Unlucky Gate 13

Map of the United states. Airports with a gate 13 are plotted as green dots. Airports without a gate 13 are plotted as red dots. Airports with all gates below or above 13 are plotted as gray dots.

A year or so ago, I was traveling through Portland, Maine, and noticed the airport had some ground-level gates numbered 11, 12, and 14. Gate 13 was missing.

In retrospect, this shouldn’t have surprised me. Thirteen is considered to be an unlucky number, and many buildings skip their thirteenth floor, but I’d never thought about an airport skipping its thirteenth gate. I started to pay attention, and noticed that many other airports passed over gate 13 as well.

I finally went ahead and researched the gates in every one of the 396 U.S. primary commercial service airports (airports with at least 10000 passenger boardings in 2018) and made a map, split into three categories:

Green: Airports with a gate numbered 13.

Red: Airports without any gates numbered 13.

Gray: Airports whose range of gates doesn’t include 13, so 13 isn’t being skipped. Usually this is because the airport has fewer than 13 gates per concourse, but some airports started their gate numbers higher than 13 as well.

Larger dots on the map represent larger airports.

Interesting Finds

  • There didn’t appear to be any large geographic trends in which cities were more worried about the number 13; the northeast seemed to have a slightly higher ratio of airports skipping 13 to having it, but not by any substantial amount.
  • The smallest airport that has a gate 13 is Flint, Michigan (FNT). The largest airport that skips gate 13 is Denver (DEN).
  • Las Vegas (LAS) did not have a gate 13 in any of its concourses. Since it’s a city known for gambling, I’m not surprised that it would avoid unlucky numbers.
  • A lot of larger airports had gate 13 in some concourses and skipped it in others (BOS and ORD were notable examples). I wonder if there’s some correlation between skipping gate 13 and the year each concourse was built.
  • Some airports skip gate 13, but still have baggage claim 13 (IAD did this). Maybe people aren’t worried about bad luck once they’re off the plane and done with flying for the day.

How I Made the Map

I’ve written up how I made the map on my portfolio website:

https://www.pbogard.com/projects/maps/gate-13

My Airport History: Washington-Dulles (IAD)

Flight Log: https://www.flighthistorian.com/airports/IAD

Dulles occupies an awkward place for me. With most of my flights originating in Dayton, Washington’s not a bad location for a hub; with my highest airline status on United, it connects the right airline for me. Yet for the most part, I seem to spend a lot of time going out of my way to avoid it.

At first, it was simply a matter of airline; when I first needed to start visiting Northern Virginia in 2010, my airline status was with American. My job’s contracted rate for DAY–IAD was rather high, so unless I was pressed for time, I much preferred to take the cheaper-than-the-airfare mileage reimbursement and drive nine hours than to fly on an airline I didn’t prefer into an airport I didn’t particularly care for.

In 2012, I started needing to travel to Charleston, South Carolina frequently, and our contracted airline for the Dayton/Charleston city pair was United. I gave in and switched to using United on routes where I had a choice, and Dulles was the most direct United hub between Dayton and Charleston. Yet, as often as not, I ended up booking flights through ORD instead. Though in both cases I was exclusively flying regional jets for both segments, at Dulles, I was guaranteed to have to use the A concourse and walk outside to my jet; at least at ORD, I had a reasonable chance of a jetbridge.

With the possible exception of the mobile lounges, Dulles has always felt like a really bland airport to me. The shops, restaurants, and concourse interiors are nothing special. The main terminal is unique, but when most of my flights through there involve a short connection where I may not even leave the A concourse, I hardly even get to see it. It’s a perfectly functional layover airport, but I just don’t really care for it.