Delta’s Plan to Move to Terminals 2 and 3 at LAX Would Solve a Lot Of Problems

Delta, LAX - Los Angeles

Late last week, Delta CEO Richard Anderson decided to let slip in his message to the troops that Delta had signed a letter of intent that would ultimate see the airline move to Terminals 2 and 3 at LAX. Though this appears to have caught just about everyone off-guard, and it’s far from final. If this happens, it would be great news for travelers flying in and out of the airport.

In his message, Richard didn’t say much, but FlightGlobal picked up the story and it blew up from there. I asked Delta for more information, and this is all I could get.

Delta has signed a Letter of Intent with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and the City of Los Angeles to rehabilitate Terminals 2 and 3 at Los Angeles International Airport and relocate its operations. The agreement remains subject to approval by the LAWA board of airport commissioners and the Los Angeles city council.

This raises so many questions, and there are no answers to be had. I asked LAWA for a quote, and they referred me to the Mayor of LA’s office. The Mayor’s office also had no statement and said someone would get back to me. (Still waiting…) Then I asked people at long-time Terminal 2 tenant Hawaiian Airlines if they had anything to say about it. They didn’t even seem to be aware. It seems pretty clear that Richard started talking about this long before he should have. What I’m told is that this is a non-binding letter of intent, so nothing is in stone at this point (or even close to it).

I’ve made a California Public Records Act request to see the LOI, so whenever I get it, maybe it will shed more light. But what is clear here is that Delta wants to move to Terminals 2 and 3 and LAWA obviously likes the idea or it wouldn’t have entered into the agreement. Even though it’s early, it’s hard not to speculate about this. This would make things better for just about everyone.

To see why, take a look at this current map of how the airport functions today.

LAX Current Lineup

As you can see, it’s a mess and there are a lot of problems.

  • Southwest is starting international service soon, but it has no ability to handle that in its current terminal, so it will have a split operation.
  • Delta is separated from all of its joint venture partners (Air France/KLM, Aeromexico, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia) and has its own operation split across 2 terminals. It wants more gates and can’t get them.
  • The cats and dogs (Allegiant, Boutique Air, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Virgin America) operate in a crumbling Terminal 3.
  • American is split across 4 different terminals, one of which requires busing.
  • United is separated from its joint venture partners (ANA, Lufthansa Group)

United is pretty much the only airline with a good setup. Once it finishes its renovation of Terminals 7 and 8 (which are basically one terminal, connected behind security), United will only have one issue. It will still be separated from its joint venture partners. That’s not going to be resolved regardless.

That being said, it’s easy to think about how this could turn out. Before getting too excited about this, it’s important to remember that a Delta move over to Terminal 2 and 3 will take years if it happens. By 2020, however, it could look something like this.

Possible Future LAX Lineup

On the north side, you can see those amorphous blobs representing Southwest and Delta. Southwest is currently renovating Terminal 1, but there has long been talk of a Terminal 0 where a parking lot is located. As Southwest grows, I assume we’ll see some cohesive large solution to serve the airline’s needs.

As for Delta, we have absolutely no idea what Delta will do there. It says in its statement that it will “rehabilitate” Terminals 2 and 3, but is that really possible? I would imagine it would have to be a complete redo. It would certainly require creating one facility behind security that would also need to connect to the Bradley Terminal. This would give Delta the gates it needs and it would connect it with its joint venture partners. I’m sure it would end up being a huge upgrade, regardless of what actually happens.

But what about the airlines that are displaced? Fortunately, the process has already begun on building the midfield satellite concourse to the west of the existing Bradley Terminal. The north part of the concourse has been approved and will be done in 2020. It’ll have 11 gates, and those gates would be perfect for serving all the Canadian/Latin airlines that are in Terminal 2 today (except for Aeromexico which might co-locate with Delta). Those gates could also be used for some of the cats and dogs depending upon how many gates they need.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the airport, getting Delta out of Terminal 5 allows American to consolidate its operation all in one place. Most importantly, it could kill the remote terminal where all Eagle flights operate today and move those back into the main terminal area. That alone would make for a dramatic improvement in the experience at LAX for travelers.

This spring, the connector between Terminal 4 and the Bradley Terminal opens, making it easy for American to connect to its joint venture partners (British Airways/Iberia, JAL, Qantas). American is also using gates in the Bradley Terminal itself, and this will now be much easier for the airline to do.

With this, I find myself wondering if Alaska could be moved into Terminal 5 as well. This would allow American to further strengthen its relationship with the airline. But for now, I’m assuming Alaska stays where it is in Terminal 6 while American abandons its gates. Some of the cats and dogs could move in there. United stays as is.

I don’t mean to put the cart ahead of the horse here, but I just wanted to illustrate how this Delta move could make things better for everyone. Travelers would have a better experience across the board regardless of the final layout. Airlines would be able to consolidate their operations. And LAX would start to resemble a functioning airport.

For the millionth time, we need to remember that Delta’s move is far from a done deal, but it’s exciting to think about how dramatically this could improve things. Let’s hope it happens.

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35 comments on “Delta’s Plan to Move to Terminals 2 and 3 at LAX Would Solve a Lot Of Problems

  1. It sounds like a great idea, beneficial for every user and passenger. So probably it’ll never happen ;)

  2. The thing that no one seems to be menntioning that I think is really interesting is – didn’t Delta just complete a massive overhaul of Terminal 5 this year? That Delta One entrance sure would be nice for those flying JetBlue Mint. I like the setup and understand their need for more gate space (where doesn’t Delta want moar gates?) but I can’t see them using it for 5 years and then turning a newly renovated, state-of-the-art terminal over to the riff-raff errr competition.

    1. Sean – As Carl said, much of the cost was airport-funded though bonds. So it gets paid by the airlines through fees as they operate. But the former head of LAWA had a general philosophy that enhancements to the airport are good for everyone, so everyone should pay. Some costs are borne by the tenants but it’s not huge in the scheme of things.

  3. Is there a bus for passengers arriving on ANA/Lufthansa into the Bradley Terminal and connecting to United in terminal 7/8? Or do those passengers have to leave security?

    1. EC – As grichard said, they have to clear customs/immigration anyway. But for the reverse, people arriving domestically on United connecting to a partner, there is no bus I know of. They have to leave security until, as KJ mentioned, the connector opens to Bradley. At that point, all terminal from Bradley through 4 to 8 will be connected behind security. It’ll be one looooong walk from the United gates though.

      1. Going from T6 to TBIT, do you need to climb up to T5 and (soon) T4, or does the tunnel go all the way through on the lower level?

  4. This should not be up to the airlines, but the authority that runs LAX. Don’t they have planners who can come up with a rational solution knowing all the variables — at least those that are shared by the airlines.

  5. Another problem with the current setup not mentioned is that AC is separated from UA, and they codeshare a lot, so it would make sense to put AC in T6. (This is a bit different than LH/NH which you mention because passengers arriving from those flights need to go through immigration and re-clear security anyway). I don’t mind too much personally because I know how to cut across the parking lot between the two, and Nexus/Global Entry gives me TSA Precheck, but it is a problem for the inexperienced traveller who books a UA/AC connection at LAX. I’ve had to give people the bad news that their connection isn’t as straightforward as they thought it was. (I’ve similarly had to break the bad news to people about SFO, where some of AC’s flights are in the Int’l A gates, disconnected from UA).

    1. Totally agree with this on AC. I don’t mind the hike across the parking lot but it would be better to put AC with UA.

  6. Wasn’t there a plan to relocate rwys and/or taxiways on the south side that would impact T1, T2 & T3? Any idea what happened that idea?

    1. ejj – Yes, there was talk of that, and it’s why they had planned a new linear terminal that would end further south than the existing structures. But I believe that’s not going to happen. Were I betting man, I’d say they’ll end up pushing the northernmost runway further north into Westchester and then leave the terminal area alone. But there’s a lot that has to occur for that to be possible.

  7. You’ve probably answered this a dozen times before, but why do our American airports, or is it the airlines themselves, all seem to think each airline should have its own gates at which aircraft have to park.

    Why not a single departure area for each airline’s pax (check-in of the airline’s choosing) and then an airport-operated shuttle (or, an airline’s own choice of) out to the planes parked at hard-stands? Seems that would be more efficient and less costly, although I have no facts to support this.

    Just wondering.

    1. JayB – while hardstand loading does occur on some places even occasionally in the US, gates and jetbridges don’t really take up more space than an aircraft on a hard stand. Plus most jetbridges are allocated with ground power and air preventing the need for external equipment for those services. Its also quicker to board via bridge than stairs.

      Cranky – do you recall what LAX’s maxium gate limit is? And where will it be after the midfield opens and T-4 expands to 15?

    2. JayB – It’s just the way the funding schemes worked. In many cases, airlines built their own terminals. (Look at JFK as an example back in the day.) It doesn’t make sense. Common use is much better, but even with common use, you need to ensure your operation and your partners can be near each with easy accessibility.

      Jeffery – The current max gate limit is 153 but that includes remote gates. I don’t know if they’re right at 153 now, but the goal is to be at 153 up until this agreement expires in 2020. So when the midfield concourse opens, they’ll have to kill off some remote gates either at the west end or in the Eagle terminal.

  8. Too bad LAX couldn’t do what DTW did and build new terminals from scratch. The current terminals are totally inadequate for the amount of traffic that goes through LAX these days. In lieu of a new terminal, this plan would make some sense. Hopefully, Delta can make Terminals 2/3 less ghetto than their current home. That hallway from Terminal 5 to 6 is totally depressing.

    1. Every time I use that underground connector I think of some cold war fallout movie. . . .Something’s gotta give at LAX, but I think your point on overall inadequacy of the facility is more true. The roadway surrounding the terminal is the biggest problem at LAX. Adding more gates is not going to help that — the whole airport needs an overall infrastructure overhaul (maybe some type of people mover to a rental car or off site parking/ground transportation center?).

        1. Didn’t see that! Thanks!! Of course it won’t be done until 2021, which in public works time means 2025. But. . . progress??

  9. The rumors of Delta wanting T2/3 and build a bridge to TBIT have been going around LAX for months. The last word around LAX was that they had insufficient flights to justify taking both T 2 and 3. Given that word around LAX was also that the Virgins wanted to consolidate into T3 and they also wanted the entire terminal, the problem being that VA, VX, and VS together don’t have enough flights to justify that as well. If you get DL, VA, VX, VS, and maybe AM into there together it may be enough to justify giving them T2 and 3. If not, maybe toss in KL and AF, maybe a few other partners, MU, CZ, etc.

    Word is they want to resurrect the tunnel between T2 and T3 but apparently the last re-do of the baggage carousels may have blocked part of the tunnel.

    While T2 has gotten a nice remodel courtesy of Westfield since they now hold the contract for T2 concessions, T3 definitely needs a bit of work.

    Though for some of those cats and dogs, the remodel will mean being tossed back into T6. A handful of years and they would have gone from T3 to T6 to T3 and back to T6.

  10. I agree that automobile, rental/hotel courtesy buses, etc is IMHO the biggest problem LAX has right now. When I lived in SF, it was also a major problem at SFO until they built the new central rental car facility and now it’s amazing the difference without as many shuttles. I know LAX has it in the plans and I am hoping the same.

    What is the feasibility of having a people mover above the upper traffic deck that can move passengers both behind security as well as outside of security? A big loop with trains running every couple of minutes.

    If Delta does move and American is able to consolidate all flights into one terminal, the remote gates for AE will not be needed. It might be possible to build a passenger bridge over Sepulveda and build another terminal similar to T8. This would allow United to expand into the new terminal, possibly opening T7 to Star Alliance partners that would need an FIS to process arrivals? Granted the A380 might need a place.

    Just a thought

  11. This is taken from DL’s playbook when they remodeled JFK T2/3 and migrated to T4. Unfortunately, the final product was a never-ending walkway terminal in T4, and still-crappy facilities in T2, with behind-security jitney buses that have extended lines just to board. Hopefully the LAX plan will be better executed.

  12. On another Note…………TWA’s Old Hanger(s) are set for demolition sometime in 2016. Future use?

    1. TWA hangar to be torn down to make way for 12 gate Midfield Satellite Terminal and associated taxi lanes. Qantas has recently moved its maintenance base from the TWA hangar to its new A380 hangar under construction near Pershing and World Way West.

  13. Hey Cranky!
    So I was wondering if you knew if the relocation plan had been released yet for the airlines in T2 and T3. (I felt the need to ask this on a relevant post to my topic question.)

  14. “Before getting too excited about this, it’s important to remember that a Delta move over to Terminal 2 and 3 will take years if it happens. By 2020, however, it could look something like this.”

    It’s remarkable stumbling upon this not-all-that-old post and finding that the move was done just 18 months after this idea came to light, with the layout more or less as you predicted. (Of course, there are years left on the renovations.)

    And this was before the Alaska-Virgin America merger made this move make even more sense!

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