Spectators lined San Francisco’s waterfronts to celebrate the 42nd annual Fleet Week last weekend in anticipation for the air show presented by United Airlines last weekend. Fleet Week takes place the first weekend of every October in San Francisco, with thousands of United States Armed Forces members visiting the city.
Late Senator Dianne Feinstein founded Fleet Week in 1981 during her time as mayor of San Francisco with the intention of creating jobs and economic growth for the city, according to CBS News. Then-Mayor Feinstein told a KPIX reporter, “San Francisco is a large ship repair center and we would like to have more business from the Navy, if that’s possible.” What was established to increase job opportunities has since transformed into a family event.
Fleet Week entails a week of community events to celebrate U.S. sea services. These celebrations include the Neighborhood Concert Program, with performances by Marine Corps and Navy bands, the largest parade of the ships on the West Coast to welcome sailors and marines, and most notably, the air show. The air show took place this year from Oct. 6-8, with a practice on Oct. 5. The Blue Angels shook Lone Mountain on Oct. 5 as they flew overhead for their practice.
Michelle Daher Yaacoub, sophomore media studies major, said, “Though it is admittedly cool to see the Blue Angels in the air show itself, it’s honestly weird that the practice for the big show had to be that much of a disturbance to most of the city all week.”
While the U.S. Navy Blue Angels headline the show, other planes, such as Marine F-35B Demo, Ace Maker T 33, and the Patriots Jet Team, among others, make an appearance.
The Marina Green, the spread of grass between Fort Mason and the Presidio, was lined with spectators watching the choreographed act last Saturday afternoon. While no attendance figures have been released, Bay Area Rapid Transit stated Saturday was their busiest day since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, returning to 78% ridership.
The crowds of people meant that long lines for cotton candy, ice cream, and garlic fries spanned across the entrance. Families with small children laid out blankets and basked in the sun during a heat wave sweeping the Bay Area, clapping as aircrafts flew overhead. Hayward resident Abby Galang said, “It’s been a family tradition for us. And our son, our seventh grader, he wants to be in the Air Force. This keeps him inspired to join the Air Force.”
However, not all welcome the San Francisco tradition. Protests of Fleet Week have followed San Francisco politicians throughout the years. In 1986, 100 high school students parked their cars in front of then-Mayor Feinstein’s office, fearing the implications of welcoming ships with nuclear power into the bay. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Feinstein said to the students, “When the day comes when Americans don’t want to thank the people who serve in the armed forces, this country is in a lot of trouble.”
San Francisco residents and concerned spectators alike have created various online petitions in an effort to put an end to Fleet Week. A petition created on Care2 has collected 26,648 supporters at the time of publication. Additionally, a Change.org petition created by Margit Geist has amassed 437 signatures at the time of publication. These petitions call for the suspension of the air show in the name of environmental conservation, mitigating noise pollution, and supporting those with post-traumatic stress disorder and others who may be triggered by the loud jet noises.
While there are people in opposition of the air show, Corey Giddens, a member of Oakland Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, the largest Black motorcycle club promoting the history of Black veterans and engaging in community support, said, “You can’t make everyone happy. But look at the thousands of people that are here today. So they have their opinions. You have to respect their opinions, but majority rules always.”
Among the San Francisco residents who have concerns around the noisy air show is junior engineering major Liv Harrington. “Fleet Week is my least favorite event that happens in the city,” they said. “I don’t understand the excitement around the Blue Angels vibrating the city with their sonic booms.” While the noise may cause disruptions, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels stated, “At a Blue Angels air show, there should never be a sonic boom, as we are not authorized to exceed the speed of sound at a show. On occasion, spectators may have mistaken the sound of engines at a high-power setting approaching the speed of sound for a sonic boom.”
In addition to the noise concerns, there are additional concerns over environmental issues. Throughout Fleet Week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “approximately 38,400 gallons of jet fuel [is] burned during the three shows and the Blue Angels’ Thursday practice.” Additionally, “the Blue Angels jets will emit approximately 825,600 pounds of climate-warming carbon dioxide at Fleet Week.”
Despite these concerns, support for Fleet Week remains strong. Giddens said, “Fleet Week represents the rich history of the Air Force, and the Navy as well. It means a lot, because those soldiers are just like I was — they serve this country and deserve to be honored in some form or fashion.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated online on Oct. 26, 2023 to correct false information. Interviewee Liv Harrington was initially incorrectly referred to with she/her pronouns. They use they/them pronouns.