Video Tour of the New LAX Bradley Terminal Concourse Under Construction

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.)

Looking Northeast Toward the New Bradley Terminal Concourse

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.

Looking North

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.

From North to South

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.

Bradley Terminal Model Overview
Photo courtesy of LAWA

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.

[See more of my photos on Flickr]


45 Responses to Video Tour of the New LAX Bradley Terminal Concourse Under Construction

  1. As I’ve watched the construction of the terminal progress the past couple of years, I’ve thought 2 things: 1) “Wow, they’re building a very funky-looking terminal”: and 2) “Jeez, I bet this is costing a fortune.”

    Seems like I eye-balled it correctly. This is a continual problem with big-city airport management. They have the taxing authority to be able to build monuments to themselves and their city’s glory, but there’s often inadequate discussion of whether it’s “worth it.” I guess it’s a good argument for the need to “starve the best” if you want to curtail government spending and taxes.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Why Cant they open the T-5/ T-4 tunnel

    • Alex Hill says:

      I’ve read that it’s been blocked by Delta (T5) because opening the tunnel would facilitate transfers between Alaska Airlines (soon to move to T5) and American (T4) and Qantas (partly T4). Cranky, do you know if there’s any truth to that?

    • CF says:

      No, it’s not a commercial issue. I believe it’s not in the best shape and would require some serious work to be usable for passengers. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

  3. Tim says:

    Great update on the Tom Bradley Terminal. I wasn’t aware of all that is going on.

    I agree with your points on the cost of the terminal and how its being shared by ALL airlines not just TBIT airlines. Most of the Intl. carriers are less concerned about cost and more concerned with product so I think they’re probably fine with higher airport fees but the domestic airlines must be unhappy. Just as you put it, Why should Southwest pay for the new International Terminal?!

  4. Brian says:

    Given that all airlines will pay the fee, I dont see any competitive disadvantage form paying an extra 5$ a head.

    • Andrew says:

      I think Cranky alluded to this when he mentioned short-haul flights. $5 tacked on to a $400 ticket from Philly isn’t a huge hit, but $5 tacked on to a $69 ticket to Tucson is a much bigger increase on a percentage basis.

    • Todd says:

      It also drives up the cost of air travel for everyone flying out of LAX, despite the fact that the vast majority of local travelers will never set foot in TBIT.

    • Jason H says:

      In addition to what Andrew and Todd said remember that the $5 increase in fees could make a marginally profitable route turn into a money loser. And in this environment a money losing route is almost sure to get the ax.

  5. The terminal will need to have a wow factor since it’s L.A. and Hollywood glam must be seen.

    Tried listening to the video twice, but it stops for me at 1:32, the timer keeps advancing but video and audio stop so couldn’t finish watching. I’ll try from another computer tonight.

  6. Sanjeev M says:

    The only place where a grand terminal is worth it is in a place like Changi or Heathrow, where transfer traffic is huge, and massive amounts of shopping and ancillaries are shoved into the terminal.

    In a place like LA people need to just get in and out of the airport. Overall this is not good for costs at all but LA won’t lose traffic because its the king of O&D.

    • CF says:

      Even in those cities, there’s no need for fancy architecture. You can still have a highly functional, attractive building without pouring a ton of money into the pretty factor of the roof.

      But other countries have different funding models. If the govt wants to plunk down a ton of money and then not make airlines pay for it, then they can do whatever they want.

  7. Bill Hough says:

    I completely agree with you on the general concept that public projects are “gold plated” these days. Terminal 3.4 at LAX is a good example of this, as your post indicates.

    The problem of costly, gold plated public works is not limited to new airport terminals. Public transportation projects all over the place are coming in with excessive costs vs. benefits. See “Oakland Airport Connector” as a case in point.

  8. Ron says:

    How about the 100-range gates (the bus depot)? Is that area getting an overhaul? When I flew out last summer it was a total zoo, with perhaps 2 vending machines to serve 4 or 5 widebody flights.

    • CF says:

      The Bradley gates are in the 100 range, but I assume you’re talking about the remote gates? The bus terminal that exists on the north end of the terminal is staying (it’s pretty new since the buses used to board from the middle). I don’t know if they’ll make any improvements, but with 6 more gates at Bradley, there will be less need for remote gates of any kind.

  9. Gustavo says:

    I disagree with the Cranky Flyer. Airports are the first impression when you visit a city. Everywhere around the world the new terminals are breathtaking (Beijing, Bangkok, Madrid T4, etc). Why do we have to have shoe boxes for airports in the US? Not everything has to look like a strip mall, just because it is cheaper. Where is the pride on having an outstanding airport?

    • KB says:

      If a city wants a fancy terminal, let the city pay for it. Increasing the facility cost to operate there by ~40% limits airlines’ opportunities, especially to small cities and low cost carriers. Pride is nice, but paying passengers care about cost above all else.

      • Arcanum says:

        Beijing, Bangkok, and Madrid are all capital cities and primary hubs for their national carriers. Those new airports are symbols of national pride that were funded and built back before the global economy tanked.

        As much as LA may think it’s the centre of the universe, it’s not. If it weren’t for Hollywood, I don’t think anyone would consider LA a major world city in the same league as NYC, Tokyo, or London.

        If the international airlines are going to benefit from this new terminal, surely a passenger fee on international passengers only would be a reasonable compromise.

        • Todd says:

          Your LA bashing is uncalled-for and uninformed. LA has the third highest GDP of any city in the world (behind only Toyko and NYC). Madrid is lovely, but it contributes less to the global economy than Seattle.

        • After spending many years living in Los Angeles I can tell you the 12 million people living in the metro area don’t all work for Hollywood. And don’t recall ever thinking I lived in the center of the universe.

      • MeanMeosh says:

        That’s the problem with “spread the wealth around” projects like this. They’re fun when you’re playing with other peoples’ money – you even get to speak in platitudes at the press conference like “everyone benefits from a better airport). Not so much fun, though, when you have to pay for the improvements yourself. It’s a lot easier to fob off the cost of these projects on air travelers, many of whom don’t live in the LA-area and can’t vote out the politicians who authorized the project, than try to defend a bond issue or local tax increase. Why else are all these sports stadiums and convention centers paid for by hotel and rental car taxes? The pols get to claim no taxpayer money was used, all the while shirking accountability for wasteful projects.

    • CF says:

      There is a VERY big difference between a strip mall and an architectural masterpiece. Look at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK, my favorite example. It’s a great terminal and it was quite inexpensive in the scheme of things (less than half the cost of Bradley’s new concourse, and that was an entirely new terminal).

      But as for “pride on having an outstanding airport,” I’d rather have a lot more flight options because the airport costs are low enough to support it any day of the week.

  10. SAN Greg says:

    As a side to this neat story, the opportunity exists for the public to take a “construction tour” of Berlin’s new airport – Brandenburg International. Wife and I took it in November. It was a super cool experience for an airline geek like me, and although it is only offered in German (which I’m fortunate enough to speak), my wife who is neither an airline freak nor speaks German really enjoyed it as well. If interested, plan well in advance and do it soon as the new airport opens in June!

  11. Al B says:

    Audio also stops for me at 1:32. Otherwise, nice report.

  12. Slomike says:

    So, will we be able to board in SLO and not have to go through LAX security?

  13. Kate says:

    As for the UP and DOWN remarks – Madrid Airport has more UP and DOWN, moving walkways, uphill walkways, elevators, twists and turns, that it requires a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way around. When space is at a premium, there’s nowhere to go but UP and DOWN!

  14. Tried from another computer and still can’t bet past the 1:32 mark on that video. Oh well.

  15. I’m curious why airlines have let the restriction that for modular terminal airports every PFC is the exact same say. A flat PFC for every airline makes sense in somewhere like Seattle, San Jose, or Dayton where there is one monolithic building, and the experience is pretty much the same. (Okay, Seattle has a satellite terminal or two, but they’re pretty similar to the main building.)

    It makes no sense at LAX, JFK, and LGA where there are multiple different terminals of significantly varying quality.

  16. No, the international carriers are not just grinning and bearing it-they are appalled by the costs involved and the costs are NOT being evenly spread throughout the community-the TBIT carriers wil pay a surcharge above the others until LAWA starts renovating the other terminals. Additionally, LAWA is demolishing the relatively new lounges paid and built by the tenant carriers at TBIT-they are disengenously paying the carriers for the unamortised portion of their new/old lounges and then turning around and charging them for the payback. BUT no taxpayer money involved!!! All paid by you, the travelling public…

  17. Cook says:

    On the whole, I think you got it right! LAX has and is spending waaay too much on the TBI Terminal. Yes, improvements and upgrades were needed. No, Damn It, Airports do NOT need to become Malls of Amerika to suerve their intended purpose. What is that purpose? Reasonable minds will differ here and I’m try trying to allow for all… LAX wants to attract more international flights and more connecting passangers, but why? The head tax supports their big ideas. In fact, several other ports of entry/exit manage the international load easier and at far less cost. LAX wants to grow, but why should they? Why do they need to grow, except to support their building program? With today’s extended range jets and the semi-new ETOPS polar routes, trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic flights are not limited to coastal airports; many mid-continent airports have international service in both directions. Unless one actually lives in the LA area, it is a great airport to avoid, just as is JFK for the Right Coasters. Short of living in or near one of those mega-port cities, some connecting flight is necessary for international travel. WHy not make the trip easier on one’s self and use a non-LAX or Non-JFK gateway? If one still needs changes and connections at the foreign end, a qualified ‘most’ of the non-US mega airports are a pleasure to use. Yes, a few are nightmares, but most are rather pleasant experiences. I need not write the list. In the end, I agree that the Big BPush at LAX is simply not worth the money. Nuff said.

  18. Nealo says:

    While cost is a concern, LAX desperately needs overhauls to it’s facilities. This new terminal looks nice and iconic and may finally solve the embarrassment factor many of us Angelinos have of our airport not being Wold Class and often a disgrace to visitors from all over the world (granted some customer service skills from LAX staff would do even more towards that).

    What I’d like to see is a similar update of the work happening in and linking the other terminals; it seems as if LAX finally let loose on some of those overhauls with a lot of activity happening not just at TBIT.

    • CF says:

      You’re right, there are a lot of other projects going on, but unfortunately very few of them really impact passengers. Here’s a rundown of everything they’ve bundled under this “LAnext” headline, some of which have been long completed.

      *$438m to replace the central utility plant at the airport

      *$270m to replace escalators and elevators with newer ones

      *$613m to create in-line baggage screening at the terminals

      *$229m to renovate Terminal 5

      *$271m to renovate Terminal 6 for Alaska’s use

      *7m to install a new runway light system

      *$175m for a new taxiway to replace the old one that was demolished for the new Bradley

      *$13.9m for a new airport response coordination center

      *$13.5m for a new aircraft rescue and firefighting station

      *$12.3m to keep the Theme Building from falling down

      *$723.5m to renovate the ticketing/baggage areas at Bradley (as discussed in the post)

      *$138m for a new taxiway to allow them to demolish the one next to Bradley

      *$333m to move the south runway further south so they could install a center taxiway

      Of all these projects, the only terminals outside Bradley getting noticeable improvements are T5 and T6. Even T5 isn’t a huge deal, considering I’ve always thought of that as one of the ones in better shape. T5 does seem to work a bit better now, but it’s not major.

      T6 is major, with Alaska implementing its airport of the future design. That opens in the spring. But none of the other terminals really see a change at all from this, with the exception of inline baggage screening.

  19. BW says:

    ?everyone benefits from a better airport.?

    You should have come back with: “Yes, like LGB, BUR, ONT, SNA…”

  20. mallthus says:

    I think there’s a commercial argument to be made for these upgrades.

    First of all, there’s nothing seemingly “gold plated” about this terminal. Big airport concourses are big expensive buildings. Period.

    Secondly, creating something that’s architecturally interesting adds very little to the cost of the project (in most cases) while it adds value to the finished product (in my next point).

    Finally, LAX is competing with other “gateway airports” for long-haul traffic. Yes, LA is a big market by itself, but O&D traffic isn’t the only thing feeding the multitude of trans-Pacific flights serving LAX. To get these services from SI, KE, QF, etc, LAX needs to compete with other gateway airports like SEA and SFO, as well as with other potential choices like YVR, DEN and DFW. You don’t win these battles with just logic (unfortunately). Marketing is needed and terminals like this are part of that.

    Just my 2¢, but I think there’s too much uninformed “spending bashers” throwing unsubstantiated claims on this.

  21. mallthus says:

    Oh, and let’s not forget what LAX used to look like.

    Those terminal islands were connected to the check-in areas by VERY long underground tunnels.

    • CF says:

      Amazingly, those tunnels are still there in most of the terminals in some form or another.

      Terminal 1 never had it, because it was built in the 1980s. Terminal 2 was bulldozed and rebuilt in the 1980s as well so no tunnel there. It’s still alive and well in Terminal 3 for passengers to use, though there is the overground connector as well. You can still see parts of it in the terminals on the other side as well.

      • I was always a fan of the tunnels. Something about being in the enclosed tunnel and then coming up into the terminal with all the action and seeing all the planes was kind of magical. (I know airplane nerd….lol)

  22. somchai_d says:

    “It?s a lot of up and down.”

    Have you been to PEK? Or any other of a handful of major international hubs where this is exactly the same system they use to segregate arrive and departing traffic?

    Seems to work like a charm at those places…so why is this such a drama for you?

  23. I have been working on the project since Jan 2011. I have never seen a bigger waste in money in the 30 years that i have worked construction. We work O.T. so that Walsh Austin the general contractor can hit milestone progress dates, only to run out of work a few weeks later. This project has a negligent lack of scheduling. Absolutely no room, due to the runway being built right up to the site. You can barely access the building to stock the material needed to do the job. Underground work takes place as we speak with big hole dug everywhere. Unheard of at this phase of the job. It defies belief almost every day. Now they want to open the north concourse by the years end which will restrict accessibility from the south that dead ends at the core, this will make the access stranglehold even worse. The only way any sub contractor will get out of there with theirs shirts on, will be to back charge the hell of Walsh Austin for their negligent lack of scheduling. This money pit will take years to sort out in court. For sub-contractors to lose money is hardly economic stimulus. The architectural design of this project has made the construction slow and costly. Also presents many unique situations pertaining to meeting the stringent safety demand…

  24. adam says:

    I have been working on the project since Jan 2011. I have never seen a bigger waste in money in the 30 years that i have worked construction. We work O.T. so that Walsh Austin the general contractor can hit milestone progress dates, only to run out of work a few weeks later. This project has a negligent lack of scheduling. Absolutely no room, due to the runway being built right up to the site. You can barely access the building to stock the material needed to do the job. Underground work takes place as we speak with big hole dug everywhere. Unheard of at this phase of the job. It defies belief almost every day. Now they want to open the north concourse by the years end which will restrict accessibility from the south that dead ends at the core, this will make the access stranglehold even worse. The only way any sub contractor will get out of there with theirs shirts on, will be to back charge the hell of Walsh Austin for their negligent lack of scheduling. This money pit will take years to sort out in court. For sub-contractors to lose money is hardly economic stimulus. The architectural design of this project has made the construction slow and costly. Also presents many unique situations pertaining to meeting the stringent safety demand… To top it off,they want to build a bridge and make another terminal to the west. The demolition of the American airline building has already started…

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