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A Quiet Revolution is Happening Inside SFO Terminals

Airport program hopes to make travel more relaxing by reducing background noise in terminals

As travelers return to the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), changes in the airport experience – resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – will be immediately visible, such as mandatory facial covering, physical distancing markers, clear protective barriers and hand sanitizer stations. But another change, in the works since before the pandemic, might be less obvious: SFO terminals are going quiet.

Under a program known as “Quiet Airport,” SFO staff have been actively working to make air travel less stressful by reducing the amount of background noise that travelers are exposed to inside the terminals.

“We’ve invested a great deal in making the airport experience at SFO more relaxing and enjoyable,” said Airport Director Ivar C. Satero. “Every step of our passengers’ journey, from curbside to airplane, needs to support that effort. With our Quiet Airport program, we’re creating something unique and unexpected, by tackling an issue that might be less obvious, but just as impactful to how people feel when they spend time at SFO."

Launched in 2018, the Quiet Airport program began with the creation of new policies for airport tenants to limit sound footprints and establish guidelines around the use of music in tenant spaces. The following year, the SFO Customer Care team realigned where public address announcements would be made, to ensure that audio paging for passengers would be made only in necessary and relevant areas.

Since March 2020, SFO staff have been working with airlines to discontinue the practice of having all gate announcements for a departing flight broadcast throughout the entire terminal. Instead, airlines now make boarding announcements only in the relevant gate and adjacent area. Other announcements, such as calls for final boarding or gate changes, are handed over to the SFO communications staff for targeted broadcast on behalf of the airline.

The result is a significant decrease in unnecessary noise for passengers, with a 40% reduction in announcements at aircraft departure gate seating areas. In the International Terminal alone, SFO Customer Care staff estimate that more than 90 minutes of unnecessary announcements have been eliminated each day. The team will continue to focus on reducing sources of unwanted background noise, including items such as moving walkways and escalators.