terminal 1 (terminal 3 is mostly United).
posted by jasper411 at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2008

I pick up people arriving internationally at SFO on a fairly regular basis, and most days it's about 45 minutes from the plane landing to clearing customs. That will leave him over an hour to take the AirTrain over to his connecting terminal.

Barring weirdness at customs, he should be fine.
posted by tkolar at 5:33 PM on January 31, 2008

Ok thanks everyone, I'll email this info to my dad. Hey, does anyone know if he'll be able to see the map of the airport on his Blackberry?
posted by CrazyLemonade at 5:36 PM on January 31, 2008

He probably won't be able to see the interactive Flash map on the Blackberry, but if he can browse the web he can see this map. It's really quite simple though, and there are lots of maps posted around the airport.
posted by zachlipton at 6:17 PM on January 31, 2008

I just came through customs at SFO two days ago (coming from Japan). In my case I go through the citizen's line but the scene was generally very sane and both lines seemed to be moving quickly. It was about 20 minutes from me leaving my plane to getting through immigration. My bag was waiting for me at the carousel.

One thing I did notice is that it looked like they were doing more customs checks than I recall seeing before - and most of the people pulled aside were Asians (not necessarily a profiling thing - there were two flights from Asia arriving at the same time so mathematically it made sense). So he might want to be prepared for that as something that could happen. But those also seemed to be moving well and everyone was very friendly.

After customs he will go to the left to access connecting flights. Two hours should be plenty of time, enough even for a bathroom break and to pick up some water. Remind him that he will have to go through security again after he checks in for the domestic flight leg.
posted by marylynn at 6:22 PM on January 31, 2008

It may comfort your dad to know that SFO iflights often have late departures - roughly a quarter of the flights leave late. During peak times it's closer to half the flights leave late.

Two hours for scheduled time in SFO could easily be two and half or three hours. (This from a girl who spent 10 hours at SFO last week.)
posted by 26.2 at 9:55 PM on January 31, 2008

There is an Air Shuttle at SFO but I strongly advise not to take it. Walking will get you there much faster.

I definitely agree with this.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2008

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