Earlier this week, I had the chance to tag along on a media tour of the progress being made on the new Bradley Terminal concourse at LAX. It’s a big, impressive terminal, that’s for sure. I just wish they hadn’t wasted quite so much money. (I know, I know, I sound like a broken record.)
Let’s start with a brief history. If you’ve never been to the Bradley Terminal at the western end of the horseshoe of terminals at LAX, you know that once you get past security, the concourse are very small with limited seating and almost non-existent amenities. It really is a poor experience, and I think few would argue that something new was needed. LA World Airports (LAWA) spent over $700 million fixing up the pre-security area (ticket counters, etc), but the concourse needed to go, so they came up with a plan to knock down the existing concourse and build an all new one immediately behind it.
When I wrote about this in 2008, it was expected to open with 14 gates beginning this month. The entire project was around $2 billion, which included a new taxiway, fire station, etc. The price hasn’t changed much (the terminal will now be $1.7 billion on its own without the other improvements) but one more gate was added (plus 3 existing gates that are staying for a total of 18) and it has slipped a year. The first phase will open in March 2013.
For those who prefer visuals, take a look at this 2:49 video walkthrough of the project. Then stick around for the explanation.
Travelers will enter as they do today, into the main ticketing area. But instead of going either to the left or to the right to get into one of the two security lines, there will be a new central security area that feeds into the new concourse. Once you go through security, you’ll come out into the Great Hall.
This is where all the big shops, restaurants, and lounges will be. They kept talking about it being a town square, or something like that. To the north, there will be a short concourse with a larger one to the south. You can see this area under the shorter ceilings.
Travelers will all board through the same gate entrance, but some will walk immediately upstairs to board on the upper deck if on an A380 while other stay downstairs. That might be a bottleneck. Arriving passengers will get off the airplane and then promptly go UPstairs. There will be a glassed-in sterile corridor that goes above the departure gates for arriving passengers. They’ll walk to the middle of the terminal where they’ll have to then go all the way back down to the basement for customs. It’s a lot of up and down.
When it first opens, the 10 gates on the west side of the building will be operational. The east gates will have to wait until they demolish the old concourse, which they will do one side at a time so that they can keep enough gates operating.
On the very northern end, three gates from the old concourse will actually remain and will be attached via a walkway at that end. Why? Because the LAX master plan has a line north of which no building will occur. That’s for future plans to separate the runways further for safety purposes. Even though new construction can’t occur, old construction is grandfathered in. So they’re keeping those three gates, as awkward as it might seem.
Eventually, there will also be connectors between the Bradley Terminal to Terminals 3 and 4 behind security to make for better connections. If they could only open up that Terminal 4-5 connector, the entire airport would be connected behind security except for Terminals 1 and 2.
So is it worth the $1.7 billion (part of a larger $4 billion+ renovation at the airport)? No. I mean, the new terminal was needed, but did they really need to spend so much money on this crazy roof? I’m sure they could have gotten something just as light and airy but without looking like a copy of Mexico City’s Terminal 1 for a lot less.
The airport CEO, Gina Marie Lindsey, keeps hammering on how this takes no money from the LA general fund so it costs taxpayers nothing. Yeah, right. That money ends up coming from higher operating costs. According to Gina Marie, the cost per enplanement at the airport will rise from $12 today to “only” $17 somewhere around 2016. I’d be amazed if that held true considering the $4 billion being spent, but even if it does, that $5 per head will be problematic, especially for domestic flights.
Gina Marie was quick to say that they were working to spread the cost of these projects around the entire airport. That means that Southwest, sitting alone in Terminal 1, will still have to pay for some of this even though it gets none of the benefit. Oh, I’m sorry, airport officials kept dismissing my questioning along those lines with “everyone benefits from a better airport.” I’d like to see what the airlines say about that.
While international carriers will grin and bear it, the domestic guys, especially those flying shorter haul flights, could see real pressure on some flights. I don’t dispute that much of this work needed to be done; I just wish there was more concern about cost control in order to keep as many flights viable as possible.
But hey, what’s done is done at this point. We’ll see how things look next March when the concourse opens for business.