Southwest to Get More Gates in Los Angeles

It has been rumored for years, but now it looks like it’s finally going to happen. US Airways is going to leave Terminal 1 so Southwest can have the place all to itself, assuming the LA City Council approves. That means Southwest can go into growth mode in LA while also making the experience much better for everyone at the airport.

Southwest and LA World Airports are going to pour $400 million into the renovation of Terminal 1. That money will be used to do all kinds of things.

Southwest will build a new checked baggage security system, improve passenger security checkpoints, refresh passenger waiting areas, refurbish the baggage claim area, construct new passenger boarding bridges and renovate the terminal lobby

Huzzah! Let’s map this out so you can see what’s happening.

LAX Terminal 1

Today Southwest has 12 gates of the 15 in the terminal. US Airways has just gates 6, 8, and 10 but I seem to recall that they sometimes bleed over on occasion into 4B if needed for redeyes. But Southwest is bursting at the seams and needs more room.

Looking at the weekday schedule in June, Southwest appears to have 113 departures per day plus 3 that are under AirTran. That means Southwest is currently putting 9.67 flights out of each gate at LAX every weekday. That is tremendous utilization. But up until now, it has had no opportunity to grow unless it wanted to split its operation into a different terminal, something that would be a real mess.

As you can imagine, US Airways took a very smart stance over the years. Historically it hasn’t really cared if Southwest got more gates from a competitive perspective since it doesn’t have much overlap anyway. But it sure as heck wasn’t going to spend any of its own money just to make life easier for Southwest.

For that reason, I have to assume that either Southwest or LAWA is paying all the costs for US Airways to get out of town. It appears that US Airways will be heading to underutilized Terminal 3, undoubtedly into some of the old Alaska Airlines gates before that airline left for Terminal 6.

This will also make connections to American easier once the merger goes through. (Heh, heh.) But really, American is currently maxed out in Terminal 4 anyway, so it’s not like US Airways could move right in there until a combined management team decided to cut out some flights of the LA schedule. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Now the question is… what will Southwest do in that space? Well, it will take over 3 more gates so that means nearly 30 more daily flights are possible. But it will also take over the old US Airways Club. I imagine that will be gutted to either create a proper waiting area for the awkward gate 2 or it will be part of a new mega-security checkpoint makeover.

I hope we’ll also see the big bulky bag screening machines removed from the ticketing lobby and put elsewhere to free up some space and make it so travelers don’t have to lug their own bags to the machines. Southwest can also take over more counter space if it wants.

This move is a good one for all Angelenos. For US Airways fliers, it takes them away from the madness that is Terminal 1 and puts them in a much more relaxed place. For Southwest fliers, it should give a little more space to stretch out once the renovations are complete, but it also means that there will be more flights available on Southwest.

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