American Picks Up Some United Gates at LAX, But Why?

American, LAX - Los Angeles

You might know American and United as large airlines that compete with each other head-to-head. But if you’ve been reading the headlines lately, you might think they were real estate companies working together on projects in both Chicago and LA.

The Chicago move is pretty straightforward. The two gates that US Airways currently leases from United in Terminal 2 will be returned to United. The entire US Airways operation will be consolidated in Terminal 3 with American. Makes sense for both airlines since United has a large Express operation in Terminal 2 already and American wants to operate in one terminal. But the transaction occurring in LA is much more interesting.

LAX Map

Above is a map of LAX as it will look eventually (though things will continue to change further as time goes on). The transaction that’s happening now involves that green bit in Terminal 6. The 4 gates there that United currently uses (formerly the Continental gates before the merger) will now be leased to American.

Why would either airline want to do that?

Ever since United won a battle to allow regional flights to operate from the central terminal area instead of at remote gates, the airline has been able to consolidate its operation in one place. When the Continental merger went through, it was very convenient since Terminal 6/7/8 are all connected behind security. Now, however, United must have decided that it would rather have some extra cash instead of just squatting on gates it doesn’t need.

I asked United, and I was told that no cuts to the operation will be required, but a slew of cuts were just revealed. The airline is ending United Express service from LA to Kelowna, Bakersfield, Portland, and San Jose. Terminal 8 tends to be the United Express bastion, but you would think they’d need to move mainline over there if they’re going to be losing the mainline gates in Terminal 6. Sure enough, United is making changes to allow 737s to operate from Terminal 8. (If you remember Shuttle by United 737s operating at Terminal 8 before, those were Classic 737s which had a smaller footprint.) With that, the airline can operate just fine without the Terminal 6 gates. Though, it does make me wonder if more cuts are coming to the regional operation.

But if you’re United, why give up gates to your competitor when it will just help their position in LA? I would hope the rationale is that it’s time to stop playing games like that and instead just run an operation that you need, but I don’t know the real rationale. (Maybe there were some back-room dealings with the airport and United is getting something good out of it. I have no clue, and nobody would explain whether this is a sublease or something else.)

Meanwhile, American will become the most spread-out airline at the airport with operations in or planned for 5 different terminals. That’s nuts.

US Airways moved into Terminal 3 recently to allow Southwest to take over all over Terminal 1. The plan is to get US Airways out of Terminal 3 eventually, so the gates in Terminal 6 will help make that happen sooner. That being said, there is no timetable for it.

Meanwhile, Terminal 4 continues to be American’s main, overburdened operational center. There are gate constraints in the near term because of work being done on the Bradley Terminal, so Terminal 6 should help alleviate that temporary burden as well. When the Bradley Terminal is further along in its 10,000 year renovation, American will get some gates there too. A connector behind security is being built now, so that’s a nice little arrangement.

Then there’s the regional terminal that’s east of United’s terminal, outside the central terminal area. There’s a bus from Terminal 4 but it’s a pretty poor experience to have to shuttle between the two. My assumption had been that we’d see the smaller regional destinations shrink from LA once the merger went through. Apparently I was wrong. We’ve already seen big increases. American is adding US Airways Express CRJ-900s in several markets from LA, replacing fewer flights on smaller airplanes. So apparently American thinks that with a better-sized fleet, there is opportunity to grow.

That’s surprising to me, but if that’s the plan, than the Terminal 6 move makes even more sense. They are just going to need more gates. And having gates in a partner’s terminal, (Alaska uses most of the rest of Terminal 6) isn’t a bad plan either.

I wonder if down the line, we see American consolidate its operation in Bradley and Terminal 4 with some flights partnered with Alaska in Terminal 6. The gates in Terminal 3 would be gone as would the gates at the remote terminal.

At least, that’s one theory. But so far my track record at understanding what American will do at LAX is not very good.

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52 comments on “American Picks Up Some United Gates at LAX, But Why?

  1. I was just at Terminal 6 over Memorial Day and it was my first time in that termina. The Alaska portion is nice and refurbished but the United Gates just look old. I do think that I’d AA wants to expand at LAX this is really the only way it is going to happen. There’s already a bus between T4, T6 (for AS connections) and AE remote terminal. It’s better than being at T1-3. Plus it should work out well with AS being right there.

    I have heard rumblings that the connector between T4 & T5 may open soon too, which would give people the ability to walk between.

    I do think that AA needs to allow its Admirals Club customers flying out of T6 access to Alaska’s Board Room club.

    1. There is a United Club at T6, which will probably be closed after the transaction. Perhaps it’ll be converted into an AC?

    2. Jared – They are definitely working on that tunnel between T4 and T5 but I’ve yet to be able to get a date on when it’ll open.

  2. Do you know if the AA gates at TBIT will be dedicated AA gates near the connector? Or will they in effect just get some “slots” at TBIT and the passengers will connect from whichever gate to T4?

    I think there is already a walkway from T4-T5-T6, but it’s just a long hallway underground. No moving walkway (yet). But at least it’s behind security. The other possible future could be if AA and AS merge – given how AS has been battling with DL, it doesn’t seem likely that those two will merge. But if AA and AS do merge, then the T6 gates make that much more sense. The only thing missing is an easy/fast connection between the two terminals. I agree with you that the shuttle to the remote Eagle gates is poorly executed, but not sure how that can be improved.

    1. Larry – I think they’ll just have preferential use but I think the gates are still considered common use. I really don’t have a ton of details on this.

  3. Cranky, as Jared alluded to above, I think the only thing you failed to mention is how someone would connect from an AA flight in T6 to a flight in T4. I know some of that isn’t known, but I too have hear rumors of the T5-T54 connector opening, which would allow you to talk between the terminals (since T6 is already linked to T5).

  4. The more spread out AA is the more problems there will be for anyone making connections. So maybe UA will just be sitting back and laughing at AA causing it’s own connecting hassels.

  5. Don’t assume that AA is trying to build up LAX around online connections. Sure, there will be some percentage of connections by default, but I’d expect it to behave more like JFK where connections for AA traditionally made up less than 20% of the total traffic,,

    AA knows what markets drive connections, and will probably gate them accordingly.

    1. Eric – I think that’s right. Of course, most of those RJs buzzing around are built for connections today. But the mainline stuff should hold its own more. I think the key for connections should be to try to get more of those regionals into the central terminal area if they feel the need to continue to run them.

    2. That’s an interesting point. If it’s indeed the case that LAX won’t be a big connector for AA does that leave PHX to be their connecting market in the West? Do DFW and LAX make PHX redundant or can PHX and LAX fulfill complementary roles in the new network?

  6. Outside of regional and international flights, both of which seem like a hassle already, isn’t LAX more of an Origin/Destination market?

    1. LAX is the number origin-and-destination (O&D) airport in the world. LAX is also the 6th busiest airport in the world and the 3rd busiest in the USA.

  7. United is likely getting rid of the gates so Jeff Smisek can explain in a new on-board video how this is a change that we will all enjoy…

    1. Exactly… I like the old President’s Club in T6 much better than the the old Red Carpet Club in T7. Not a change I like from that standpoint. Maybe they will open something in T8, since T7 gets way overcrowded from time to time.

      1. UA said they are building a new bigger Club in T7. I believe it will be one level above the concourse. There’s no reason for them to operate a club in T6 if they are giving up all the gates there. I still remember when UA used most of the T6 gates – the ones Alaska uses now. UA has been using gates 60-63 fairly intensively every time I have been through there. It seems unlikely to me that UA can give up four gates at LAX without a reduction in flights.

  8. There have been mainline flights running out of T8 again for almost 5 years. 84 and 86 and at least 1 other, either 81 or 82 can handle up to an A320. I went out of 81 to SJD back in September 2009 which was right after they started sending mainline into T8 again.

    If they reconfigure the T8 gates to fit the 737’s they’re probably going to loose a gate, as the wingspan of the Airbus is 111’11” and the 737’s wingspan with winglets is 117’5″. Compare this to the 737 Classic wingspan of 94’9″ when T8 was the home of Shuttle.

    I think the bigger problem with T8 is the alley size and the ability to park 900’s there. There are roughly 39 739 flights scheduled daily this summer compared to 10 for the 319 and 19 each for the 320 and 800.

  9. I am surprised UA does not try to get another terminal after T-8 I am sure they could some how connect it to T-8 with out having to connect it to the road way system and put most of UAX in T-New then put Some of the 737 in T-8

      1. LAX has a court settlement that prevents them from adding new gates. So if a Terminal 9 was built on the other side of Sepulveda Blvd, an equivalent number of gates would have to be closed elsewhere at the airport.

    1. Jeremy McMillen – If United can operate what it needs between T7 and T8, then why would it need another terminal anyway? (Of course, as David M says, that’s not really an option.)

  10. Someday, perhaps soon, LA will have to face the inevitable fact that the current layout of all of it’s terminals don’t work well. How about bulldozing 1, 2, and 3 and 4, 5, and 6 and replacing with large single terminals? You could also add terminals beyond Bradley.

    …just thoughts on a slow work day.

    1. Seatback – What I’d like to see is an Atlanta-style airport where they start with the Bradley terminal and then push back with multiple concourses to the west. Then the central terminal area gets redeveloped. Some could be hangars to replace what’s lost to the west. They could also build a rental car and transportation center in there.

      1. That certainly seems like a logical plan. Isn’t LHR also looking to have a toaster rack configuration eventually?

        Personally, I’ve always found airports like LAX and JFK where there are multiple small airline-specific terminals to be strange. Surely it makes more sense to have a large integrated facility.

      2. Atlanta sucks, long walks from drop off to your gate. The best think about LAX is the small individual terminals.

        With status and TSA Precheck I can drop my bag and be at my gate in less then 15 min. My record was 8 minutes car door to gate with checking a bag.

  11. Surprised to see San Jose and Portland to lose the UA connection to LAX. How long before UA shuts down completely in SJC (as in Oakland a few years ago)?

    1. Oliver – I think San Jose still have value since it’s close to silicon valley. So I’d expect Denver, Chicago, and Houston would stay. I’m actually surprised at the timing. San Jose-LA has been a bloodbath but Alaska and Virgin America both just pulled out. So the market is going to look at lot better.

  12. The AA/OneWorld/partner operation at LAX is confusing as @#$#. I’ve got an upcoming trip coming back from Down Under (MEL) back to DC. I’m using AA miles, and have seats on QF over the pond. But once I get to LAX, then what? I have premium cabin seats, so I have every intention of using a lounge and taking a shower.

    So, at LAX, I have options on US, AS, and AA. AA flies N/S to IAD (which would be preferrable, but doesn’t have seats available). AS flies N/S to DCA, but with a long layover. But will I have lounge access? Since I will clear at TBIT, I won’t be passing thorugh T4, and it’s not obvious that I will have lounge access with AS, because AS isn’t a one-world partner.

    US is an option, but does the lounge really fit my needs?

    I ended up with F seats on the A321T through JFK. I’ll get flagship lounge access in both LAX and JFK, plus a good hard product and decent soft product across the country.

    TL;DR: The operation is confusing as all hell.

    1. Don’t forget that AA flies N/S to DCA, too–soon twice per day. The first one leaves a little early to catch the connection from the QF flights, but I think the second one is scheduled to leave around the same time as the AS flight. That would enable you to use the AA flagship lounge at LAX, which is nice. Warning: the AS lounge at LAX (in terminal 6) doesn’t have shower facilities.

  13. I may be wrong or uneducated about all of the issues involved; but on the surface, it seems that a simple solution that might benefit all concerned would be for American, Alaska and Delta to exchange a like number of gates among themselves in Terminals 5 and 6.

    1. Problem is AA owns T4 and DL owns T5 (nicest terminal at LAX in my opinion). In addition, AA was promised first right of refusal for any future gates that became available under an agreement when they lost the old Eagles nest and half their apron and old TWA hangar when the TBIT expansion started.

      1. AA doesn’t own Terminal 4. LAWA does. AA just leases it. LAWA has a lot more say about what is constructed than what an airline wants.

    2. DesertGhost – Yep, as others have said, Delta is going anywhere and neither is American. If I were Delta, I wouldn’t give up T5 either.

  14. DL WILL GO AFTER AS, TO GROW ON THE WEST COAST,TO COMPETE WITH UA, AND TO SLOW,MAYBE BLOCK AA FROM GETTING ANOTHER HUB–[IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST] //

    MAYBE T8,CAN BE EXPANDED SOME TO FIT THE B737s AND RJ

    dont understand dropping LAX-PDX and SJC….[???] /// — however,I do understand dropping the other two small towns-WHO CARES ABOUT THEM,they are not important

    WISH UA WOULD SELL THE UAX GATES AT IT’s EWR HUB,in TRMNL-A, and expand the concourse fingers in it’s TRMNL-C ,to consolidate there,and for AC also, and to have ALL the intl-dptrs and arrivals ,be in TRMNL-C ,and not use INTL-TRMNL-B at all,except for STAR-ALLIANCE partners, then ALL UA and UAX would be in TRMNL C

    at UA’s ORD hub, it’s TRMNL-1, C-concourse, should be expanded ,[ add gates around C16,18,and 20],to add an US Immigration and Customs facility,so not have to use Intl-T5 ,for intl-arrivals –[ALL INTL dptrs and arrivals,would be in TRMNL 1,C-concourse]
    and then ALL UA and UAX ,would be in TRMNLS 1 and 2

    at UA’s SFO hub, move UAX out of TRMNL-1 ,and be ALL back in TRMNL-3

    AND AT it’s IAD-DULLES hub, —- BUILD THE NEW MIDFIELD C and D concourse , and expand the AERO train to the NEW D concourse, making a true loop, and eliminating the last of the moving lounges, and maybe extend the underground walkway tunnel, from the A/B concourse ,to the new C and D concourse / remolded-extend the current A concourse,to be just like the B-concourse
    UA and UAX ,would be ALL consolidated,in the new midfield concourse

    CONSOLIDATING TERMINALS-CONCOURSES-GATES, CUTS COST AND SAVES MONEY, and BETTER SERVICE AND CONNECTIONS FOR CUSTOMERS-PAXS

  15. DL- MAY DO A HOSTILE TAKEOVER ,OF AS ,to BLOCK AA ,from getting them ,but would be a long time for AA,as it has just begun it’s merger, with US,and DL has MONEY TO DO IT , NOW

  16. Why have you always refused to acknowledge that AA is going to do big things with LAX? This is just the start. LAXPDX/LAXSEA are coming, among others.

    UA is also ending LAXPIT, which AA ran it out of.

    1. I believe he means all airlines of Canadian origin (as opposed to an airline named “Canadian Airlines”), if that is what prompted your comment

    2. Derek – Oh, do you prefer the French compagnies a√©riennes Canadiennes? (At least, that’s what Google Translate tells me.) As Ryan points out, the airlines of Canadian origin, WestJet and Air Canada, operate there.

      1. I think most people realized you were referring to airlines from Canada. Still, I had the same thought when I first saw your graphic. As a common noun, “airlines” should not have a capital. The way you’ve written it, “Canadian Airlines” would refer to the defunct carrier merged into Air Canada a decade or so ago.

  17. UA is eliminating SJC-LAX Express service? That sucks for me. SJC-LAX-Hawaii was a nice under the radar route with a usually cheaper airfare than SFO-Hawaii. I did that route several times the last five years when the SFO-Hawaii airfares were significantly higher. Damn…

  18. The terminal lay out at LAX was conceived in the 1950s and was never designed with today’s aircraft size and traffic demands of today. One advantage here is that LA is a coastal city thus why not study the feasiibility of a ” floating airport ” far enough from the shores of Long Beach. Obviously, there would be no geographical constraint for future expansion and an overnight curfew would not be needed …

    1. Skagwaysioux – The environmentalists will never go for it, and the costs would be astronomical. Also, considering prevailing winds are still usually east/west, there will be traffic over the land. So you’d need to move it very far out to avoid that. I like the idea in theory, but I just don’t see it ever being approved.

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