Town Square

Post a New Topic

SFO Airport Noise In Palo Alto Getting Worse

Original post made by Paul, Old Palo Alto, on Aug 20, 2008

Today's Weekly has a letter from a Palo Alto resident complaining about the increased airplane noise in PA from planes landing at SFO. I agree with the letter writer. The noise from airplanes has gotten markedly worse over the past few months, and my wife and I avoid being outdoors some days to escape from it.

I'm not sure anything can be done about the situation since a lot of wealthy interests oppose doing anything to change this situation, but I too am dismayed that our peace and quiet is disrupted this way from dawn into the late evening every day.

I wonder if others agree that airport noise is becoming a problem. It apparently is somewhat localized. I have a friend who lives in South PA who says it's no problem there, but is amazed at how bad it is in my (Old PA) neighborhood.

The letter from the Weekly:

Sound off


The Tuscany quality of Palo Alto living and that of surrounding communities is eroding due to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) air-flight patterns.

We are considered a primary entrance to SFO. This fact is not new. What is new is the altitude at which the flights are coming in.

Though the SFO "Noise Complaint" reports contradict this, I have lived in this neighborhood for 20 years and have never heard flights arriving every five-to-10 minutes certain hours of the day. Some flights are so low you can now see the colored stripes and count the lines.

People who move to South San Francisco know the quality of life is impacted by the airport-noise pollution. They are required to sign disclosures on home sales regarding noise disturbance.

I experienced the month of July 2008 as the worst we have experienced in this area — now continuing into August.

There are many different options to reduce this noise pollution to our communities. Please make a difference and let your voice be heard.

Nothing will be done unless you personally continue to let SFO know how it is unnecessarily polluting the noise level in your community.

Please contact and please complain regularly by calling the Complaint Phone line at 650-821-4736. For further information, please visit

Deborah Dooley

Webster Street

Palo Alto

Comments (37)

Like this comment
Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2008 at 2:52 pm

It is clear what must be done--SFO must be shut down. How dare the airport inconvenience PA residents. This is especially critical, since it appears that the cream of PA society--the residents north of the Oregon Expressway are especially inconvenienced. This is another example of too much traffic over PA

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2008 at 2:58 pm

I live in Midtown, and am more bothered by airport noise lately than a year or so ago when I moved here. As the link in the letter above shows, there's a lot that can be done about noise that won't greatly affect SFO operations, but will make a big difference to Peninsula residents. Web Link.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Don't we all wish the only planes allowed to fly were the ones we happen to be riding?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2008 at 6:12 pm

I live in South Palo Alto and SFO gets blamed for a lot. Many of the planes that come over my house go into Moffett Field, San Jose Airport and Palo Alto Airport. Yet so many residents blame only SFO. How about all the CHP helicopters that are Stationed at Moffett and regularly fly over Palo Alto.

Until you can prove that all the noise from planes that fly over PA are heading for SFO, I should look around and see what other airports you can blame for the noise.

Like this comment
Posted by Long time
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2008 at 6:24 pm

I've lived in Palo Alto since 1990 and in my opinion, airplane noise has always been bad in Palo Alto since I moved here. SFO traffic got worse after P3s stopped flying routinely out of Moffett Field. It was as if SFO bound airplanes took up the freed up air space. It can easily be seen that we are dealing with large jets heading North most of the time (not traffic going into San Jose or Palo Alto airports).

There was a slight improvement after September 9, 2001 and a few subsequent years as airplane traffic decreased overall and apparently over our heads as well.

It's particularly bad when there is a low cloud cover. Then airplanes fly particularly low and are very noisy.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm

I recently flew into SFO from Europe and must have flown over my house. It was fabulous, I could see Stanford, Paly, T & C, PA airport, the duckpond, Ikea, 101, it was great fun. I have flown in many times but this was the first time I was able to spot familiar landmarks from our neighborhood. I know it is a pain to get the noise, but there is an upside.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2008 at 7:17 pm

If all these planes are coming to and from SFO you will be pleased to know many airlines are cutting back. This will reduce your annoyance level; meanwhile I hope you get the flights you want. Good luck complaining to SFO and the FAA.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2008 at 9:27 pm

Could flying lower be saving fuel?

Like this comment
Posted by Walter Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2008 at 2:03 am

If you can't stand the heat...

Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2008 at 4:55 am

It's great listening to aircraft AM for the SFO approach. Often times the pilots have to be reminded of the noise abatement protocol when flying over Palo Alto.

oopsie, I guess not everyone got the memo about Palo Alto's airspace in the SFO approach. ;-)

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 21, 2008 at 6:17 am

I think the airplanes fly over Palo Alto because San Mateo County got tough with SFO and threatened a lawsuit several years ago. Now there is an agreement that SFO aircraft cannot fly below 10000 feet (or something like that) in southern San Mateo County - which they previously used for their approaches from the south.

Naturally, the flow now goes over Palo Alto since it's the northernmost point in Santa Clara County.

I imagine if enough people get fed up with the noise, the Council will do something about airplanes here too.

I'm pretty much in agreement with those who say that the airplanes have become worse over the past few years and months, and that it's worth seeing if we can get a little peacefulness restored.

Like this comment
Posted by PAO Pilot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2008 at 9:07 am

SFO southern Cal arrivals descend from 10,000 feet over Boulder Creek to intercept the RWY 28L/R glide slopes at 3200 feet east of Redwood City over the bay. SFO arrivars are required to stay above 4000 feet over Palo Alto (2500 feet northeast of Stanford Stadium). Sometimes you hear the engines spool down as the planes slow down from 250 knots to their approach speed. Nothing's changed.

Couple times a month I see SJC and Moffett departures flying lower.

This thread gets started every summer when windows are open. ATC procedures are published, very well defined and can't change without hearings or public notice.

Palo Alto ordinances discourage flights below 1500 feet west of 101. The only aircraft noise abatement I've heard of locally is a departure advisory at the Palo Alto airport to depart over Cooleys Landing rather than over EPA houses.

No jet noise would be nice, but no flights would be worse!

Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2008 at 9:40 am

In mid-town, it's noticeable, but really not that bad, I hear the engines spooling down for the final approach. Let's just be glad they are not spooling up, and hope ice blocks and fairings don't start regularly falling off planes.

Like this comment
Posted by Millbrae
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2008 at 9:41 am

I moved to Millbrae (next to SFO) from North Palo Alto a few years ago and I was shocked at how much quieter the planes are here. I agree that it's the slowing down of the planes as they are above Palo Alto that causes most of the engine noise. It doesn't happen here at the airport.

Another note, on more than one occasion we were "pooped" on with blue gel from the toilets on the planes as they switched back to outside air pressure upon approach over Palo Alto. One time it happened during a backyard pool party and yes, got the pool with people swimming in it (happened at Greer and Oregon Expressway).

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2008 at 10:42 am

Lone Time: PAO Pilot agrees with me we get noise from planes using San Jose airport, Moffett Field and Palo Alto, they all contribute. However, I agree with him "No jet noise would be nice, but no flights would be worse!"

Like this comment
Posted by Rod B
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 21, 2008 at 12:03 pm

"No jet noise would be nice, but no flights would be worse..."

I read the link in the letter in the original post, and according to the information there, Noise or No Flights presents a false choice.

The evidence they cite says that noise can be significantly reduced and relocated to less inhabited areas without cutting the frequency of flights into SFO (and with only a little added burden on the airlines).

I have no idea if this is true, but given how bad the noise can be sometimes in my yard, if it is possible for Palo Alto to receive the same considerations San Mateo County apparently did, it's worth pursuing IMHO.

Like this comment
Posted by Larry Craig
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2008 at 12:08 pm

This is so low-priority it isn't even funny. Once our community is crime free, and all students can go to their neighborhood schools, then we can chat about airplane noise.

Its amazing how overly-sensitive people are to things. When you are that upset about the background noise of an airplane, you are definitely not appreciating your full stomach, your financial solvency, the pride of home-ownership and the fact that you can right to read, write and say what you please whenever you want.

Honestly, lower your blood pressure and just ignore the airplanes.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 21, 2008 at 12:18 pm

The Palo Alto residents complaining about the noise of planes flying overhead are probably the same people who complain about the noise from leaf blowers!! They tend to be seniors with nothing else to do but complain.

Like this comment
Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2008 at 12:31 pm

This whining is typical of PA--

there is too much noise from:
a) SFO
b) Shoreline Amphitheatre
c)leaf blowers
d)plug in any thing you want

there is too much traffic:
a) in general in town
b) coming to Stanford Football games
c) On Embarcadero Road/Middlefield Road/University Avenue/plug in any other street you want

Now we also have whining about the Stanford Shppoing Center expansion and the Stanford Hospital re-build.
Plus there is whining about the VA remodel (some people do not understand why that is not slow-tracked through the PA Process, with the hope that the VA will get fed up and leave town--hey, it worked for Albertsons and the Hyatt)

Like this comment
Posted by Rod B
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 21, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Larry Craig says we should lower our blood pressure by ignoring the airplanes.

He probably didn't see the study done in Great Britain earlier this year that showed airplane noise as low as 35dB (far less than the overflights in Palo Alto, which often measure 50-60dB) RAISE blood pressure - even when you "ignore" it by sleeping through it. Web Link

While I agree this probably is a lower priority than the current crime wave, it's something that's worth looking into. Airplane noise not only affects the quality of life, it's also a health issue.

Like this comment
Posted by Larry Craig
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2008 at 3:41 pm

I read the article and I appreciate the link obviously its an interesting addition to this thread. I did a study that found that many studies are interesting but otherwise useless because they are based on insignificant or sketchy statistics. I sampled 1 or two studies for my study and found a 3 percent likelihood that any given study has any use, and the margin for error was plus, minus or something else of 50 percent or so.

Here's the most important part of the article:
"Ellen Mason, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Noise pollution may be the latest in a long line of issues that the airline industry needs to tackle."
But she added: "High blood pressure is far more likely to be influenced by the fact that many of us eat far too much salt, don't take enough exercise and are fast becoming overweight."
Professor Graham McGregor, an expert in blood pressure, said the study was interesting, but more work would have to be done to confirm the link.
He said people who lived close to airports tended to be poor, and high blood pressure was associated with poverty."

Like this comment
Posted by Studious
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 21, 2008 at 3:51 pm

Brilliant, Larry! Where is your report published? I'd like to cite it when engaged in other heated debates.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2008 at 4:26 pm

My dad, a REAL engineer, wondered why I never came out to wave when he whistled past Elvas Tower, across the street fro our house.
After the first week in that house we never heard the trains. If you want to be pissed you will be pissed.

Like this comment
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 21, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Noise pollution is a serious health issue. Some people are very sensitive and some aren't. It's very presumptuous to call them whiners. Hearing disorders and an individual's perception of sound is very complex. Train noise may disappear for some, but only gets worse for others.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 21, 2008 at 9:28 pm

I haven't noticed a major problem from planes here in past 7 years I have lived in North PA (Duveneck beighborhood).
I recently returned from Maui and when we turned in at the coast and left the fog bank I saw out the right side of the plane (for once I had a great view): Stevens Creek (Kaiser?) Cement Plant (=Cupertino) and my old Sunnyvale neighborhood. We flew right over Sunnyvale, I could see EVERYTHING so it had to be fairly low. We hit the bay and made a left turn up to SFO. We did not fly over PA.
Only reason I mention this pattern, is I recall years ago when I lived in South Palo Alto that there were tons of planes flying over us ALL the time and turning up to SFO and there was always noise when out in the backyard.
I assume flight patterns change over the years...

Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2008 at 4:06 am

There are measures one can take if the necessary noise of civilization is bothersome. Dual glazing is effective in reducing noise transmission, especially if the two panes are non-resonant. Sound canceling earphones, once a high priced accessory to commercial pilots, are now modest in cost. Finally, one can go away, but beware the thunder and the crickets.

Like this comment
Posted by former pilot
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 22, 2008 at 12:49 pm

The SFO approach path from the east passes generally over Fremont and turns north to line up with the main runway pair. Planes from the south, including Hawaii, come in over Santa Cruz and join the northbound stream over the south bay. Traffic from the north, which includes aircraft following the great circle routes from Asia and Europe as well as inbound Seattle and Portland traffic, fly down the peninsula and make a sweeping U-turn over Menlo Park, Palo Alto, or Mountain View to join the grand northbound parade to the runways. These are the ones we hear. Not all of the noise comes from the engines, a lot of it is created by the strong vortexes shed from the wings as the planes slow down by flying in less aerodynamically efficient configurations.

Like this comment
Posted by G
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2008 at 8:22 am

The noise form jet aircraft is worse then ever before and I've lived hear for more then 40 years. Back in the 60's and 70's the jets couldn't fly over Palo Alto because Moffitt Field air base had a restricted air space. Since that base has mostly shut down the jets now take a short cut right over the Peninsula. Many use to fly over Alviso and in to SFO but the straight shot down the Peninsula, especially on Sunday evenings, is the route they now take.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2008 at 10:24 pm


Like this comment
Posted by Ex Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2008 at 8:24 am

I used to love the quiet neighborhoods of Palo Alto, before Moffett was closed. Now, unless you have dual pane windows, the SFO traffic is loud enough to wake anyone without hearing loss. My solution was to move and I'm glad I did. I can now sleep in when I want to (not just when pilots approach over the Bay) and work in my backyard without feeling like I'm right next to the freeway.

It is a tragic loss and entirely unnecessary. SFO jets could approach over the bay as they did when Moffett was open. But the FAA doesn't require it and our local politicians won't even mention noise pollution as long as they are getting air industry campaign contributions. Recall the fight we had just to prevent SFO from filling in several square miles of the Bay, and that was just 6 years ago.

What is most sad is that airlines really don't care what neighborhoods they impact. They don't have to.

Like this comment
Posted by Owen
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2008 at 8:38 am has a lot of information on this issue.

I love to fly but don't see when the same regulations that apply to automobiles and other pollution sources don't seem to apply to planes.

I'd guess the response would be different if autos weren't required to have mufflers...

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2008 at 8:56 pm


Like this comment
Posted by DZ
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Nov 10, 2008 at 12:40 pm

We¡¯ve just moved in our new townhouse around Briones School. I rented one month around Midtown area before we move in this house. At Midtwon, the airplane noise is not that bad, you can hear the big airplanes every ten minutes. In the Briones school area, it is much worse. You can hear and see all kinds of airplanes from all different directions. A lot of times, you can see three airplanes to different directions in the sky at the same time. Those are events happen every five minutes or so, from 6:30AM to 11:00PM, seven days a week... Some of them are so loud that even inside the house, with TV on, I can still clearly hear them.
We went to the famous foothill park yesterday, it is such a beautiful place, but totally ruined by the noise. There is just no piece with all the huge airplanes slowly flying above the colorful mountains all the time.
We were prepared for a nosier city life when we decide to move to Palo Alto from a quite San Jose area, but never expected so much noise pollution by the airplanes. The quality of life here is greatly impacted and not much people even talking about it, at least, not enough!

Like this comment
Posted by Too Much Traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Maybe you should approach the city council, DZ, and demand that they close SFO. I am sure that the "climate change" troika on the council--Klein, Kishimoto and Drekmeier, will be more than happy to oblige--think of how that will reduce the areas carbon footprint if they close SFO--plus it is something they can focus on instead of other non-important city issues.
Go for it, DZ

Like this comment
Posted by Vicki
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2008 at 8:34 pm

I live in Boulder Creek and know for a fact that SFO changed the flight path into SFO in September 2007. I have a steady stream of planes overhead every 3 to 5 minutes now. (I used to hear only crickets.) SFO denies any changes, but that is their standard reply to any complaint.

Like this comment
Posted by Em
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 15, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I'm in Menlo Park and found this thread after listening to at least 5 jets fly right over my house in the last hour. Don't know anything about the San Mateo Co. "ban", but if there is one, it's not working. Yeah, I'm sensitive to noise, so what? Hoping that Los Altos doesn't have this problem as much...

Like this comment
Posted by South PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 23, 2009 at 12:11 pm

I live in south Palo Alto, many of the planes that come over my house head South into San Jose Airport. If you only get the planes coming into SFO you're lucky

Also the GOOGLE planes come over my house in and out of Moffett Field also many military planes including C140s (probably flying in from Afghanistan) Not to mention the many noisy military and CHP helicopters.

Pity the poor Queen every flying tin can that lands and takes off from Heathrow goes over Windsor Castle. You see Palo Alto residents are not the only ones to suffer noise!!

Incidentally, there is a website where you can watch the planes coming in to land at SFO. When I've watched it I notice how few planes actually come directly over PA; more go over Redwood City and Atherton.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Burger chain Shake Shack to open in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 20 comments | 5,073 views

This time we're not lying. HONEST! No, really!
By Douglas Moran | 11 comments | 894 views

Couples: When Wrong Admit It; When Right; Shut Up
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 788 views

One-on-one time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 586 views