Brace yourselves: the largest shake-up in the history of Los Angeles airport is about to begin. From Friday, May 12h through Wednesday, May 17th, night crews (and the occasional day crew) will achieve the seemingly impossible feat of relocating 15 airlines.
The impetus behind one of the largest terminal swaps ever conceived is Delta’s major expansion and desire to consolidate operations in Terminals 2 and 3, close to SkyTeam partners such as AeroMexico. Delta is footing the better part of the bill for the immediate move, while Los Angeles World Airports continues to renovate and link all terminals through 2023.
At the conclusion of the move, most international airlines will remain in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT); Delta and partners including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, and AeroMexico will call Terminals 2 and 3 home; American will remain in Terminal 4 but expand into adjacent Terminal 5; Virgin America will join its new parent Alaska in Terminal 6; and United will stay put in Terminals 7 and 8, while their partner Air Canada will relocate to adjacent Terminal 6.
The next 10 days are bound to be challenging for travelers. LAX will keep passengers up-to-date at http://www.laxishappening.com, and airlines recommend that customers allocate plenty of extra time and double check their terminal and gate numbers. The Los Angeles Times also has an excellent overview of what to expect day by day during the move.
We’ll focus on the lounge situation. In addition to moving in an extraordinarily short timeframe, airlines face the unique challenge of having to make lounge facilities available to their passengers almost overnight. In most scenarios, they’ll simply swap their respective clubs, with mostly minor cosmetic changes initially.
The airlines are remaining somewhat coy about their long term plans, but here is what we know so far.
Delta to close the Sky Club at LAX Terminal 5, open two lounges in Terminals 2 and 3
Delta’s move is a long term investment. Delta’s passengers are likely to experience teething issues and longer connection times in the short term as the TBIT, Terminal 2, and Terminal 3, are currently all physically separated, with no airside connections. Delta therefore requires clubs in both terminals 2 and 3.
In Terminal 2, Delta will open a new Sky Club as early as May 13th in the space that will be left vacant by the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. With virtually no time for renovations, we expect the Sky Club to look strikingly like the current lounge—with mostly new signage and new furniture.
The Maple Leaf Lounge is a large L-shaped space with abundant daylight, views on the tarmac, and a prime location on the mezzanine floor. There are a few shower suites, which we expect Delta to preserve, although they’re not as posh as the airline’s current facilities in Terminal 5. Air Canada offers a generous buffet, so presumably Delta will not experience major challenges in delivering their traditional food and beverage selection.
The lowlight is the lack of power outlets—hopefully Delta will have a chance to address the situation.
On the heels of the opening of the Terminal 2 Sky Club, Delta will take over the Virgin America Loft in Terminal 3, which will be turned into another Sky Club, with a target opening date of May 17th. The current Loft is a bit of a case of style over substance, with an abundance of designer furniture but not a single adequate work space. The lounge closed on the 10th, which will give Delta a short week to remodel and convert the space into a more traditional environment. The lounge benefits from great tarmac views, but it’s relatively small. We expect amenities at the Terminal 3 Sky Club to be somewhat limited, at least in the next few months.
The current Sky Club in Terminal 5 will close on May 17th. Both new clubs in Terminals 2 and 3 are scheduled to receive enhancements in the January 2018 timeframe.
Terminal 5 has benefited from significant investments during Delta’s tenure. Renovated twice over the last few years, the Sky Club sports the airline’s latest design and boasts beautiful shower suites, a quiet room, private seating, and a sizeable buffet area. More significant was the airline’s roll-out of an exclusive Delta ONE lobby and check-in lounge which aimed at providing top customers with a fast and private check-in experience—an amenity without an equivalent in Terminals 2 and 3.
In the foreseeable future, the move to Terminals 2 and 3 is shaping up to be a downgrade for Delta passengers. The separate terminals, drab vintage Terminal 3, semi-temporary lounges, and lack of a Delta ONE lobby will increase the complexity of transfers and impact customer experience negatively, although the move will alleviate gate shortages. By 2021, Delta hopes to offer a world-class experience with fully integrated terminals, seamless connections between partners, and plenty of room for growth.
American Airlines expands in Terminal 5, opens a fourth lounge
Delta’s move to Terminals 1 and 2 gives American Airlines room to expand into Terminal 5, which is connected to their current Terminal 4 homebase.
The airline is in the midst of major renovations and re-branding; the main Admirals Club in Terminal 4 is currently being re-modeled, and while it remains open during construction, it’s more crowded than ever. The adjacent International First Class Lounge—the former Flagship Lounge before the opening of a new-concept Flagship Lounge, who said branding can be confusing?—is also receiving a major face lift and operating over capacity.
It’s therefore a relief that American’s passengers will be soon be able to use a new Admirals Club in Terminal 5, in the footprint of the current Delta Sky Club. We still lack specifics and a timeline, but the airline appears to be targeting a summer opening. The expansive Sky Club benefits from a roomy layout and views on the tarmac. While the food is certain to be downgraded to meet American’s much lower bar, we hope that the airline will retain the shower suites and quiet spaces.
With the small regional Admirals Club in the remote Terminal 4 building, American Airlines will soon operate a total of four lounges at LAX. The airline is expected to provide more details when construction at both Terminals 4 and 5 comes to an end.
The only Virgin America lounge closes its doors
Recently-merged Virgin America and Alaska will consolidate their operations in Terminal 6. The Virgin America Loft—the airline’s only dedicated lounge system wide—closed its doors on May 10th. Until the end of the year, Virgin America First Class passengers and Elevate Gold members will receive complimentary access to the Alaska Lounge in Terminal 6. Virgin America Elevate Silver members will be able to use purchase Alaska Lounge day passes at a discounted rate.
The arrangement will be short lived; early 2018, Alaska is expected to revert to restrict access to club members only.
The Alaska Lounge in Terminal 6 is a cozy, but busy and somewhat old-fashioned space with a strong breakfast offering, a selection of snacks and salads throughout the day, hot food for sale, a kid’s room, and cheerful staff. The airline is expected to announce major upgrades to their club in the June timeframe.
United stays put; Air Canada to open a club in Terminal 6
United is the only major US airline that’s not impacted by the move, which is fortunate since United passengers have, too, endured years of construction in Terminals 7 and 8. The Star Alliance carrier recently opened a brand new United Club, one of the largest in the system with a sleek design, a spacious layout, expansive views, an outdoor terrace, and locally prepared food.
A United Polaris Lounge, exclusively for international business class passengers, is slated to open sometime in 2017 in the space left vacant by the former United Club by gate 73, and will offer luxuries such as a full-service restaurant, private relaxation areas, and shower suites.
United’s partner Air Canada, who is about to shutter their large Maple Leaf Lounge in Terminal 2, will be moving to Terminal 6, steps away from Terminal 7 through an airside connector. Initially, the Canadian airline will direct its passengers to the United Club. On May 17th, Air Canada is scheduled to open a new Maple Leaf Lounge on the mezzanine level of Terminal 6, presumably in the vicinity of the Alaska Lounge, though the details are not known at this time.
Priority Pass members lose two options
Priority Pass, the popular airport lounge access scheme which grants members access to 1,000 lounges worldwide, will be severely impacted by the LAX move. Both the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and the Virgin America Loft, which used to welcome Priority Pass members, are closing down in the process.
This leaves Priority Pass members with a mere two lounge options at Los Angeles airport: the Korean Airlines KAL Business Lounge, an elegant club located in TBIT—far from most domestic terminals—and the Alaska Lounge in Terminal 6. Unfortunately, as of this month, Alaska Airlines implemented restrictions to mitigate crowding, and Priority Pass members will not be able to bring guests to the Alaska Lounge anymore.
The great LAX reshuffling is a stunning feat of coordination, which, in the long term, should bring significant improvements for customers of all three airline alliances. In the next ten days, chaos might ensue—plan accordingly if you’re traveling through LAX and check your terminal and gate number multiple times.
We have asked the airlines for additional information on their new lounge offerings and will report back as soon as possible.