Virgin America’s Impending Growth Spurs LAX Terminal Shifts

AirTran, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Frontier, LAX - Los Angeles, Spirit

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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17 comments on “Virgin America’s Impending Growth Spurs LAX Terminal Shifts

  1. 2 questions:
    1) Is Virgin Atlantic going to move in with them from T2 soon?
    2) How does Alaska/Horizon feel about this, since those of us who read your site remember the double bonus miles promotion and the addition of more flights to get more people flying Alaska Airlines to Seattle instead of Virgin America from earlier this year?

  2. Anonymous –
    1) No. Virgin Atlantic is staying in T2. There is no customs/immigration facility in T3, so V Australia flights will have to come in at Bradley and leave from T3. Virgin Atlantic doesn’t want to deal with that. Besides, there are better connecting opportunities for Australian passengers going to the East Coast than UK passengers coming through LAX and backtracking.

    2) They probably aren’t happy about it, but they have no say. Those gates are owned by the City, and they can lease them out to whomever they want.

  3. That’s a bummer that the airline that markets itself to be the sleekest and hippest by way of customer experience and design elements gets stuck with the shabbiest most run down terminal at LAX.

    Its been a few years since I passed through T3 but I always recall as dingy, and just really really dark. And that arrival tunnel to baggage claim looks like a NY Subway station.

    Anyway be curious to see how they spruce it up, short of bulldozing it.

  4. Cranky,
    Rate the threat VX’s growth poses to other airlines especially the smaller ones that compete in the same markets.

  5. It is probably the only LAX could give them, especially if the want a dedicated terminal.

  6. Cranky, where does the VX/VS/VA Clubhouse go? I’m pretty sure Alaska isn’t giving up it’s Board Room in T3, and I’ve talked with Virgin employees who’ve said they are putting one in at LAX for Virgin Atlantic, V Australia AND Virgin America to share, similar to how you can get into the SFO VS Clubhouse if you’re a VX passenger (and don’t mind shelling out the $40- and to be honest, for all the drinks and food you’d like, the $40 is a nice deal).

  7. james – They have cleaned up T3 over the last couple years, but it is still the only terminal that looks like it did back in the day. I kind of like it, to be honest, because of the retro thing.

    Margaret – I don’t think VX is much of a threat. They might siphon off some of the price-sensitive traffic in the back and some decent first class traffic, but at last check, they hadn’t really made a huge dent. Of course, we haven’t seen their numbers for a long time, so I’m not sure if things have changed. Also, I don’t think they’re really competing with any smaller carriers. They only overlap with big guys.

    OneHotProcessor – Thanks for jumping in. Come on back and comment any time!

    eponymous – Good question, and I don’t have an answer. Maybe Virgin Atlantic will open one up in T2 if NW moves over to join DL in T5.

  8. I was in T3 connecting between an American Eagle flight to an Alaska flight a few weeks ago. That terminal looks like it hasn’t left the 60s (well if you took out the Starbucks and the screens at the gates.) Architecturally its a nice building, it just needs some new carpet, chairs, and paint.

    On the other hand, connecting through LAX is an interesting trip.

  9. I really liked the following from the Airtran press release:

    “We outgrew our space in Terminal 3. Our new location in Terminal 6 will be beneficial for our customers, providing a larger space for improved comfort.”

    Um … yeah, they outgrew their space. So they’re moving to another GATE (not another terminal) for their 4 flights per day to Atlanta.

    LOL …

  10. Ooops … sorry that should have said “to a _single_ GATE … 69A … (that just happens to be in another terminal).


  11. “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).”

    That would be amazing!!!! I’d love to see a cleaned up T3 with the original 1961 style!

  12. It wouldn’t be hard for LAWA to construct an airside connector between T2 and T3… There is room on the 2nd level to do this securely and not interfere with ramp space.

    Although that would make sense, hence it won’t happen :)

  13. JamesM – I heard that as well, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I can see why Alaska would want to do it, because they could theoretically have passengers go through customs and immigration in their own terminal instead of sending them to Bradley as they do now. But, that area is controlled by United, and they can’t even accommodate all their own flights there (United’s Heathrow flight has been clearing at Bradley lately). So, I just don’t know. I would also be surprised if Alaska could get enough gates for what they want.

  14. Someone I know who works at Alaska mentioned that a company memo stated a tentative date for Alaska moving into Teminal 6 as October 2009. A project manager has been hired. But I still agree with you…we’ll see…

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