Airport rebrand aims to show the way to San Jose while still honoring namesake

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New York has John F. Kennedy, Washington, D.C. has Ronald Reagan, and New Orleans has Louis Armstrong.

For the last two decades, San Jose’s international airport has borne the name of former mayor, congressman and transportation secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

While presidents and jazz legends may need little introduction, San Jose officials have felt their airport could use a little rebranding to better emphasize its Silicon Valley ties — while still honoring a beloved local figure.

Their solution is a bit, well, subtle? Instead of Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, welcome to … San Jose Mineta International Airport. Wait, what? Please explain.

“Everyone here is genuinely proud to have his name on the airport,” said Scott Wintner, deputy director of airport marketing and communications. “When it’s stuck in the middle, it’s harder to lob off, and we’re leading with location so people will be able to find us. Those are equal priorities.”

Mineta died in May at age 90. But his son David said he was grateful that Mayor Sam Liccardo had reached out about the rebranding and that the family approves of it.

FILE – President Bush, right, bestows the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 15, 2006. Mineta, who broke racial barriers for Asian Americans serving in high-profile government posts and ordered commercial flights grounded after the 9/11 terror attacks as the nation’s federal transportation secretary, died Tuesday, May 3, 2022. He was 90. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) 

“He was so proud of this honor as his family and friends continue to be,” David Mineta told the Bay Area News Group.

Norman Mineta was born in San Jose and spent World War II with his family at a Wyoming internment camp. He served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in the Korean War, became San Jose mayor in 1971 and represented the area as a Democrat in the House of Representatives from 1975-1995. He then served as Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton and Transportation Secretary under President George W. Bush.

But the city’s 2001 move to name the airport after Mineta wasn’t without controversy, though not because of Mineta himself. Critics said the airport should promote the city as a destination, and suggested naming a terminal building after Mineta instead. No other Bay Area airport is named for a person.

Under former Mayor Chuck Reed in 2011, the city explored just adding “Silicon Valley” to the airport’s name, which he said Mineta was fine with. Airport officials said airlines were telling them it would draw more flights, and a consultant had even suggested “Silicon Valley Airport” as an ideal name change. But city leaders couldn’t agree on an alternative.

The rebrand effort resumed in 2020 when the city hired new consultants GALE Partners on a contract of up to $9.6 million. The firm interviewed business organizations and surveyed more than 2,100 Bay Area travelers.

The consultants concluded that the airport’s current branding “is generally well received but does not differentiate it from competitors,” and that “travelers do not widely associate the airport’s current branding with San Jose or the Bay Area.” They also found that “Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport” is “not widely used or recognized by travelers.”

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 17: The Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport displays their support for the San Francisco 49ers in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, January 19. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
The Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport displays their support for the San Francisco 49ers in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

Kyle Frederickson, who’s lived in San Jose for 10 years and was at the airport Friday to pick up his mother flying in from Phoenix, said he’s always just referred to it as the San Jose airport or by its three-letter international airport code, SJC. He’s never heard of it referred to as Mineta, and confessed “I have zero idea who that is.”

The consultants said other airports have taken a similar approach to their names for marketing purposes. General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport is now branded Boston Logan International Airport. Milwaukee’s former General Mitchell International Airport is now Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. What used to be called Bob Hope Airport is now Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Because the rebranding does not formally change the official Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport name, it doesn’t require City Council action. Wintner said the airport plans to launch it in January.

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