SAN JOSE — Lying in the heart of Silicon Valley, Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) has an extremely rich history. The idea was first conceived by Ernie Renzel and a local government committee.

The airfield came to fruition in 1939, mainly to be a general aviation and crop-dusting airport. However, due to aviation restrictions during World War II, the airport was not constructed until 1945.

Just a few years later in 1949, the first commercial aircraft service began with a Southwest Airways DC-3, which chose SJC as one of its eight stops between San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

In 1965, the airport opened its Terminal C, a state-of-the-art facility, to attract national airlines to put both the city and the airport on the map.

Commemorative plate given out to the passengers of the first United flight from SJC

However, in the early 1970s, San Jose quickly transformed itself from an agricultural town to a technological hub, led by then-mayor, Norman Y. Mineta.

Since then, the airport has experienced many climbs and dives, usually at the hands of the economy. SJC has seen an American Airlines hub on two different occasions (through mergers with AirCal and Reno Air), but both were quickly dismantled.

Today, SJC is at its highest passenger totals it has ever seen due to the increasing demand for tech-related travel. On August 20, the airport went back in time, and hosted two different ceremonies, honoring its roots and those that made it what it is today.

The first ceremony commemorated United Airlines for their 50 years of service at SJC. Even though United has a hub just up the road in San Francisco (SFO), they still have an extensive history at SJC.

Service started on August 20, 1968, with Boeing 727 service to Chicago O’Hare and Denver, and DC-8 service to New York-John F Kennedy Airport.

Over the past 50 years, they have also operated flights to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Boston, and Honolulu, and ironically, SFO.

United VP, Bryan Quigley (C), speaking at the event. 

Before the era of consolidation, United truly had a substantial presence at SJC, held together with many caring and loving employees. However, due to the growth of the SFO hub, the size of operation at SJC has been greatly reduced.

In 2010, the airport only had a single daily flight to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, and two flights to Denver. However, with the resurgence of the economy, United resumed flights to Chicago O’Hare and restarted Continental’s discontinued flight to Newark. 

The ceremony featured United Airlines’ Vice President for the San Francisco Office, Bryan Quigley. He also gave a message from United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz, congratulating the airport on its accomplishment and its dedication to making United flyers happy for 50 years.

1:50 scale model of United B747-400

Many current and former employees were on hand for the festivities.

The event was adorned with memorabilia from the many years of United’s SJC operations. The most striking piece was a 1:50 scale model of a United B747-400 in the “Battleship Grey” scheme.

There was also a commemorative plate that was given out to passengers onboard the first United Airlines flight from San Jose.

Additionally, there was a poster board with pictures of various employees throughout the years. This event truly embraced the past and created great optimism for the future.

Collection of United memorabilia on display

The second ceremony honored the airport’s namesake, Norman Y. Mineta. He was born in San Jose but was sent to the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Cody, Wyoming at the age of 10. Soon after the war, he returned to the South Bay.

As a child, his parents used to take him to San Jose Airport, sparking his love of aviation. He enrolled in UC Berkeley to study Aeronautical Engineering, but he ended up switching to business administration after taking calculus.

Mineta jokingly said, “I decided for the safety of the country, and my own future, I should find another major.”

In fact, the aviation bug runs through his family. His wife, Deni, was a United Airlines flight attendant for 35 years. His son, Stuart, is currently an ERJ-175 captain for SkyWest Airlines.

Norman Mineta sharing his remarks at the ceremony

After a stint in his family’s insurance business, he moved on to be a City Councilman, and eventually mayor of San Jose.

After serving in the House of Representatives, he was named the Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton. He is the first Asian American to be a member of the president’s cabinet.

In 2001, he was named the Secretary of Transportation under President Bush.

Norman Mineta is most known for his role in the White House Situation Room during the September 11th Attacks. He made the order to then-Vice President Dick Cheney to ground all aircraft over US Airspace, a feat that hadn’t been done in the history of the country.

In response to this, the Canadian government also closed their airspace, which came to be known as Operation Yellow Ribbon.

Just a few months after the September 11th attacks, the City of San Jose renamed their airport after their former councilman, mayor, and national hero.

Sam Liccardo (R), current mayor of San Jose, embracing Norman Mineta.

On October 10, 1995, Mineta resigned from his post as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

On his last day of service, he was presented with the flag that flew on top of Capitol Building that day. However, he later donated it to a charity silent auction.

It was then bought by long time friend, Grace Kubota Ybarra. She then donated it to the airport, where it proudly honors its namesake.

The ceremony was headlined by four mayors of San Jose: former mayors Norman Mineta, Ron Gonzales, Chuck Reed, and current mayor Sam Liccardo.

The flag will be mounted on the wall of the Terminal B baggage claim. His legacy and dedication to the City of San Jose will live on for generations to come.

Norman Mineta posing with the newly-unveiled flag.

SJC has been the fastest growing airport in the United States in the last three years. The airport ended 2015 with 9.8 million passengers served.

However, the airport is now on pace to hit 14.6 million, a growth of nearly 50%. SJC has now overtaken OAK to become the second-busiest airport in the San Francisco Bay Area, a title it hasn’t held since 2002.

This has been attributed to many airlines choosing SJC because of its emphasis on becoming Silicon Valley’s airport.

Since 2015, the airport has added flights to Beijing on Hainan, London on British Airways, Frankfurt on Lufthansa, Shanghai on Air China, and Vancouver on Air Canada.

Additionally, both Alaska and Southwest have chosen to make SJC one of their focus cities, connecting the Silicon Valley to various cities across North America.