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San Francisco is suing Oakland to prevent it from changing the name of its airport


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A traveler walks through baggage claim in Terminal 2 at Oakland International Airport on April 12.

San Francisco

San Francisco is suing its neighbor across the bay over a plan to change the name of Oakland’s airport.

Earlier this month, Port of Oakland commissioners voted unanimously to change the name of Oakland International Airport to “San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport.”

“The feedback we’re getting (from airlines) … is that because there’s a lack of brand awareness … it’s difficult to sell tickets domestically,” said Danny Wan, executive director of the Port of Oakland. “People don’t know that Oakland is on San Francisco Bay. That has been one of the Achilles heels of our marketing.”

The new name would not change the airport’s three-letter identifier, OAK.

San Francisco filed suit in federal court on Thursday asking the court to block Oakland from using the name, claiming that Oakland intends to “intentionally and knowingly profit from confusion.”

The City of San Francisco owns a trademark on ‘San Francisco International Airport’, commonly referred to by the three-letter code SFO.

SF Mayor: Oakland ‘has its own unique identity’

San Francisco Mayor London Breed also joined in. “(Oakland) is rich in culture and great people and has its own unique identity. It does not need the San Francisco name as part of the airport to stand out,” she wrote in a letter to the Port of Oakland.

Wan dismissed the idea that the new name would cause confusion.

“There are many, many airports that have a similar or common city or geographic identifier in their title… And yet airlines have figured out how to do that. Airports have figured out how to do that. Passengers have discovered how to do that.”

An attorney for the Port of Oakland, Mary Richardson, told CNN that “San Francisco’s lawsuit is disappointing. OAK’s proposed name change does not infringe on the SFO brand. We will vigorously defend our right to claim our place on San Francisco Bay. We stand up for Oakland and our East Bay community.”

At least one airline has already started using the new name.

Azores Airlines, which flies from Oakland to Terceira Island in the Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, now lists OAK under its proposed new name.

United Airlines, which has more than 40% of the market at SFO according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, told CNN it opposes the proposed name change.

A representative for the airline said: “The name change could cause confusion and inconvenience for many travelers unfamiliar with the region, and could lead to problems such as passengers accidentally booking travel to the wrong airport.”

Southwest, which has an 82% market share in Oakland, said in a news release with the Port that it “strongly supports this rebranding that recognizes OAK’s economic position and influence in the San Francisco Bay area while remaining true to his roots in Oakland. Southwest did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Final approval for the name change is subject to a second vote by the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners on May 9.

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