I went to Los Angeles International Airport on Monday morning, like I have on so many occasions, but this was an entirely different experience.
I didn't have to deal with the usual crush of airport traffic, or people, or security headaches.
I navigated around all that madness and I breezed because this time, I traveled like a champ instead of a chump.
I used a new A-list private terminal and platinum-class service called the Private Suite. It's designed to pamper high rollers of all types. Corporate execs. Moguls. Tycoons. Celebrities.
2,200 footsteps vs. 70 — but at a cost
To be clear, I didn't actually "use" the service, and I didn't fly anywhere. But I was invited to sample the Private Suite, which is already operating but will go big in a couple of weeks, modeled on elite services at several international airports around the world.
As the Private Suite website puts it: "It typically takes 2,200 footsteps from car seat to plane seat. For members of The Private Suite, it's 70 footsteps. And they are all peaceful footsteps."
If you're not sold yet, consider this: "Members of The Private Suite don't wait in crowded lines because private [Transportation Security Administration] screening is done right in our building. Members don't walk down long crowded concourses, or line up at ticket counters and boarding gates. They don't deal with baggage. And they don't deal with paparazzi."
I believe you have to blow your own nose, but I could be wrong.
And what does all of this cost? To join, $7,500 a year. But it costs another $2,700, for up to four people, each time you use the service, or $3,000 for international flights. A non-member who wants to try this on the cheap can use a shared waiting-area suite for just $2,000, but who knows what kind of riffraff you'd have to sit next to?
So who's going to pay that kind of money for the luxury of being treated like royalty for an hour or two?
Lots of people, apparently. Gavin de Becker, the international security consultant behind the Private Suite, said about 1,200 people have already signed up, including lawyers, entertainment executives and media types.
This movie producer loves it
"I love it," said Charles Wessler, a movie producer whose credits include "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb & Dumber."
Wessler said he used the Private Suite recently after landing at LAX from New York.
"I walked out the door of the plane and there was a guy standing there with a little sign, come with me," said Wessler.
"I go out the door, down the steps, right past the wing. Whatever the length of a wing is, what, 60 feet? We get into a car and drive on the taxiway, go out a gate and about three minutes later or less, I'm at the suites," Wessler said. "I walked in and a woman at the desk said, 'We have your rental car, it's right here.' I signed a piece of paper and I drove away.'"
Sounds terrific, but does Wessler think twice about paying thousands of dollars for a few minutes of extra convenience?
"It's going to sound horrible, but no," said Wessler, who lives in New York and flies in and out of LAX 20 times a year, including two annual trips to Sweden to go fly-fishing with friends.
Wessler predicted big stars could end up demanding the service and having it written into their contracts.
But is this costing you and me anything? I mean, if we're waiting in security lines a mile long as TSA employees and customs agents, paid by taxpayers, are servicing Private Suite members, how's that fair?
De Becker said his company is reimbursing the cost of Customs and Border Protection employees, and TSA employees will be used only as needed. He said airport police will have to respond to fewer disruptions when celebrities are hounded at the airport, and having fewer large clusters of people will be safer, given fears about LAX as a terrorist target. The Private Suite might also be used to process arrivals of international flight crews.
The Board of Airport Commissioners voted unanimously in 2015 to approve the project, and De Becker invested several million in it. Deborah Flint, chief executive of Los Angeles World Airports, said the Private Suite is a winner for the general public, with De Becker under contract to pay $34 million in licensing and fees over the next 10 years.
"LAWA sees this as a way to reduce congestion in terminals and to receive revenue that can be used to develop public facilities for our guests," said Flint, including transportation and terminal upgrades.
An armed guard greeted me at the gate of the private terminal Monday morning, on the south side of the airport. He flipped a switch, the fortress doors opened, and I drove up to a mod blue-paneled building.
A snappy-looking gent in a blue blazer greeted me with a handshake and a smile. My concierge told me where to park, then escorted me 10 feet to my private suite. I was to relax there, as I would while awaiting my flight, or, in this case, while waiting to interview De Becker.
Would you like a raw dark chocolate bar with sprouted almonds?
The suite was set up like a high-end hotel room with a view of the runway and the silver BMW 7 Series sedan that would ferry me across the tarmac to my jet. The suite was loaded with hors d'oeuvres, snacks and a full bar. Other suites are set up for children, and one is intended for Middle Eastern travelers, with prayer mats and a Koran.
If you'd like a glass of Marc Bredif Vouvray, they've got it, along with other wines and an assortment of cheese, meat and fruit trays. With the turn of a handle, you can empty the candy and nut bins, or enjoy a small batch of a raw dark chocolate bar with sprouted almonds. Then you could wash it all down with a Samuel Smith's Pure Brewed Organic Lager or a Belvedere and tonic and pass out on one of the two day beds.
After a few minutes, the phone rang and an operator informed me my concierge was waiting outside my door. He escorted me to another of the 13 suites, where De Becker appeared on a large flat-screen TV for our interview. He said he was in Maui.
On some flights, he said, some passengers pay $400 for a ticket and some pay $4,000 for a little more luxury. The Private Suite could be seen as something of a "celebrity tax" for even more comfort, he suggested.
If you're headed to New York and an unexpected storm has just been forecast, De Becker said, the Private Suite will give you a raincoat. If you forgot your phone charger, no problem. They've got you covered.
He told me to walk across the room, pick up the phone, and tell the operator I just spilled something on my shirt. Just to see what happened.
I followed instructions. The operator asked if I wanted an attendant to knock before entering.
No, he can come right in, I said, adding, "It's an emergency. There could be a stain."
In about two minutes, a concierge wheeled in a cart with Banana Republic dress shirts, an Anne Klein blouse and Steve Madden shoes, among other items.
He left quietly and I stood there a moment, thinking I would have been better off not knowing how the other half — or one-tenth of 1% — lives.