New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

Mock up of the new Boarding Area E which opens Jan 28. Click for larger view (Photo: Gensler)

Mock up of the new Boarding Area E which opens Jan 28. Click for larger view (Photo: Gensler)

Last week TravelSkills snagged an exclusive hard hat tour of the new Boarding Area E at United’s Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport.

As you can tell from my slideshow photos, there’s still quite a lot to do before the new $138 million, 65,000 sq ft space opens in late January.

Here’s what you need to know:

The expansion of the corridor connecting E to F is where a new United Club will be located

The expansion of the corridor connecting E to F (pink) is where a new United Club will be located

>First, for a little background: United’s Terminal 3 consists of boarding areas E and F. Boarding Area F is currently in use. Boarding Area E housed American Airline’s operations until it moved into Terminal 2 in 2011. After closing, Boarding Area E was stripped to the studs and then rebuilt slightly larger (one gate added, for a total of 10).

>The new Boarding Area E will open on Tuesday, January 28th say airport officials and the design-build team of Hensel Phelps and Gensler.

>If you are a fan of SFO’s popular new Terminal 2 (housing Virgin America and American), you’ll likely enjoy the new Boarding Area E.

>Like T2, the space will be bathed in natural light, plenty of art, local concessions and modern, functional furnishings. Unlike T2, the color palette will be warm, with plenty of earth tones like tan, gold, brown, yellow and olive green. Other familiar sights will be water bottle filling stations and a yoga room.

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>Bathrooms are large, and like much of the terminal, sheathed in local Heath subway tiles, which are handmade in Marin County. Bathrooms have windows out to the ramp, and also include dressing rooms where passengers can change clothes.

>Three of SFO’s most valuable works of art (by Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Bechtle and Robert Torlakson) will be displayed prominently along the main corridor of the boarding area.


>Similar to T2, the new space will be saturated in public wi-fi nodes ensuring fast, free connections, plus there will be plenty of tabletop workspace and electrical outlets galore.

Looking out the big picture window toward runways at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out the big picture window toward runways at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

>Unlike the windows in Terminal 2 which are covered in tiny spots (called “frit”) to block heat and glare from the sun, most windows in this space only have it near the top… which makes for much better runway views. Airplane and airport nerds will geek out over the huge 25-foot-wide picture window at the north end of the concourse, which will offer some of the best views of taxiing aircraft anywhere at the SFO.

>Some familiar brands will be back as concessions: Mission Bar & Grill, Klein’s Deli, Dogpatch Café. There’s a special space set aside for small businesses (without the means to sign long term leases) to show their wares. For the first year, these “pop up” spaces will be occupied by a Berkeley art dealer and a purveyor of wine country olive oil.

>Terminal 3 East, the concourse used to access Boarding Area E (between the street and the terminal) is also going through a total revamp. However, this phase of the project will not be totally complete until summer 2015, which means passengers departing and arriving in the new board area will be walking through a construction zone for the next year or so. An airport spokesman told TravelSkills: “During the concourse renovation, passengers will be able to easily connect between Boarding Areas E and F through a temporary passageway, featuring contemporary finishes and varied seating options to enhance the passenger journey.”


>When Boarding Area E opens on January 28th, departing passengers will continue to use the current ticketing counters and security entry points. From there, they’ll have to take quite a long walk (500-900 feet depending on which checkpoint you use) to the entry of Boarding Area E. Eventually (no exact dates yet), passengers will be able to enter Terminal 3 from a new eight-lane security checkpoint near boarding Area E.

>United’s flights that currently operate out of Terminal 1 will move to Terminal 3 between February and May. (Currently, passengers checking in at Terminal 3, but with flights departing United Terminal 1, must take shuttle buses under the airport to get to their flights.) Boarding area E will be used for United’s mainline flights—United Express flights will use Boarding Area F.

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Site of the new United Club adjacent to Boarding Area E (Chris McGinnis)

Site of the new United Club adjacent to Boarding Area E (Chris McGinnis)

>A new United Club will open (estimated summer 2015) in the newly expanded concourse area that connects Boarding Area E with the rest of Terminal 3. (See diagram above.) However, construction has not begun, so it’s going to be a while. In the meantime, United Club members will be able to use a temporary United Club located on the mezzanine level between the current main security checkpoint and Boarding Area E. (This vacant space was a previous Red Carpet Club if anyone can remember back that far…United says that renovation of the space should begin soon, and should open by May 2014.)

>Around October 2014, United’s Premier security checkpoint will move from the far western end of the terminal to the center of it… adjacent to the current main security checkpoint, which means shorter walks to flights departing Boarding Area E.


Chris McGinnis 


And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance


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  • Pingback: First look inside United's new terminal at SFO - The BAT()

  • John R. Grout

    Are the “local concessions” at Terminal 2 (and the new part of Terminal 3) bid? If they are, how transparent is the process? Is there room for choices to be based on political and/or financial “considerations”? Why is The City’s quasi-pagan zealotry for super low energy consumption and organic cookery relevant to the operation of a critical regional facility? As a San Mateo County resident, I want to see a regional takeover of SFO that removes the airport and its operation from The City’s clutches and shoves its venal politics and esoteric dietary and environmental rituals back where they belong… north of the San Mateo-San Francisco County line.

  • bayareascott

    UAX will leave from 76-79 primarily, which is where the Shuttle used to run from.

  • bayareascott

    The current gates 68-69 will be gone, as there are 68-69 as part of E. The current 70-71 will remain.

  • Pingback: SFO Boarding Area E Open House - FlyerTalk Forums()

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thanks, Stephen and welcome to The BAT! We love having you here and look forward to hearing more of you comments…. regular travelers like you are some of our best sources, so keep us posted on what you are seeing and hearing out there. And be sure to tell all your friends to sign up for The BAT! — chris

  • Stephen

    I am a new BAT reader — thanks very much for this update. I fly United from SFO at least a couple times a month and have been watching the construction progress with great interest when we taxi by the site. Glad to know there will be a new central Premier security set-up as well as a new United Club. Looking forward to this all opening.

  • David Elliott Lewis, Ph.D.

    So much missed potential. For a space that will give foreign travelers their first impression of the Bay Area, I was hoping for a more impressive design. The plain vanilla and pedestrian architecture looks like another uninspired example of 1960s modernism. We could do so much better. For examples of what I am talking about, look at any new airport in Europe or even places like Dubai.

  • Chris McGinnis
  • John Adrouny

    Chris, are any of the other existing terminals slated for remodel/revamp after Terminal 3/Boarding Area E? Terminal 1 (especially Boarding Area B) is in need of some serious upgrades.

  • Chris McGinnis

    Hey Matt: I mean that F will be used for both mainline and Express flights… E will be for mainline only. Thanks for reading and commenting on The BAT! Be sure and tell all your friends about it!

  • Matt

    Chris, do you mean that United Express flights will leave from Terminal E, and mainline from F? Terminal F seems awfully big for those little planes…

  • Brad

    Great tour! I love the Heath tiles — way to support a local company!

  • flybizz777

    Great sneak peak! like any new airports around the world large panoramic windows!

  • Chris McGinnis

    Hi Don: I believe the the United Club will only take up part of that space (the concourse area between F and E is about 500 feet) so there will likely still planes docking along there…

  • Don

    The mock-up shows planes parked between E and F (I think this was where Air Canada used to have its gates). I take it this means that the new United Club is only going to take up a portion of the concourse expansion (the pink area on your map)? Or did the plans change and there are no longer going to be gates between E and F? Looking forward to new Boarding Area E.

  • Chris McGinnis

    I doubt it, Debbie! SFO is focused on local local local so you’ll likely see Blue Bottle before you’d see that stuff from SEA! — chris

  • Tim_Dick

    Probably a more local shop or like Peet’s

  • Debbie

    Any chance there be a Starbucks somewhere past security in Terminal 3? Please please?

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thanks! Centurion lounge will be located above current Premier security checkpoint area…scroll down to post about that… cheers, chris

  • sfomsp

    Great tour – fascinating the flip flop going on for the United Club space. Any news on where the rumored Centurion Lounge will be located – is it going to be above the concourse? Doesn’t appear to be a true upper level at the entrance.

    And hoping Boarding Area F stays relatively unchanged. Still a bit nostalgic about that one – it’s the terminal I flew out of as a kid when it was relatively new. Like those remaining touches like the orange gate signs!