On average, Lindbergh Field (also known as San Diego International Airport) performs 620 operations a day: 310 departures and 310 arrivals.
All 620 of these operations are performed, whether planes are coming or going, over several San Diego neighborhoods.
Despite this, some of these neighborhoods — the worst affected include Banker’s Hill, Loma Portal, and Ocean Beach — are well developed and populated with a mix of rental apartments, condos, and single-family homes.
“From the end of the runway to the ocean is right at three miles,” says Dan Frazee, the director of Airport Noise Mitigation for the San Diego County Airport Authority. “[But] the noise impact area is .92 miles…[It has] just under 10,000 dwelling units and a population of just under 23,000.”
The planes fly disarmingly low over Banker’s Hill, especially, as they land at Lindbergh not far away. Shayna Banfe and Emilie Schneider’s apartment, a white, airy loft with a small patio, is no exception. The planes pass overhead and swoop downwards past their back French doors; the sound is both low- and high-pitched, a deep rumble accompanied by a reedy, mechanical whine. The planes skim past the apartment’s skylight, casting a shadow on the couch below.
Deciding whether to live directly under passing aircraft was something Schneider and Banfe had to discuss when they went apartment-hunting three months ago.
“We actually talked about it,” says Schneider. “We said, ‘It’s a little bit risky,’ but it’s just more fun out here.”
So far, Schneider and Banfe are enjoying their apartment just off Fourth Avenue. They considered living in Golden Hill, in a house Banfe describes as “cute” and “tucked away,” but ultimately decided Banker’s Hill was more for them.
Before moving in, the duo wasn’t certain what to expect.
“We weren’t totally sure how bad it was,” Banfe says, “because when we came [and looked at the apartment] we said, ‘We have to make a conscious effort to hear it.’ But we didn’t. We were trying to [get] examples of what it really was like, but we just sort of went for it without totally knowing.”
The typical aircraft, according to Mechanical Engineering Magazine, generates an average of “150 decibels at a distance of 100 feet.” For this reason, Lindbergh enforces a strict curfew, disallowing planes from departing from 11:30 p.m.–6:30 a.m., ensuring that the late-night and early-morning hours remain noise-free. Airlines that break curfew are fined $2000 for their first violation, $6000 for their second, and $10,000 if all violations fall within a six-month period.
The curfew, while it may limit the number of flights out of Lindbergh, does not, however, limit planes flying in. Aircraft may arrive at any time of night, as mandated by the federal government.
“They say, ‘You are a 24-hour operation,’ ” says Frazee. “There’s only one airport I’m aware of that has both an arrival and departure curfew, and that’s John Wayne [in Orange County].”
Frazee estimates that the planes in question, which as they fly over Banfe and Schneider’s loft are on arrival, can come as close as 400 feet from a given building when landing at the San Diego International Airport.
Still, when searching for their apartment, Banfe and Schneider remained undeterred by the flight path. They are now comfortably settled in beneath it.
“Everyone I talked to when we were trying to decide [if] we would live in the flight path, they said you get totally used to it, it’s just like city noises and stuff,” says Schneider, speaking of friends who live in Ocean Beach.
“I don’t think they understood how close we are,” she adds.
The planes are more than close enough for Selin Bahar — who lives not far away, on Fifth Avenue, just off Hawthorn — to be able to distinguish each carrier by the noise of its aircraft.
“If we went to the balcony, I could guess which plane was what from the way they sound,” she says.
While Bahar is used to living with constant noise, she concedes that there are times when it does bother her, such as when she’s trying to watch a movie. She puts a positive spin on it: “[The noise] bothered me until I realized that, when I hear the planes, it’s always a reminder that there is life out there, and people are traveling, and traveling is a big part of me,” she says. “So even if I can’t go home to Turkey and visit my family, I know that there’s this possibility that one of them could get on a plane or that I could get on a plane and go back.”
Others cope in different ways. Eventually, they say, the noise from the planes fades neatly into the background. Gary Sehnert, who has lived in the flight path since the late ’80s, explains how he got used to it after only a few weeks.
“Every time a plane went over, I convinced myself I was sucking up the energy of the engines as they got louder,” he says, “and after a little while, it worked. You do get used to it, I think. You learn to punctuate your conversations and keep the remote handy when watching TV, to turn up the volume and then back down.”
Even so, Sehnert, who lives on West Ivy Street, was unsure of how he would cope with the noise when he first moved.
“I wasn’t sure I could handle the planes,” he says. “The view was neat and all that, and it’s a neat location. I really wanted it to work.”
And it has. In 1998, Sehnert purchased his house, which is just up the street from where he lived his first years in San Diego. His home, ironically painted a periwinkle-ish “infinity and beyond” blue, is in the middle of a hill, with a dramatic view of the harbor. The planes fly directly overhead at a distance that he estimates is less than the length of a football field.
Sehnert can’t say enough good things about the neighborhood.