Anyone who has flown Southwest through Terminal 1 in Los Angeles over the last couple of years knows that it’s been pretty awful. That’s just the nature of having to keep a facility functioning while doing a massive renovation. Things have gotten better behind security, but next week comes the big leap forward when the airline opens its new security checkpoint. I was able to do a walk-around this week so I can give you a preview before it opens on Monday.
For those who aren’t entirely familiar with Terminal 1, when you walk in from the curb on the departures level, there were historically ticket counters on the left and right sides. In the center is an escalator up that leads to the security checkpoint. Here’s a picture I took of that central area late at night when nobody was around.
It may look serene in that photo, but try it in the middle of the day and it’s a mad house. That checkpoint has become incredibly cramped despite efforts to blow out walls and take over former retail spaces. So as part of Southwest’s renovation, it completely rethought the arrangement.
Last year, I wrote about how Southwest’s old ticket counter on the right (east) side would be shut down in favor of a new ticketing area on the left (west). Once that happened, the east side was walled off and they started knocking things down. They blew right through the ticket counter and offices behind and then built an addition in an area that used to be outside on the ramp so people could go through security and then go upstairs into the concourse. Here’s what the new area going upstairs behind security looks like.
And here’s a video I took on Monday that walks you through the entire process.
To start, this won’t add any new screening capacity. There are 8 lanes today and there will be 8 next week. But with capacity for 12 lanes, Southwest now has the ability to grow once the rest of its gates open post-renovation over the next year. It’s also a much easier and less hectic experience getting through security.
If you’re traveling on Monday, April 3, get there early. That day there will only be 6 lanes operating as they move the first two over to the new checkpoint. They move 2 more over each day until the 6th when the old checkpoint is shut and the new one is fully operational.
Are there any downsides? Yes, but they’re temporary. This isn’t the end of the renovation, so the next phase will bring new pain.
The traffic flow before security is going to be pretty rough for the next year. The central area where the security checkpoint is today will be completely walled off. Here’s a view looking west from the new security area through the central area toward where the ticket counters are.
Since that central area will be under construction, you will have to enter the building on the far west side where Southwest’s ticket counter is. Then there will be a tunnel built to get people over to the security area. That means it won’t be fun for travelers to have to funnel into this one area even if they don’t need to go to the ticket counter.
On the way out of the terminal it’s worse. If you do have checked bags or need to go to the arrivals level, nothing changes. You’ll take the same escalators down to baggage as you do today. But if you want to get to the ticketing level (which is increasingly important since LAX now has all ridesharing and some shuttle buses which only use the ticketing level roadway) you’ll have to walk back through security and go through a corridor on the far east side that leads back out through the makeshift tunnel to the ticket counter. Then you can go outside from there, and you’ll have to walk all the back to the east side where the ridesharing stops are. Or for those who prefer bad graphics…
The good news is that this is temporary. A year from now, I’ll get to take a look at the final big phase of the renovation. In the center section down below, there will be restrooms. Up above, that’s going to be a big concession area behind security with a nice view. Once that opens, the exit to the ticketing level will be where those center escalators are today. It’ll be a one way exit, but it will make for much better traffic flow.
If you fly through next week, let’s hear how it goes. Hopefully this is the big improvement it looks like it should be.