With the pandemic lull in air travel, Delta decided it was a great time to speed up its construction projects. And so, more than a year early, the airline is preparing to open the first part of the new Terminal 3 at LAX on April 20. There was a ceremony on Tuesday to celebrate along with a tour of the parts that will open first, and I was able to tag along.
When Delta moved over to Terminal 2 and 3, it had a plan to create the SkyWay, Delta’s gateway from LA that would not only improve both terminals but also connect with the Bradley Terminal. The old layout looked like this:
Terminal 2 had recently undergone a renovation, so it didn’t need much work, but Terminal 3 was easily the worst terminal in the airport. Many airlines had gone through that place, including the original tenant, TWA, but unlike the other terminals it had barely been changed. The satellite building remained in the same shape as when it was built, only connected by a narrow and nearly useless connector from the ticketing area that had only a single gate on it.
When Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) approved a plan to build a people mover down the spine of the airport, it created an opportunity to consolidate every terminal. Now, though there will be two access points from the people mover into Terminals 2 and 3, the goal is to funnel everyone into a single ticketing area, single checkpoint, and a massive Sky Club on top of the connectors between the two terminals.
To accomplish this, Terminal 3 was shut down entirely and almost completely rebuilt. The large ticketing area in Terminal 3 has a nice slanted wood finish on the roof which feels remarkably open compared to the old setup. Also, behind the counters is a very long video board that Delta was using to show off photos while we were there.
It’s not just about being pretty, however. Here it is with some actual information being shown.
Eventually, they expect this to be the primary — and possibly only — ticketing area. It is quite large and has a small but growing army of kiosks already installed.
On the east side, travelers will be able to walk right into the Terminal 2 ticketing area with its existing counters. Some of those may stick around for partners, but it sounds like much of it, including the existing security checkpoint entrance which is under the glass structure in T2, will be closed. It’s not clear to me what they will eventually use the area for, but I suppose there’s time to figure that out.
Right in between the check-in counters for T2 and T3 lies a new giant escalator bank which goes down toward baggage claim. These six carousels will be the only baggage claim Delta uses for domestic flights.
There was some confusion on the Delta comms team about this, but as I understand it, there will continue to be a customs and immigration facility (FIS) in Terminal 2 and the facility in the Bradley Terminal will be an option as well. International arrivals will pass through one of those places and then it will be a quick jaunt through the security checkpoint to get back landside for domestic connections.
If instead of going down those escalators you go up, then you get into a high-ceilinged top level which will connect with the T2 people mover bridge.
In this photo, the escalator is just to my right and the bridge is behind and to the left. But straight ahead is the entrance to the consolidated security checkpoint which will also have an entrance from the T3 people mover bridge on the far side.
The security checkpoint will open on April 20 with seven lines, but that will double by the summer when it is fully built out.
After going through security, you are not going to want to move. The huge picture windows have a sweeping view of the north runways, into the westside, and beyond toward downtown LA itself. A storm had just cleared out on Tuesday and the Hollywood Sign was easily visible in the distance.
At this point, travelers can walk left to go to the Bradley Terminal behind security and to the new T3 concourse which is not yet ready for primetime. You can see it taking shape in this picture.
The three gates you can see above will open in May. The building at the far end is actually the old T3 satellite building which, while still having the same pillars as the original, is completely redone. Those gates will open in summer and fall, followed by some on the far side of the terminal before it is complete. Unfortunately, they did not let us go into see the concourse as a work in progress.
If you turn right after security, you go to Terminal 2 (and 1 beyond now that a behind-security connector is open there) along with the entrance to the new, massive Sky Club.
After entering, you take an escalator up to the top level. To the right is a food station and there are windows throughout.
Straight ahead is a bar, and behind that is an outdoor Sky Deck.
It’s not much to look at yet while they still work on it, but the view again can’t be beat.
Further to the left there is an indoor viewing area which, though currently furniture-less, looks like the place to be on the rare day when the weather isn’t great for being outside.
Beyond that is an entrance to the shower and rest rooms.
There was even more beyond that, but it was curtained off, so I couldn’t see what was going in there, but it looked like maybe another bar.
Toward the front, Delta has installed some private phone booths that block out most sounds.
I spent a little time in there and enjoyed the silence as the crowd around us — filled with dignitaries and sales invitees — schmoozed, drank, and snacked.
And that is what will open on April 20. I couldn’t see the connector to T2 since this area is not yet behind security, but there’s little doubt that this will be a huge improvement for Delta travelers. Seeing the long lines snaking out the door of T2 when I was done reminded me just how tough it has been to run a two terminal airline in one terminal in recent months. That pain will soon start to dissipate.