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San Francisco sues Oakland to stop it from changing the name of its airport

<i>Justin Sullivan/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>A traveler walks through baggage claim in Terminal 2 at Oakland International Airport on April 12.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
A traveler walks through baggage claim in Terminal 2 at Oakland International Airport on April 12.

By Jeffrey Kopp, CNN

San Francisco (CNN) — San Francisco is suing its neighbor across the Bay over a plan to change the name of Oakland’s airport.

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

“The feedback we get [from airlines] … is, because there is lack of name recognition … it is hard to sell tickets inbound,” said Danny Wan, executive director for the Port of Oakland. “People do not know that Oakland is by the 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 Thursday, requesting the court prohibit Oakland from using the name, alleging that Oakland plans to “intentionally and knowingly capitalize off of confusion.”

The City of San Francisco owns a trademark on “San Francisco International Airport,” commonly referred to by its three-letter code, SFO.

SF mayor: Oakland ‘has its own unique identity’

San Francisco Mayor London Breed also weighed in. “[Oakland] is rich in culture and wonderful people and has its own unique identity. It does not need the name San Francisco as part of its airport to stand out,” she penned in a letter to the Port of Oakland.

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

“There are many, many airports that have a similar or common city or geographic identification name in their title… And yet, airlines have figured out how to do that. Airports have figured out how to do that. Passengers have figured out 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 renaming does not infringe upon SFO’s mark. We will vigorously defend our right to claim our spot on the San Francisco Bay. We are standing up for Oakland and our East Bay community.”

How airlines are reacting

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, now lists OAK under its proposed new name.

United Airlines, which holds 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 who are not familiar with the region, and lead to problems such as passengers inadvertently booking travel to the wrong airport.”

Southwest, which has an 82% market share at Oakland, said in a news release with the Port that it is “wholeheartedly supportive of this rebranding that acknowledges OAK’s economic position and influence in the San Francisco Bay area while staying true to its Oakland roots.” Southwest did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Final approval for the name change is pending a second vote from Port of Oakland’s Board of Commissioners on May 9.

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