If You’re Flying from San Francisco to Thailand You’re in for a Great Experience:  FSO has been upgraded.

flying from San Francisco to Thailand is fun again! SFO airport’s new International terminal is a bright, airy joy to navigate. Booming San Francisco finally has a world class international terminal thanks to designer Craig Hartman and opened in December 2000 to replace the old International Departures section of Terminal 2. It’s the largest international terminal in North America, and is the largest building in the world to be built on base isolators to protect against earthquakes. Food service focuses on short menu versions of leading Bay Area restaurants. Planners attempted to make the airport a destination in and of itself, not just for travelers who are passing through.[54]SFO Airport

The international terminal is a common use facility, with all gates and all ticketing areas shared among the international airlines. All international arrivals and departures are handled here (except flights from cities with customs preclearance). Here’s what you’ll find there:

For us folks, its first delight is…ease of boarding. That’s right. San Francisco Airport lets you keep your shoes on and your computers in your carry-on. You’ll be zipped through short lines and waved along by Bay Area-friendly (the SF Giants were in the World Series playoffs when I was there) TSA staff. No muss, no fuss. Though I was lugging some weird electronics, the X-Ray officer didn’t bat an eye.

You arrive at Terminal 3 to be confronted by, of all things, SFMOMA’s (SF’s Museum of Modern Art) big museum store packed with classy, well-designed art, books, and collectibles. Next door is the Museum’s own excellent restaurant serving an admirable array of northern Italian and southern French rustic dishes. Who woulda thunk that international travellers might enjoy world-class food prepared in an open kitchen? SFO, where they serve sushi at their ballpark, that’s who.

The P.A. system is better than average, which means it usually intelligible if you listen carefully to every announcement so that you don’t miss the announcement of your flight. Different accents and less-than-optimal sound equipment make this a chore everywhere I’ve been. If you know of an airport that has solved this problem, please let me know!

There are the usual high end shops, of course, like Coach, Burberry and Brookstone – purveyor of novel electronics to gadget-lovers like me. My M.O. is to wander around and pester the clerks for information until my flight is called. Cheap and educational, if slightly seedy. But this time I asked one question too many of an extremely knowledgeable gentleman who charmed me into buying Sony’s – admittedly cool – electronic lens for my iPhone. Saves me carrying an SLR and impresses the hell out of other photographers (its telephoto lens sends images to the iPhone over WiFi, so they don’t even need to be attached. I walked away $280 lighter and with a newfound respect for Brookstone’s marketing strategy. While we were fiddling with the lens the staff told me that Thursday, Friday and Saturday are the airport’s busiest times, and told me that the store grosses about $2 million a year thanks to people like me.

I was flying Korean Air to Incheon and onto Chiang Mai this time and I noticed that KAL is the only airline I’ve encountered that has a 100% native Korean staff. If you know Korea you’ll chuckle at this, and even if you don’t you’ll notice that handoffs – from the person who greets you at the checkout area to the one who seats you in the bowels of the B777 – seem to know who you are and where you need to be … without being asked. Makes sense to me. Korean culture is very tight and Koreans know how to cooperate and make things happen. Perhaps we should insist that all international airlines do the same. You’d encounter their national culture right at the beginning of your trip and begin to get a feel for it.

Flying from San Francisco to Thailand is great but SFO is not yet serious competition for Changi, the undefeated airport champ. But if you’re flying to Thailand through San Francisco it has the best (shortest distance, fastest lines, bestest security inspection) in the world. It has several high-level California restaurants and some unique stores and, best of all, it’s in San Francisco. Here’s a video to prove it:

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