Transforming LAX Terminals 2 and 3 Into the Delta Sky Way

Delta, LAX - Los Angeles

A couple years ago, Delta moved from its long-time home in Terminal 5 at LAX (along with a few gates in Terminal 6) for control of the combined Terminals 2 and 3. It could also use gates in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), where many of its international partners flew.

In the short run, this was a bad plan since Terminal 3 was in awful shape, and none of them were connected behind security. But for Delta this wasn’t about the short term. It gladly moved in, set up a bus to connect the terminals behind security, and set forth on a plan to remake the terminal into the Delta Sky Way, a 27-gate fortress where Delta and partners could work to dominate the world.

This plan has now been accelerated thanks to the pandemic. Traffic is so low that Delta could shut down Terminal 3 entirely and do the work needed to make it functional. Today we’ll walk through that plan.

Here is the Delta complex in its entirety.

(Ok, ok, TBIT shows just the northern half, but you get the point.) Remember, T3 and T2 may look connected, but that’s not the case behind security. T3 is the one terminal that’s about as close to its original form as possible, and that’s not a good thing. It’s just not functional.

With that in mind, Delta has, as mentioned, shut the thing down. It is now a complete and total construction zone while Delta runs its entire operation out of T2. It is busing some travelers to airplanes parked off the end of T3, but they never set foot in the terminal itself. So it looks roughly like this:

This will be the state of affairs for awhile. We won’t see anything new open until the first quarter of 2022, a little over a year from now. That’s when the giant new headhouse makes its debut:

A headhouse is usually the area before security where people can check in upstairs and reclaim bags downstairs, but this one is going to do several important things. When Delta gave me a tour at LAX recently, I was able to get a look at the construction. This will better help explain what’s going on.

The image above is the view from T2 looking southwest. The scalloped TBIT roof can be seen behind the construction. The horseshoe roadway is just on the other side of this steel structure, which will become the giant new headhouse. What Delta is effectively doing here is making T2 and T3 into one terminal. All of Delta’s (and partners) check-in counters will be located in this building. (I’m told what happens with the old counter area in T2 hasn’t been decided.)

There will now be a central security checkpoint in this headhouse, so everyone will go through security there before turning left to go to T3 and right to go to T2. That means that there is a secure corridor that runs the length, making it easy to walk between T2 and T3 for connections.

You might be wondering why this headhouse looks so big. Well, this will also have a gigantic Sky Club running the entire length of the headhouse on the upper level. As part of this, there will be an outdoor Sky Deck as part of the club which I’m told has a retractable roof in case it rains. This is going to be a pretty great setup.

By the middle of 2022, the next phase opens. That’s when we get our first glimpse at the “new” Terminal 3:

I put “new” in quotes, because technically this isn’t brand new construction. They are just renovating it until it’s virtually unrecognizable.

When T3 was first built, it was just a satellite connected via underground corridor to the ticketing area. Back in the day they built an above ground corridor connecting the satellite and headhouse, but it was pretty useless. That corridor holds a grand total of… 1 gate. The new T3 will have a wider corridor with more gates on both sides.

Here’s a look at T3 today with the original satellite rotunda topped by that dirty brownish bulge:

As you can see in the photo I took above, the connector that goes into T3 from the left will also be multi-level. That’s where Delta will have offices above the behind-security walkway from the headhouse.

The random extenders that come off the rotunda are being pulled down, and the rotunda itself will be expanded and squared off. In short, it’ll be unrecognizable, but I’m assured that the old tunnel to baggage claim below ground will remain for those who want to hunt for history when they fly through.

By mid-2022, the biggest work is done, but there are two more phases. The next is when the West Headhouse opens in T3 by the end of 2022.

The West Headhouse is going to be the point where the automated people mover connects into the terminal complex. People will come in from the people mover that connects to long term parking, public transit, rental cars, etc, and walk over the parking lots and roads via tunnel to enter here.

Now we get to the final phase, which has moved up by 18 months to mid-2023. This is what it will look like in the end:

T2 will be renovated to remove the security checkpoint and create more space/concessions on the concourse level. It’s also possible that the old ticketing area will be part of this, depending upon what happens. But this is also when the connector between T3 and TBIT opens. If you’ve used the connector between T4 and TBIT on the south side of the terminal, you know what this will do. It opens up the ability to connect behind security between Delta and its partners that use TBIT, airlines like Air France/KLM, Korean, and others.

When this is done, Delta will control 27 gates that it and some partners will use. All gates will be connected behind security, and walking to every partner in TBIT will be simple. As an added bonus, there will be a world-class lounge with the outdoor deck. It’s hard to imagine this considering the state of affairs today, but in less than 3 years, it’ll be a whole new world.

44 comments on “Transforming LAX Terminals 2 and 3 Into the Delta Sky Way

  1. Presumably Delta has an agreement with LAWA to use TBIT gates during construction if demand returns before the “new” T3 is completed. A bussing operation is expensive but that might be the only way they can have access to some of those gates – but I am sure that there will come a point when planes can’t even park near T3 due to construction.

    There is alot of airport construction going on in the country right now. There are pictures in various places but some travelers will be surprised to see massive facility changes when they return to airports.

    1. Now if only ORD could accelerate their construction timeline so we don’t need to wait another decade.

      1. Chris, as I understand it ORD (T-5) is complicated – but then it always has been!

        They were going to pack so much into T-5 because DL was moving from T-2 to permit the demolition of T-2 to allow the start of the construction of the new “Worldport” (or whatever the name of the month is right now).

        So, DL moving into an already crammed T-5 was going to be a huge challenge and that in itself was causing major modifications within T-5 to accommodate them.

        Ergo covid came along, and the far-eastern routes dried up, releasing lots of widebody space, and what appeared to be a major challenge now looked feasible.

        Then WN came along, with its plans for about 20 departures per day (2 gates).

        One of the greatest challenges is that the outbound baggage system is still quite unable to cope, and is the cause of delays, missing baggage, etc. etc.

        Last time I flew out of T-5 (pre-covid) they still didn’t have a proper PreCheck line, and that’s the least of their problems.

        1. Thanks for the update; I’m based at ORD and I dread flying out of T-5. No lanes for people with status, no precheck, etc. It really needs a ton of work.

        2. Delta is still camped out in T2-Concourse E at ORD, they have not relocated operations as of yet.

      2. If they’d speed up the construction on the Eastside of T5 (Concourse M) so that Delta could move from T2-Concourse E that would be great. However, this is Chicago and nothing moves fast here

    2. Tim – Delta was using TBIT even before the construction began, so it definitely has that option. It’s been running a busing operation anyway, so that’s no big deal.

        1. Tim – They definitely can. I flew an AA flight to SFO once from TBIT, so it’s certainly possible. But I have no idea if DL is doing that or not.

            1. NICK – I assume so. Etihad uses TBIT and it has pre-clearance in Abu Dhabi. So that’s like a domestic arrival.

  2. Wow, a lot of progress happens when you don’t fly to LAX in over a year. Now if only Delta could fix the mess that is getting your rental car and then the traffic on the 405.

    1. A – The rental car fix is coming in 2023! The new consolidate rental car facility will be connected via the people mover, and it’s right next to the 405, so it’ll be easy access. Fixing the 405 itself, however… only a global pandemic can fix that.

  3. This article puts into perspective why Delta has been the most aggressive at adding more flights back at LAX relative to its competitors. It looks like DL is committed to LAX and their heavy capital investment further emphasizes that.

  4. “In the short run, this was a bad plan since Terminal 3 was in awful shape, and none of them were connected behind security. But for Delta this wasn’t about the short term. It gladly moved in, set up a bus to connect the terminals behind security, and set forth on a plan to remake the terminal into the Delta Sky Way, a 27-gate fortress where Delta and partners could work to dominate the world.”

    This is similar to what Delta is doing with JFK’s terminal 2 & 3 except that in JFK’s case the gates were added to the existing international terminal 4. T3 has been demolished & T2 will bee soon as well.

    The end of your last quote on dominating the world had a “Pinky & the Brain” vibe about it.

  5. Look at that beautiful 757! This photo shows off what I consider one of its greatest features, the use of door L2 for boarding. Why Airbus screwed up their design on the A321 so you can’t use L2 (safely) for boarding boggles my mind. L2 really speeds up boarding on these long narrow bodies.

      1. I know you CAN, but no one does it since they are afraid of the jetbridge driver clipping the engine! :)

        1. Lufthansa did for a long time, but I think they’ve given it up with the latest cabin reconfig that makes using L2 impractical. And with the NEO most customers chose the new door config that doesn’t even have the classic L2 any more.

  6. Wasn’t there a problem with rwy 6R/24L being too close to the terminal area, and being too close to 6L/24R? I think it was considered at one point to move those 2 rwy’s to the north to allow for the expansion of T2 & T3.
    Anyone have any idea what happened to that plan, which was clearly fraught with all sorts of problems?

    1. Hopefully CF will weigh in but I think that moving the northern runway complex was dropped or significantly postponed as part of a neighborhood/LAWA agreeement. In return, the domestic gate cap was dropped and LAWA is engaging in several projects including the people mover which the DL terminal complex is being done to accommodate.

    2. Anonymous – They were restricting where development could occur on the north side as part of the plan to try to separate the runways. They wanted to do the same thing they did on the south side, put a taxiway in between the runways to improve safety. That has now been shelved since the agreement with the community had them agree not to expand northward, and that killed the project.

  7. Last I knew, Southwest was building a connector between T1 & T2 so it could operate International flights using the Customs area in T2.
    What ever happened to that project?

    1. Jack R – That’s Terminal 1.5 and it’s coming along quite nicely. I’m not sure when it’s going to be done, but it looks to be pretty close.

  8. I was wondering why Delta decided to leave their decent digs in T5 for that god awful dump that is T3? I was in T3 last year and it was just as bad as the PANYNJ airports.

    1. space. T5 is sandwiched between AA at T4 and T6 which has AA, UA and AS gates plus a few other carriers and a couple for Delta. No real room to expand.

      DL was willing to take on the risk of rebuilding terminal 3 and linking T2 and T3 and is gaining access to some TBIT gates – formula is not exactly known but apparently does include consideration for adding international flights.

      DL will have 27 gates compared to about 15 on the south side at T5/6 including secure-side access to TBIT which AA has.

      I much preferred T5 but am waiting to see how it all turns out. Removing the security checkpoint from T2 will tremendously help create space at that terminal as much as T3.

      There was one document that showed that the financial benefit to DL from accelerating construction is quite small but the reduced timeline is much more significant.

      There have been discussions about WN adding their own secondary terminal and linking it all behind security all the way from TBIT to WN’s complex (present and future). Not sure how this all will play out but DL clearly sees the opportunity to move quickly to be through with construction and have the space to grow before UA and WN and whatever moves that take place at T5 among smaller airlines as CF has covered many times.

    2. The gate restraints and much improved operational performance were primary reasons on top of what the article mentions. There was so much congestion on the south side that it wasn’t unusual to wait 20-30 min just to push off the gate. A logistical nightmare. Moving away from AA, UA, AS and the others was a big deal. Not only that, gaining curb-front and better location for access from the airport roads us a benefit to customers. Usually the bad traffic starts at TBIT.

      1. The 5 domestic concourses on the south side versus the 3 domestic concourses on the north side will certainly work towards DL’s benefit.

  9. So this means that T2-T8 (including TBIT) will all be connected behind security (albeit with a *very* long, convoluted walk from the end of T8 to T2!), leaving only T1 on its own? It will almost be a modern airport!

    1. Alex – All the terminals will be connected when this is done, but they really need a secure connection to cross the roadway to make it really useful.

      1. I can’t imagine many people needing the whole thing. Southwest tends to keep to themselves (aside from those who take WN to LAX and self-connect to an international flight), and DL/SkyTeam and AA/oneworld have easy access to TBIT for connections. UA is a bit distant but assuming the Terminal 9 plan goes forward, I believe Star Alliance international carriers will move there and thus have a shorter connection with United.

    1. That’s a bit of a jab, but a funny one.

      I think I’ve been in an airport lounge a total of two times in my life, and I’m not a planespotter, but I love the idea of open-air decks at airports, just to watch the activity. If that lounge is built as promised I will have to add it to my list to visit (even if I have to pay to get in) so that I can spend an afternoon there with good binoculars just enjoying the airport activity.

      I flew a roundtrip on DL with a connection through ATL over the holidays (Tuesday & Sunday) and had no issues at all. All flights flew as scheduled (and were about as full as they could be, given the seats that DL still blocks) and arrived early. ATL wasn’t quite as crazy as it usually is over the holidays, and (thanks to DL’s seat blocking) there were just enough open seats in the terminals to allow most people to sit while social distancing, but ATL was still very busy and full of action.

      /And for the record, I’m not loyal to any particular airline and don’t bother to participate in the FF programs (fly ~6 trips a year on at least 2 or 3 different airlines), but it takes a LOT to get me to fly a ULCC, and (while I won’t pay a premium for it) DL’s service has usually been solid for me personally.

  10. Wow. Great job explaining this. It is great to see a positive look into the future for Delta. It will be interesting to compare Delta’s facilities to American in early 2023. It’s good to look beyond the current environment. Sean

  11. As a recovering accountant, I can’t help but wonder (a) how much this is all costing and (b) who’s paying for it. Any insight would be appreciated!

    1. I do know Delta themselves are investing 1.8 billion dollars. Don’t know if any public funds are being used though.

      1. You know this how? Many of the profits over the past several years have been invested in projects such as this. The airport is paying a portion as well but Delta isn’t getting this for free.

        1. The airport has to be investing in this somehow whether via Muni bond type public financing, using a portion of the passenger facility charges, landing fees or some combination thereof. DL is far too shrewd to write all the checks for this thing.

  12. I am pretty sure that Delta is simply taking on the debt in exchange for managing the project (which they believe will lower costs) but doing it to offset future lease payments. Thus, Delta is essentially using public money – just using their credit and manpower to manage the project. They are using a similar process at LGA. I believe that NW used the same concept for their DTW terminal project. The projects and costs are approved by the airport operator, who presumably would have to finish the project if the airline rejected the leases in bankruptcy.
    Delta’s airport project debt is part of the reason why their debt is proportionately higher than other carriers.

  13. Just wanted to chime in that the bus gates as currently operated are incredibly unsafe during coronavirus. They cram the buses until they are standing room only, seal the doors/windows, and everyone takes their masks off and carries out loud phone conversations. I would never fly Delta through LAX again unless I could be sure it wasn’t a bus gate. The one Purel wipe they hand you on board is cool, but it’s no substitute for actual public health best practice.

    Source: my own experience as of a week ago.

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