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Air traffic noise increasing

Original post made by Tired of the Noise? on Jul 1, 2012

Am I the only one noticing an increase in air traffic noise from SFO? SFO noise abatement doesn't seem to include Palo Alto. Anyone interested in sending a message from the community asking that this be addressed?

Comments (27)

Posted by yesterday, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I heard a plane yesterday. Was that related to the soccer game?
Can't recall any others in the past few months.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Yes - to be sure, this problem gets discussed periodically.
Here on this forum I think this is the 3rd time it has come up to my recollection, with puzzled residents like yourself (an me) noticing a CHANGE -- an unpleasant one -- and then responses from a few vociferous defenders of airplanesin general who resent any commentary or perceived criticism(pilots, obviously -- whether private or commercial, hard to say) telling us to lay off and shut up. If you have double-paned windows then you sometimes don't notice it as much until you are outside and get puzzled by that noise.
I have to say I appreciate having airplaces, they are a great invention, and don't suggest returning to the stone ages (as pilot defenders have seemingly mocked me in past on this forum) though I personally distinguish a bit between commercial aircraft flying multiple persons vs. private aircraft with joy riders, who have the complete leisure to make choices to affect fewer vs. greater people. We live in modern times, we all get that.
Even so, there are times when one gets the definite sense we are being targeted as a low-level, noisy flyover (or perhaps, a particular noisy aircraft type -- like what -- is the giant overseas Airbus --A380?? -- coming in from Australia once per day over the Pacific and coming over us before turning up the bay?? Who knows??)
My personal theory - over quite a few yrs living here and in a neighboring community - is that they route lower altitude arrival patterns over people until they complain a lot. Another thing is air travel DOES change, flights change seasonally and according to mergers/acquisitions of airlines, the economy, ticket prices, and so on. When the complaints mount up sufficiently to have attracted a lot of attention, then they re-route a bit. I am not involved with aviation, so I am sure some private pilots will scornfully reprimand me, but this is my belief based on evidence and my experience.
So, I am with you - what is that ph # again (up at SFO, I seem to recall) to leave a message? Perhaps we can try to make a difference.
I do NOT like the idea that our extremely costly Palo Alto residences be lowered in value owing to the eyesore and noise of low-level noisy aircraft frequently flying over on the way to WHATEVER airport. There are options and other possible routes. Fly over highways, the garbarge dumps, open land, lower cost industrial areas.


Posted by weather, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Another issue is weather patterns (fog, wind, temperature). Weather can change flight routes, perhaps bringing airplanes closer to the shoreline instead of their normal routes over the bay. Also, wind direction can make the planes sound louder even when they are following their normal routes.

Supposedly, global warming is causing a long term trend of stronger north winds in the Bay Area, which means cooler, less humid air around here. I suppose that can make noise travel longer distances, too.


Posted by Don't like the noise, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Planes above Palo Alto have been a problem since some time in the late 80s or 90s when San Mateo communities, not liking the airplane noise above their heads struck a deal with the airport to have (mostly landing) airplanes rerouted over Palo Alto. It does get really bad, especially in bad weather and especially in summer (more flights?).

I too think that airplanes are a great mode of transportation but I also feel that having bought a house far from SFO there is no reason we should get more of the airplanes and their noise over our heads than do people who knowingly bought in San Mateo county, closer to the airport. Yet, that's what we get.

Personally, I almost want to leave Palo Alto because of it, and I might do it after my kids are done with school here.


Posted by Too much noise, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm

SFO is not the only problem. In south-east Palo Alto - Charleston Gardens we continually get helicopters flying low right over our heads, they come from Moffett Field. They are CHP and media copters.

When I flew into SJO from Reno we circled the entire field, flew over South PA and came into land from the north side. Not all planes are heading for SFO. Also, the GOOGLE fleet takes off and lands at Moffett right over south PA.

Yes, plane noise is much worse because we don't have the clout Atherton does when it comes to negotiating flight paths.


Posted by Don't like the noise, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm

@ Too much noise

It seems that planes landing into SJC from the north must not be the usual pattern, although i'm sure it happens.

Google does not have a whole fleet of planes out of Moffett Field. I am aware of just a couple of them (I have not ties with Google). It's not that many flights. Major airports are more of an issue. In truth, I'd rather have Google at Moffett Field than have Moffett Field become a full fledged public airport... or worse cargo airport...

As to helicopters they can be annoying too. But it seems to me jet airplanes are more numerous and regular.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm

I have been saying this or years. it is bad enough, in fact I think too much during the day, but it is late at night when they really can get by with it because by the time people wake up to the sound it is fading away.

I think the do it because they save gas at low altitudes and there is no way to complain or monitor them.

I am up very late/early most nights and there are some nights when the whole house shakes.

What is the channel for sending complaints, I'd sign a petition or complain somewhere if I could.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 1, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Glad to know I'm not the only one noticing the noise. Here is a link to SFO noise abatement: Web Link

It includes a way to track flights and provides info on altitude, speed, airline and flight number (with 10 minute delay). It also provides a way to complain -- I submitted a complaint last night. when I looked on the tracking map, there were consistently 5-10 commercial flights lining up and going over Palo Alto -- at MIDNIGHT. I continued to check until about 1am -- still lots of flights. Although a few were departures, those flew north from the airport; those going over Palo Alto were all arrivals. It seems they could move a bit east and fly over the water rather than straight over the peninsula. Hopefully complaining will help.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 1, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Glad to know I'm not the only one noticing the noise. Here is a link to SFO noise abatement: Web Link

It includes a way to track flights and provides info on altitude, speed, airline and flight number (with 10 minute delay). It also provides a way to complain -- I submitted a complaint last night. when I looked on the tracking map, there were consistently 5-10 commercial flights lining up and going over Palo Alto -- at MIDNIGHT. I continued to check until about 1am -- still lots of flights. Although a few were departures, those flew north from the airport; those going over Palo Alto were all arrivals. It seems they could move a bit east and fly over the water rather than straight over the peninsula. Hopefully complaining will help.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm

This topic does re-occur in summer time, every year or so. I don't know if the noise is increasing or not; someone suggested at one point that it comes up because people are spending more time in their yards. In any case, it is interesting to see it come back again. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Here are a few instances:

Jet Airplane Noise in Palo Alto July 2007
Web Link

SFO Airport Noise In Palo Alto Getting Worse Aug 2008
Web Link

Increase in air traffic? May 2009
Web Link


Posted by Ronnie, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Point of clarification:
The A380 is the largest thing flying, but it is exceptionally quiet in my personal observation. Lufthansa is flying it. It arrives around lunchtime from Frankfurt. From the ground it pretty much looks like a 747 with "fatter" wings. During the winter, they swap it for a 747 I believe.

I definitely won't attack anyone for being concerned about this issue, but I think people don't always realize how complex landing hundreds of jets per day in changing weather and air traffic conditions is. You've got airspace for San Jose, Oakland and SFO all rather close together. Air tickets are already expensive enough, and think of how much you'd have to add if they had to spend extra fuel on "threading a needle" through unpopulated areas.

We all have "our things." So, I don't blame the original poster. My thing is off-leash dogs. I get irritated by that! Some people don't care about that. That's life.


Posted by Don't like the noise, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm

@ Ronnie

What has me riled up is that years ago most of those SFO flights were passing above San Mateo county but they were rerouted above Santa Clara County (and off course Palo Alto) 20 years ago or so, after SFO and San Mateo COunty struck a deal for airplane noise abatement.

What fair about getting more here planes so that other communities get less? Especially communities where people settled knowing full well they would be closer to SFO than others, like us, are.


Posted by Ronnie, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I'm a relative newcomer to the area, so I'm not familiar with this noise abatement deal with San Mateo.

I would say that many parts of SM County do get plenty of noise. I used to live in San Mateo right over by the Bridgepointe Center (Mimi's Cafe, Target, etc), and we got a lot of noise all day when the planes were on the 28L approach - and of course you'd have that pretty much from Redwood Shores on up through Foster City and all the way to the airport. On takeoff, many flights fly the runway heading northwest over San Bruno then Daly City.

Many flights vector over the Woodside VOR, then head to Palo Alto where they begin their "base turn" for 28 L/R. Due to how high and fast they are going they sometimes turn over different points. You do get noise from that, but they are going slower and using less power. Sometimes they are turning right over midtown, sometimes over north Palo Alto.

When its cloudy, especially during the winter, you will often see planes really low over Palo Alto - they are not SFO bound, they are actually flying to San Jose - they come in low under the clouds, head north past SJC, fly over palo alto, then make a big 180 degree turn (towards the bay) and head back south to line up with the SJC runway. That does make a lot of noise and its kind of scary. I was on a flight that did that once, and everyone onboard was really confused.

I grew up in the Chicago area, about 7 miles from ORD, and let me tell ya, that was way worse! The good news is that new planes are definitely a lot quieter than the older ones.

Keep fightin' the good fight!


Posted by Don't like the noise, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 2, 2012 at 8:40 pm

@ Ronnie,

Since you are a newcome, I will repeat to you that around the early 90s there was an agreement between San Mateo County and SFO to reduce (and I never said eliminate) airplane noise from SFO inbound and departing jets over San Mateo County. If you don't believe me, here is an article mentioning it:

Web Link

Before the rerouting happened Palo Alto was much quieter although it did, at the time, get some military traffic (P3s) from Moffett Field, but only during the daytime.

Again, I think that it was an unfair deal. I know that personally, when I moved to Palo Alto from San Francisco in 1990, I had investigated airplane noise in the area because I am sensitive to it and did not want too much of it. One reason we had for moving to Palo Alto specifically was because we wanted to avoid airplane noise. Of course, after we moved the rerouting happened.

Let me add that choosing to live 7 miles from an airport (as you did in Chicago) is quite different from choosing to live some 20 miles from the airport. I did not choose to live 7 miles away from SFO.

The bottom line is I'll probably move away from Palo Alto (in large part because of airplanes) in two years, when my last child has graduated from high school. We will move even farther away from SFO and other major airports.

Good for you if airplane noise does not bother you. I does me. And at the end of the day, I will always feel there is no fairness involved when rerouting airplane noise from near the airport to further away from the airport.


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

@Don't like the noise -- checked your link and found it very interesting that Palo Alto was second only to Daly City in complaints about the noise. These data are airplane noise complaints to SFO from May 2011:

Brisbane: 78
Daly City: 315
Foster City: 5
Half Moon Bay: 1
Hillsborough: 2
Menlo Park: 2
Oakland: 5
Pacifica: 77
Palo Alto: 245
San Bruno: 5
San Francisco: 14
South San Francisco: 8
Total: 757




Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2012 at 7:59 pm

You guys realize that the problem we have with noise from late arrivals is because SFO often times gets reduced to one runway for arrivals when there's semi-low visibility, which, by the way, happens a lot.

SFO needs a new runway so there's enough separation between the 28R and 28L so they can use current technology to land even when SFO is socked in by fog. Unfortunately the NIMBYs and greenies here won't let that happen.

So, blame the folks who won't let a new runway be built for the late night noise. And if you're one of those folks who hindered SFO from getting a new runway when it was last considered in 2000, well, you got what you wanted.


Posted by Don't like the noise, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 4, 2012 at 1:02 pm

@ Neighbor from Greenmeadow

I agree with you that those statistics are interesting. There is a problem with planes above Palo Alto when in one month the airport gets 245 noise complaints from this city, second only to Daly City in the whole area. It does illustrate the harm done here by the rerouting of jets that used to fly above San Mateo County.

Something ought to be done about this situation, whatever it takes.


Posted by Stats?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I looked at the noise complaint dataset at www.flyquietsfo.com Web Link

The data looks a little different than described above. For all of 2012 (through May), there were 3877 complaints from 261 callers (that seems a little odd - there are some instances where 1 caller seems responsible for dozens of complaints). Palo Alto accounted for 208 complaints - about 5% of the total. They came from 7 callers (see what I mean?). In January, there were 147; that dropped to 9 in April and 0 in May.

Not sure what that all tells us, but I think the data bears some further examining before reaching conclusions.


Posted by Dreamer, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I think that some of the loud noise that I am hearing is in and out of Moffett Field - yesterday afternoon something landed that was so big/loud that several car alarms in the neighborhood went off.


Posted by Anything better to do?, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:54 am

Towns in the direct path:
San Bruno: 5
Millbrae: 0?
Burlingame: 0?
San Mateo: 0?
Foster City: 5
Belmont: 0?
San Colas: 0?
RWC: 0?
Atherton: 0?
Menlo Park: 2

Town below "the turn" over MP -

Palo Alto: 245
What a joke.

I was walking along the shore in Foster City yesterday, just south of the bridge. Wow. You can almost reach up and touch the planes. Spent a night in San Mateo last week, windows open, and you can hear the roar when they go full power to take off. Loud enough that you can almost feel the low end of the roar go through you, many, many miles away from SFO.

PA noise? A bunch of whiners.


Posted by Wilson, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

This problem has been around for a while. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to quantify it in ways that can demonstrate the problem. We have the technology to measure noise--yet we don't. (Meaning the City of Palo Alto does not perform these measurements.) We, as residents, don't get together, and fund a consulting house to measure this noise for us. It is not a difficult problem to do--all we have to do is put some dollars on the problem.

Given that the City government is out-of-control, it's not clear what will cause them to make these measurements. Maybe the City Council could force the issue--but these folks are only interested in furthering the goals of the special interests that got them elected.

Self-governance is a failure in this town. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.


Posted by Too much noise, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Ronnie agrees with me: "they are not SFO bound, they are actually flying to San Jose - they come in low under the clouds, head north past SJC, fly over palo alto, then make a big 180 degree turn (towards the bay) and head back south to line up with the SJC runway"

I'm glad someone else agrees with me about planes coming over south Palo Alto and turning to land at SJ0 because I was in one of those planes.

They seems to line up over south Palo Alto along with planes that turn north to SFO. I can see them, some turn left, go up the Bay to SFO and some turn right and land at SJO over the south Bay.

So far as south Palo Alto is concerned we have a problem with two commercial airports with planes lining up in what looks like a joint landing pattern right over us, some turn left to SFO, some turn right to SJO.


Posted by call city hall, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm

just like they come in over menlo and turn north, yet no one whines much in other towns

call city hall


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Perhaps they don't whine as much because they've had to put up with it so long that they've finally given up? Or, it was obvious when they moved in, so they bought with their eyes wide open? The aircraft noise factor has changed significantly in Palo Alto, most likely as a result of the agreement with San Mateo County -- lived here for years without noticing anything but the small planes buzzing overhead on their way to PA airport. As one person pointed out, the numbers don't always tell the whole story.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jul 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Buses make noise and trains make noise so just let's shut them all down. You want to travel somewhere then just walk - quietly of course.


Posted by Concerned Resident, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 12, 2013 at 2:38 am

It's after 2 in the morning and I just as just woken up by an airplane landing ( or taking off). WHY ARE THEY FLYING AT THIS HOUR OUT OF PALO ALTO AIRPORT ANYWAY?!!!!!!!!!


Posted by Still noisy, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2013 at 8:28 pm

The thing is, many of these planes make a 120 or 180 degree turn over midtown. Essentially a U-turn. So they stay over midtown longer than most of the other areas they fly over.

Are planes louder when they turn? They are from inside.


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