Virgin America’s Impending Growth Spurs LAX Terminal Shifts

I had to go to LAX three times this weekend to pick up and drop off some friends, and while I was there, I saw a few flashing signs noting some of the terminal shifts that have taken place lately. What’s going on? This is all to make more room for Virgin’s expected expansion.

In short, most of the airlines in Terminal 3 are moving elsewhere so that Virgin America and V Australia can move in and grow. I spoke with Abby Lunardini at Virgin America, and she told me that they will only take three gates to start. I can’t imagine V Australia will need a full gate for their flights when they start this winter, but even if they do take one, that still leaves two empty gates for Virgin America to expand in to if they want.

So, here’s where everyone else is moving. AirTran moved to Terminal 6 on Sept 5 while Frontier moved on Sept 8. Spirit LAX Terminal 3and Sun Country will also move to Terminal 6, though both airlines are reducing or eliminating flights to LAX in the coming months. Midwest will move to Terminal 4 with American. The latest LAX map reflects all these changes.

Alaska and Horizon will continue to operate out of the six gates on the west side of Terminal 3 (marked in blue on the map at left), but Virgin America and V Australia will now take three (maybe four if V Australia has its own) of the six gates on the east side (marked in red on the map at left).

Virgin America says that they are “planning to update the space and help re-establish views of the runway and cityscape.” That’s what will happen before they move in. They are also “working with LAWA on the Phase 2 renovation, which will focus on creating a more guest-facing experience using innovative and sustainable design principles (with a bit of a retro twist back to the terminal’s original 1961 design). Now that’s something I’d love to see, but I do wonder how much effort Virgin America should be putting into this when they need to focus on running their business.

The move to Terminal 3 for expansion purposes isn’t a bad idea with everyone else reducing service at LAX, but I am curious to see how they use the new gate space. They act like they’re in expansion mode, but it was recently announced that they’d be operating charters for Myrtle Beach Direct Air. Abby tells me that they’re in an 18 month agreement on that one. It’s surprising that they don’t have a place within their branded operation to put that airplane, but it could be telling about the state of the business right now. So where will we see them use their new gate? They’ve talked about Miami and Chicago/O’Hare flights, but nothing has been announced. They could also try and connect the dots by flying to Vegas, though that’s a pretty crowded market. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Virgin America has yet to move in, and I’m still waiting to hear a final date from the airline I’ve now been told they’ll switch at the end of October. I’ll keep you posted.

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