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Do you notice airplane noise?

Original post made by Anon., Crescent Park, on Dec 18, 2009

It was not until I started working on a different shift and staying away way into the night that I started to notice that there is almost constant and very loud airplane noise over at leaset my neighborhood of Palo Alto, the Crescent Park area.

This was a year or two ago. I mentioned it to people, but most people do not seem to realize it and I did not either until I was actually up and heard it when it happened.

I think when one is asleep and a loud noise like that happens, it works its way into your consciousness and you wake up, sometimes all the way, but by the time you do you really do not know why, and it may be that you only come out of a very deep sleep and then whatever caused it is gone. Now I believe on a normal night we get passed over 1 to 3 times sometimes loud enough to rattle windows according to my neighbor.

If you scout the web you can see all kinds of studies about correlations of bad sleep and health effects, noise from airplanes and bad sleep, and airplane noise directly contributing to bad health.

What I'm hoping to find out from you is:

1) Do other people notice, perceive this? Have you noticed yourself waking up at night and not knowing why, or is your sleep disrupted?

2) Is this a problem for you? Would it be if you were aware that your sleep patterns and health were being affected by airplane noise?

3) What at airplanes doing flying over Palo Alto anyway, why can't they detour into the mountains or over the bay, or fly higher?

4) Does anyone know what the relevant regulations or laws are on this. I'm assuming many of these flights are from Asia coming in with large planes and flying very low. I do not recall this before maybe the last 5+ years, and I believe it is a problem and not right. I also expect there are regulations that are not being observed or enforced in order to save gas or time for airlines and it is the wrong decision to allow this to continue.

Comments (25)

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Posted by Noise Complaints
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2009 at 1:46 pm

What do you propose to do about flights over Palo Alto coming into SFO, SJO and Moffett? Join the Noise Abatement Society?

Go into "View Live Radar Flight Tracks at SFO" you will see that only a few flight come over Palo Alto. There are many more fights that come in further north on the Peninsula.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2009 at 2:18 pm

to answer your question "3) What at airplanes doing flying over Palo Alto anyway, why can't they detour into the mountains or over the bay, or fly higher?"

san mateo county has a flight noise regulation that forces planes to fly south along the mountain ridge in san mateo county and then they descend and turn towards the bay when they reach palo alto in santa clara county - which does not have a flight noise regulation.

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Posted by Midtown anon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2009 at 4:37 pm

I have definitely noticed it. However, it's not entirely new. It has been very bad off and on over the 20 years I have lived in Palo Alto. Right now it is quite bad. There was a plane last night that was way over tolerable noise levels (around 11 PM as you mention)

Cloudy/foggy/rainy weather seems to worsen the traffic and noise. I believe that airplanes fly lower over Palo Alto in overcast weather.

San Mateo communities years ago banded together and negotiated with the airport to have airplane corridors modified so as to reduce noise over San Mateo county. As a result planes were sent to do their U-turn into SFO over Palo Alto.

I wish Palo Alto citizens were more sensitive to this airplane problem. Unfortunately, many Palo Altans are like "Noise Complaints" above and think everything is fine...

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I wouldn't say everything is "fine", but, on average, the planes are a lot less noisy than they were 30 years ago when I moved to my current house. The planes are less noisy, and, they spend a lot less time in low-altitude holding patterns above PA than they used to. Better planes and better Air Traffic Management. So, considering the airport is exactly where it was when I moved here, and it is better now than it was, I don't plan to complain. If I were to complain about something, it would be noise from 101. The sound barriers reflect the sound in such a way that it is sometimes very loud at my house, several miles from 101. The sound barriers should not be vertical, but rather, at a 45 degree angle.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 18, 2009 at 8:20 pm

If you noticed it more in inclement weather, the noise is due to changes in runway patterns. Instead of aircraft approaching SFO via a turn over Palo Alto, they are taking off and using more power.

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Posted by TC
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2009 at 11:49 am

In the Winter aircraft noise reflects off the clouds and fog so they're noisier.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 20, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Those who seem to say that everything is fine or better that it was are smoking something.

I have lived in Palo Altp since 1969, and I know what I'm talking about. I never used to wake up in the middle of the night because of airplane noise, let alone notice windows and house rattling and vibrating. Airplanes are not less noisy now than they were 30 years ago, at least as heard from the ground, that's absurd.

These big jets are not just once in a while, it is virtually every night, often two or three, but at least one every night is what I notice.

Also, I first started mentioning this to neighbors in the middle of the summer.

There is a problem, and the people who are contradicting me are either uninformed, do not care, the type who thinks anyone who ever thinks or complains about anything is just a whiner and they have to be sure to try to show as much contempt for them and the idea of any regulation of anyone as they can, or they just flat do not know what they are talking about.

I think it should be the cities job to measure airplane noise, as they do the triangulations for gunshots, they have microphones placed around the area ... why can't they measure and classify ambient airplane noise, and then report to Palo Alto residents what it is?

Then, when it shows up to be over the limits, we figure out what to do about it, or enforcing existing limits, because what is going on in Palo Alto regarding noise is not right.

Imagine if a little more and better quality sleep helped some of our children handle their lives and problems a little better so they did not feel they had no hope ... scientist are finding out that good sleep could be just that critical.

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Posted by homeowner
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 20, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Maybe some people don't want to discuss this noise topic, because if they do and they decide to sell their home, then this becomes disclosable info to any potential buyers. Oh, no - Palo Alto has a "noise problem" from aircraft.
We have double-paned windows here and that helps a great deal with any noise, like 101, train, airplanes. Therefore, I can't comment on this idea that commercial flights over PA have increased or become more bothersome - and this certainly sounds bothersome.
I do recall selling our previous home in Sunnyvale. It had always been quiet when right when we put our home on the market, commercial flights were suddenly flying noisy and low over Sunnyvale! I could look right up and SEE a new flight pattern! This was a new thing, but the real estate agent insisted on our disclosing it. I thought it would likely be temporary, and neighbors could verify that this was a new noise, and nothing particular to our neighborhood. Nonetheless, it angered me that now we had to disclose this as if we lived in a bad area.
I think they re-route commercial aircraft away from areas where they are receiving complaints, to areas where people are not complaining.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm

"homeowner" ... i think you are right that there is a primarily political, greedy interest here, and one of the the only thing that overrides that in my book is people's health.

I have never seen planes flying so low over this area until he last few years, and it may be by some noise measurement they acceptable or even less, but I remember airplane a long time ago being high and mostly high frequency white noise, whereas these days the sounds are lower, and often vibrations, perhaps in a different frequency of the spectrum or averaged in such a way as to nominally "seem" less, but in reality there is more effect to be measured or noticed.

If this is hitting homeowners in the pocketbook, or affect sale-prices, then that is one more reason to be able to measure this ... the city ought to do things like this by default. Our leaders do not seem to want to look at providing more and moving forward, just making it seem like we are maintaining what we "had" without provoking anything that might cost their benefactors money.

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Posted by Noise Complaints
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2009 at 9:50 am

All you souls who are griping about 'plane noise on the blogs, why don't you do something about it? See if the City will sponsor you to sit on the "Noise Abatement Committee" for SFO. In the past other Palo Alto residents have been apointed.

Just sitting there complaining on the blogs won't change a thing, so go DO something about it.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Actually, noise reductions since the early 1960's turbojets to new aircraft today are at least 14 dB-- a major reduction. In addition, flight patterns around airports have changed to reduce maximum noise levels even more. In addition to that, changes in air traffic control have resulted in significant reductions in the number of aircraft in holding patterns. Overall, peak noise levels are down significantly. It may be, of course, that some folks are noticing more aircraft at specific times that were quiet before-- aircraft arrivals and departures are a bit more spread out than they used to be, so, there are probably aircraft operating during what was once "quiet time" that some folks may have noticed.

I'm not saying I like aircraft noise, but, yes, actually, aircraft are much quieter than in the 1960's.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm

"Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighorhood", I think your statistics are wrong or misleading. How they measure the noise and when is very suspect. I'll bet during the 60's there were not so many trans-Pacific flights that got in during the early night/morning hours, and the spectrum of that noise is not being accounted for. Did you read some of the comments here? A lot of instruments to measure noise were not even so common back then.

I cannot speak about the 60's, but during the 70's I never noticed airplanes rattling our windows at night as I do these days, and often more than once during the night. Have you ever actually heard a plane flying over your house in the middle of the night? I'll bet you partially wake up most nights and never realize why because by the time you reach consciousness the sound is gone, but your sleep is interrupted.


"Noise Complaints", how would one go about gettting the city to sponsor them to sit on the Noise Abatement Committe for SFO, I have never even heard of such a thing?

By the way "noise complaints" I really resent your BS attitude for using the word "gripe" ... from the dictionary gripe means" to complain naggingly or constantly; grumble.". This is the first time I have ever mentioned airplane noise in a public forum, I am hardly nagging, or constantly grumbling. Your insincere attempt to villify me and others for bringing up what I think is an important quality of life, economic and health issue is noted. Think about what you are saying and how you say it in the future please.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 23, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I don't live in Palo Alto, but visiting Christmas lane today I notice Palo Alto is directly below the SFO approach. The aircraft turn over Mountain View and Sunnyvale and their heading is straight over El Camino. From there, they must head over the bay. I hear/see more rouge military jets over lower Woodside than passenger jets.

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Posted by Sleepless
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm

The posters who note that the main southern approach to SFO is directly over Palo Alto are correct. (On the SFO flight tracks website mentioned above, one can display the tracks of all aircraft in the bay area on a map. There is a very significant and solid red line over Palo Alto showing that a heavy concentration of flights is right over our city - at all hours of the day and night as some above have noted.)

It is also true that several years ago (5?) San Mateo County cities negotiated a deal with SFO that keeps flights over most cities at altitudes above 10,000 feet. This had the effect of forcing the glidepath for the Southern approach to SFO onto Palo Alto: the northern most non-San Mateo County city on the Peninsula. Longtime residents who have noticed an increase in noise levels over the past few years are not imagining things.

A cause for the more recent further increase in aircraft noise levels over the past several months is that approaching jets into SFO are now flying at lower altitudes as a fuel saving measure. (A more gradual descent saves fuel.)

One poster above noted that jets are quieter in the past. It is true that newer jets are quieter. This fact was cited as support for allowing jets to fly lower over residential areas to save fuel. But not all jets are of the newer quieter variety - and so the older jets are flying lower than before along with the quiet new jets. I have noticed this a lot lately.

As the San Mateo County experience shows, SFO responds to political pressure. If Palo Alto officials would give some attention to this matter, we'd likely seem some effort by SFO to ameliorate the noise effects of its operations in our city. But barring this, those of us living under the flight path will continue to have our sleep and outdoor activities disrupted by airplane noise.

This thread does seem to indicate an increasing awareness of the issue, so who knows but that the new year may see the beginning of some action on the issue.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 6, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Thanks for your comments sleepless ... I knew something is amiss. I have lived in Palo Alto since 1969, and airplane noise should not be getting louder, especially if my hearing is normal.

I think I recall back in the 70's that San Jose had to buy or pay to fix their problems with certain neighborhoods because of the insane amount of noise its airport was producing.

When my house rattles at night I wonder how much difference there is. Why can't we solve these problems for good with some REGULATION so that David does not have to fight Goliath over and over and over again?

This is not to even mention that the Palo Alto airport is so loud you cannot even hear yourself think if you are out by the Baylands and relaxing or hiking as the airplanes take off and land.

Does anyone have an idea of how to bump this issue back to the top of the Forums without having to retype it all in or lose the comments. This issues is important if only to illustrate how these things work, that is, whoever is the brunt of the problem has to fight like the devil to get any satisfaction, and when they let down their guard the problems pops right back up again.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2010 at 2:28 pm


You have just bumped this topic back to the top of the forum by commenting.

If you are not using the message board format, just go to the list of topics as usual and you will see in small blue print at the top of the topic leader "go to message board" and click on that. You will then find the topics listed so that the most recent thread commented on is top.

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Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2010 at 10:25 pm

There is definitely a lot more planes flying through Palo Alto to SFO. It's not only due to the trans-Pacific flights, but also an increasing number of flights from Southern California (LAX, John Wayne, San Diego, Burbank, Ontario, Bakersfield) and Arizona (Phoenix). I see and, more importantly, hear the jet noise every time I am at Stanford Shopping Center and Fry's Electronics. The whole stretch along University Ave and also Midtown are along the descent paths for SFO-bound commercial and cargo planes. If you are concerned as I am, I would recommend that let your Palo Alto city representatives know AND file a complaint with the SFO Noise Abatement Office (# is (650) 821-5100). The problem will only get worse if residents do not voice their concerns. The era of deregulation of the airplane industry needs, at one point, come to a halt.

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Posted by sleepless
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2010 at 10:42 am

Filing a complaint with the Noise Abatement Office is unlikely to have any effect. SFO doesn't care what neighbors think unless it's backed up with political or legal threats. (San Mateo County didn't get the Airport to agree to a halt of low-level overflight until threats of lawsuits caused them to realize the County and the Cities were serious. Until then, they just sent their community relations flacs to endless meetings to acknowledge residents' "concern" without any intention of actually doing anything substantial about the complaints.)

If you go to the FlightTracks website referenced above, you will see that Palo Alto is directly under one of the main approach paths to the SFO: most planes coming from the South and West are routed over Palo Alto at low level to avoid breaching the San Mateo County agreement.

Those noticing more noise are not hearing things. This likely will get worse as air traffic from Asia and other areas increases when the economy improves - unless the City Council or another political body makes a fuss. And that won't happen unless the Council members hear from us.

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Posted by Complain, complain, complain
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 8, 2010 at 11:01 am

"This likely will get worse as air traffic from Asia and other areas increases when the economy improves - unless the City Council or another political body makes a fuss. And that won't happen unless the Council members hear from us."
Let's see we live in the Silicon Valley, which is home to two airports. We also depend on tourism in the Bay Area as a major income source. Yet, we complain about airplanes coming into the airport. Maybe we should shut down SFO and SJC because they are an inconvenience to Palo Alto residents. Oh, BTW, where do you suggest the planes go--or do you not care as long as they do not fly over your homes?

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Posted by Sleepless
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2010 at 11:18 am

There are numerous steps the airport could take to reduce noise over residential areas in Palo Alto and elsewhere, as the agreement they made with San Mateo County shows. They could, for example increase the minimum altitude of overflights of most residential areas from 4000 feet back to the 5000 foot limit that prevailed up until several years ago. This would require a somewhat steeper descent path over the bay using a bit more fuel - but it would substantially reduce noise levels. They could reroute more traffic from the heavily populated peninsula to the main flight approach from the east. The east flight approach goes over much less densely populated areas than Palo Alto and because of the configuration of the hills and bay is able to stay at higher altitudes. Again this would cost the airlines some time and money, but would result in much quieter neighborhoods for many more people.

The primary reasons SFO is so recalcitrant has little to do with technical impossibility; it's economic. They find it easier to ignore individual residents' complaints and keep the airlines happy - until threatened with political or legal pressure - at which time they find it expedient to change their procedures.

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Posted by Midtown man
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Would routing the main flight paths to SFO over a major highway,
such as 85, help? Or Highway 19?

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Plane noise is tolerable in moderation. I think Sleepless and Concerned Citizen have valid fears that more and more traffic will be directed over Palo Alto because (1) the residents of San Mateo County have successfully made a pact with FAA that planes cannot fly below a certain attitude and (2) the trend is for more flights to and from Asia, Latin America, everywhere. If air traffic increases in general, so be it. Let's hope that this increase doe not disproportionately impact Palo Alto -- more so than our neighboring cities and areas southeast of the Bay that are well-established alternative routes.

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Posted by em
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2011 at 9:23 pm

What is this agreement with San Mateo Co. that prevents flights of a certain altitude that many have referenced above as the reason the majority of flights go over Palo Alto? I know there is an SFO Roundtable, but I am sitting in my Menlo Park home this evening and have listened to no less than 20 flights thunder overhead. Looking at the SFO flight overlay map shows plenty of flights approaching SFO over San Mateo Co., though the main flight path is over Palo Alto.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 4, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Very loud low-flying airplane noise late into the night

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Posted by So fortunate!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Fortunately for me, I am deaf in one ear,

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