The old USO Center near the Delta Air Lines gates at San Francisco International Airport shut down for good in March during the onset of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.
But the USO Center is now back in business in a brand new location with updated health and safety modifications to keep traveling service members and volunteers protected from the pandemic. (See the photos below and the slideshow at the top of this post for a look!)
The center reopened Sept. 30 in a bigger, brighter 5,300-square-foot space located pre-security above the American Airlines ticket counter in the new $2.4 billion Harvey Milk Terminal 1.
Along with a roomy seating area, there’s a snack bar staffed with friendly volunteers who will prepare and serve items — as in most airline lounges, self-service buffets are another victim of COVID-19. There’s also a TV room, in-lounge restrooms, a gaming room, children’s room and a big stowage area that can store rucksacks and other luggage.
Individually wrapped cookies celebrating the opening of the new USO Center have been popular with guests.
The airport paid construction costs for the new space, and the USO took care of furnishing and finishing it.
USO Centers are lounges designated for active duty military and their families to unwind before or after flights at no cost. Volunteers typically staff the center — more than 100 take turns working at the SFO location, according to Monique August, USO’s Northern California executive director. About 30,000 service members visit the SFO location each year.
Plastic partitions have been installed between seats to create a germ barrier between guests seated in these recliners.
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USO stands for United Service Organizations, with a mission of strengthening “America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.” Its website also states that “since 1941, the USO has been the nation’s leading organization to serve the men and women in the U.S. military, and their families, throughout their time in uniform. From the moment they join, through their assignments and deployments, and as they transition back to their communities, the USO is always by their side.”
The airport centers are immensely popular among service members as a refuge to wait out flight delays, and to escape the exorbitantly high airport prices for food, beverages and other amenities. That’s particularly true at SFO, where airport dining can be quite pricey for a service member’s pay grade.
A gaming room features PS4 and retro Nintendo gaming consoles, precisely what young service members need to pass the time before a flight.
Masks are required, and social distancing signage reminds guests to keep their space.
Capacity is capped at 24 guests to maintain social distancing within the lounge, August said. That’s OK for now because all branches of the U.S. military have scaled back commercial airline travel amid the pandemic. The USO Center is typically open 24 hours, seven days a week, but for now, hours have been reduced to 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Circumstances could change during the holidays when people begin traveling home to see their families. That is when the USO typically sees its biggest crowds, August said. You can take a full tour of the lounge in the slideshow at the top of this post, and find more information about SFO’s USO Center here.
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