LAX: Getting Around : Terminal Survival : The good news: A growing choice of restaurants and retail stores. The bad news: Almost nothing else has changed.
Life isn’t fair. And if you want an illustration of that, stroll through the eight passenger terminals of LAX.
Each of those eight terminals emerged bright and shiny from pre-Olympic expansions and renovations in 1984. But 11 years later, they don’t look much like siblings. Terminal 5, where Delta Airlines invested heavily (with help from the city) in a 1988 renovation, is a clean, airy, marble-accented haven. But next door in Terminal 4, where American Airlines holds the lease, even an American spokesman concedes that the area “really needs a lot of work.” It’s worn, often dim and sometimes downright dismal. (The spokesman blames financial squabbles with airport officials for the delay of a planned upgrade.)
Travelers give Terminals 3 (where TWA has the most space) and 7 (home of United) similar reviews.
“We hate it,” complained a veteran United flight attendant one afternoon last month. (He and the rest of his crew, who nodded in agreement with each criticism, requested anonymity.) “Every time I get off an airplane,” added one of his colleagues, “it just stinks in here.”
Why do the terminals look (and smell) the way they do? In part because no janitorial staff can neutralize the effects of LAX’s overall passenger traffic--more than 50 million travelers a year who consume and discard junk food and reading material as they go. But politics and economics play a substantial role here too.
Terminal renovations for U.S. carriers tend to depend on some combination of airline revenues, government money and government-airline cooperation. After the California recession, the billions of dollars lost by major domestic airlines in the early 1990s, as well as the two years of legal battling between airlines and the city over recent boosts in landing fees, neither money nor cooperation is much in evidence.
Aside from United’s plan to add facilities for U.S. Customs to process international passengers arriving at Terminal 7, none of the airlines has announced plans for any major improvements to their spaces at LAX.
But there are forces of change at work in the airport, and they’ve already given us access to a wider range of food, drinks and retail goods.
After three decades of exclusive food and beverage contracts with the nationwide concessionaire Host Marriott (formerly known as Host International and Marriott Host), the city Airports Commission last year broke with tradition and signed concessions agreements with several new companies, a move that soon will transform even the most visible of all airport eateries, the Theme Restaurant in the airport’s signature building.
The leader among the new concessionaires is CA One Services, whose parent firm, Delaware North, holds concessions at Yosemite National Park, among other locations. Since last July, CA One has brought in a Rhino Chasers beer bar (Terminal 1), two Wolfgang Puck Express restaurants (Terminals 2 and 7), three new McDonald’s outlets (Terminals 1, 5 and 7), and a handful of other light-meal outlets, such as El Paseo Mexican food (Terminal 1) and Creative Croissants (Terminal 5). (Not everyone is pleased about the new restaurants. Members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union last month donned ghost costumes in Terminal 7 to protest layoffs and reduced wages and benefits being offered workers in the new operations.)
In addition, as part of CA One’s planned upgrades to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, a Daily Grill is set to open next fall near a new mezzanine-level food court. A grand staircase and waterfall are also envisioned. The familiar Theme Building will remain, but the restaurant space is to be replaced by “L.A. Encounter,” a cooperative venture involving CA One and others. Its theme is to be futuristic, but details and timeline remain uncertain.
Meanwhile, Host Marriott has held onto 28 other concession sites by pledging to replace the current spate of generic cafeterias with a batch of new brand-name operations, including California Pizza Kitchen (Terminals 1, 4 and 8), Cheesecake Factory (Terminals 2, 4 and 5), Louise’s Trattoria (Terminal 5), Starbucks Coffee (Terminals 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8) and Burger King (Terminals 3, 6 and 8). Those eateries are scheduled to open in phases, from June of 1996 through February of 1997. Two names that will no longer be seen at LAX: Pizza Hut and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The airport’s retail concessions have been turning over since 1994 too. Although some travelers may have trouble immediately spotting a difference in LAX’s 20 newsstand/gift shop operations (other than the new names above the entrances), concessionaire WH Smith and its five minority partners have redesigned the spaces to allow wider aisles, with inventory intended to vary by theme. (The newsstand/gift shop in Terminal 4, for instance, is built around a nature theme.) Beyond that, WH Smith has brought in Sunglass Hut, the Knot Shop (ties) and Waterstone’s Booksellers as name-brand retailers. The three new Waterstone’s outlets have been a welcome sight for reading travelers; the new shops stock 5,000-15,000 volumes each, selling books at publisher’s suggested cover price.
Meanwhile, DFS-North America, the airport’s formerly dominant retailer, will continue to operate duty-free shops in most LAX terminals (at least through the end of 1996) and plans a major expansion in the Bradley International Terminal next year.
There’s another change in the airport’s interior atmosphere possible next year: Citing the precedent established by a similar law in New York, LAX officials say that in coming months, the Airport Commission may vote on whether to establish a designated “free speech” area for solicitors, and ban them from all other airport areas. For now, however, they continue to congregate near escalators and dining areas throughout LAX.
Here, terminal by terminal, is an update on what you’ll find during those minutes or hours before your flight rolls out. (Aside from the stores and restaurants listed here, every terminal has at least one currency-exchange office, and some have business services such as faxing.)
By the way, you’re on your own in the hunt for reasonable prices in these new businesses. Several major airports around the country have imposed restrictions that prevent tenant businesses from setting prices more than 10% or 15% above those at non-airport locations. But when that proposal was raised here in 1994, airport officials decided they’d rather trust the open market.
* Terminal 1. America West, Southwest, USAir.
The scene: This building, built (rather than renovated, as most of the others were) in anticipation of the ’84 Olympics, is remarkably free of signs of wear, especially considering the volume of traffic it takes. In 1994, LAX officials counted 9.2 million travelers passing through here, more travelers than in any other domestic terminal. Walking the halls, you should expect to see dozens of vigorous young men and women in shorts and tennis shirts--not a college volleyball team passing through, but the work force of ultra-informal Southwest Airlines.
Private clubs: The USAir Club, near Gate2. Memberships: usually $200 to join, $150 a year.
Food and drink: Its portals guarded by a pair of fake 10-foot tusks, a Rhino Chasers beer bar has been in business by Gate 4 since Oct. 15, offering sandwiches ($4.95-$10.95), snacks and such brews as Peach Honey Wheat Beer and Smoked Chocolate Porter (beer prices $4.25-4.75 for a 12-ounce mug). Nearby stand a McDonald’s and El Paseo Cafe Olvera Street, where a carne asada burrito runs $5.95 and Mexican tile work livens up the scene. A bar is expected to open soon in the adjoining courtyard area. Generic bar by Gate 9. Due in six to 15 months: California Pizza Kitchen, Starbucks, Home Turf (sports bar), California Wine Bar.
Shopping: There’s a Waterstone’s Booksellers (the airport’s largest with about 15,000 volumes) just after the security gate, a newsstand/gift shop. Farther down the concourse, there’s another newsstand/gift shop, neighbored by a Sunglass Hut.
* Terminal 2. Northwest, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Asiana, Avianca, Hawaiian Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Virgin Atlantic.
The scene: Lots of foreign travelers; this terminal, like the Bradley International Terminal and Terminal 5, houses U.S. Customs operations for clearing international arrivals. There’s a quiet stream of high-end types in search of the upstairs clubrooms, and near Gate 23 there are several new food operations. Foot traffic isn’t too heavy: 2.2 million domestic travelers last year and 1.6 million international travelers.
Private clubs: Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge, which is smallish at 60 seats and doubles as the Upper Class Lounge for Virgin Atlantic. The Northwest World Club, Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club and KLM World Business Class share another space, and a third room is occupied by the Air New Zealand First Class Lounge and the Asiana Airlines VIP Lounge.
Food and drink: A Wolfgang Puck Express restaurant, which opened in September, beckons with colorful tiles, flashing video monitors, pepperoni pizzas for $7.75 and smoked-salmon-and-eggs breakfast pizzas for $11.95. In the nearby food court, there’s a Manchu Wok offering Chinese food (Sichuan beef dinner, $5.89) alongside the more familiar signs for Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s also a generic cocktail lounge with a Pizza Hut oven, and 12-ounce domestic beers for $3.50 (the standard price in all the airport’s generic bars). Also, the airport’s lone Starbucks recently moved from Terminal 5 to the downstairs arrivals area here. Due in six to 15 months: Johnny Rockets, Cheesecake Factory, Old Town Deli of Pasadena, Tampopo (Japanese cuisine), Naked Foods (juice bar), Cheers (bar).
Shopping: Beyond the security gate, there’s a newsstand/gift shop and a duty-free shop. On the arrivals level, there’s a florist’s shop and newsstand/gift shop.
* Terminal 3. TWA, TWA Express, Northwest, Alaska, Midwest Express, Reno Air, Western Pacific.
The scene: Even though it handles relatively light traffic--2.7 million passengers last year--this place feels worn out. Airport officials acknowledge that these rooms have had no substantial renovations since 1984--except for a sprucing up of the Ambassadors Club about two years ago that most can’t enjoy. Near Gate 35, there is a rare (though small) outdoor oasis for smokers, with wooden benches and bamboo plants.
Private clubs: TWA’s Ambassadors Club, roughly 8,000 square feet. Memberships: usually $150 to join, $125 a year. Doubles as Alaska’s Board Room (usually $250 to join, $150 yearly, $25 for one day).
Food and drink: Near Gate 35, a generic cocktail lounge includes Pizza Hut, TCBY yogurt and snacks. A generic cocktail bar stands nearby--although it was unaccountably closed at 4:45 p.m. on a recent weekday. Due in six to 15 months: Burger King, Manhattan Beach Micro-Brew.
Shopping: There’s a newsstand/gift shop just before the security gates and near Gate 35, another newsstand/gift shop, and a Waterstone’s bookstore. Across the hall, there’s also a duty-free shop.
* Tom Bradley International Terminal. More than 40 carriers use the Bradley terminal, serving worldwide destinations.
The scene: Abuzz. More than 10 million travelers passed through this terminal last year, all but a handful on international trips. The main ticketing area is bright and airy under a four-story-high ceiling, with food services on an upper mezzanine level. Near the escalators, women in nurse-like outfits solicit donations for Christian charities that you never hear about anywhere else, and recent immigrants carry binders alleging misdeeds in the Middle East. Along the halls near the gates are large-scale scenic photos of California.
But the downstairs arrivals area, where thousands of people daily clear customs and get their first view of America, is a dismal, utilitarian place; its most notable feature a 40-foot-long panoramic photo of the bone-dry Owens Valley with the Sierra rising behind it. Young men from another obscure Christian charity circulate with orange buckets, soliciting and testing the resistance of the dozens of meeters and greeters who sit waiting for arriving family, friends and clients. Those awaiting clients carry signs reading “Otto,” or “Mrs. Adelaide Tambo.” The luggage carts that rent for $1 in other terminals are free here.
Private clubs: Hidden away on the fourth and fifth floors are private lounges serving 17 airlines, many of which share space. For instance, the 26-seat Lufthansa first-class lounge also serves Alitalia and Thai Airways first-class travelers, and the Air France business-class lounge also serves Lufthansa business-class travelers and frequent fliers.
Food and drink: Until the scheduled opening next summer of the terminal’s new Daily Grill and food court, an interim International Grill buffet (ham and cheese sandwiches, $5.75) is open on the second level, along with a generic bar. In the ticketing area, before the security gates, are a pair of generic bars. Beyond the security gates, the pickings are slim indeed. There’s a generic snack bar near Gate 104, a generic cocktail lounge near Gate 121, and another snack bar in the in-transit lounge. On the arrivals level, there’s a generic snack bar (all-beef hot dogs, $2.68) and a generic bar. Due in six to 15 months: Tampopo, California Wine and Beer (bar) and a food court including Starbucks, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Old Town Deli of Pasadena and TCBY yogurt.
Shopping: On the departure level before the security gates, there’s the airport’s largest duty-free shopping operation, which is scheduled to grow from 8,000 to 12,000 square feet next year. (Like all duty-free shops in the airport, it’s open only to passengers carrying tickets for a departing international flight.) There are also newsstands on both ends of the duty-free area (Hideo Nomo T-shirts, $20-$54), and nearby kiosks hold Sunglass Hut and Knot Shop (silk ties, $29.50-$90) outlets. After the security gates, there are three duty-free stores and two newsstand/gift shops.
* Terminal 4: American Airlines.
The scene: Despite some recent improvement efforts, the airport’s age shows here. Many walls are a strange hue of powder blue, under low, silvery ceilings. Grimy old ‘60s blue-and-white tile work is visible here and there, especially in the lower levels. . A stale smell hangs in the air. Passengers last year: 5.7 million.
Private clubs: American’s Admirals Club, about 12,000 square feet of armchairs, work stations, phones, conference rooms and bar. Memberships usually $275 to join, $175 per year, $50 for one day. Also, downstairs near baggage claim there’s a U.S.O. lounge for military personnel.
Food and drink: Near Gate 42, a generic cocktail lounge includes Dunkin’ Donuts. Near Gate 45, there’s a food court featuring more Dunkin’ Donuts, TCBY yogurt and Pizza Hut. Close by, another generic cocktail lounge has recently gained an outlet of The Gourmet Bean (small coffee, $1.25; chocolate croissant, $1.75). Due in six to 15 months: California Pizza Kitchen, Cheesecake Factory, Starbucks, Naked Foods, Au Bon Pain (bakery), Chili’s Pub, Sam Adams Pub.
Shopping: Just before the security gates, there’s a newsstand/gift shop. After security, there’s another newsstand/gift shop, with a cart peddling duty-free goods nearby.
* Terminal 5: Delta, Tristar.
The scene: This is the airport’s showcase domestic terminal, with high, circular skylights, potted palms (they’re real) and ferns lining the well-lighted halls. Seven years ago, Delta (aided by city rent credits) spent about $85 million to upgrade this terminal and the 16 gates it serves. Passengers last year: 3.6 million domestic, 1.3 million international. And passengers aren’t the only ones who like it here. There are more solicitors in nurse-like outfits at the escalators, and Hare Krishna solicitors in plain clothes often hang around with boxes full of religious tracts.
Private clubs: Delta’s Crown Room, about 11,000 square feet. Memberships: usually $300 to join, $200 per year.
Food and drink: Near Gate 50, a Creative Croissants (Santa Fe chicken sandwich, $4.95) opened in October, and a generic bar remains. Near Gate 54, a McDonald’s (Big Macs, $2.37) opened in July. Due in six to 15 months: Louise’s Trattoria, Cheesecake Factory, Naked Foods, Sushi Sei (Japanese food and bar) and El Cholo Cantina.
Shopping: Near Gate 50, a newsstand/gift shop stands by a duty-free shop. Near Gate 54 there’s a second newsstand/gift shop.
* Terminal 6: Continental, SkyWest, Frontier
The scene: White-tile floors make the space brighter than United’s red-carpeted area, but you see plenty of chipped and grungy old blue-and-white tiles, and various other signs of wear. Passengers last year: 5.6 million.
Private clubs: Continental’s Presidents Club and a lounge for large groups.
Food and drink: Near Gate 62, there’s a generic cocktail lounge with Dunkin’ Donuts, TCBY and snack bar. By Gate 65, there’s a generic cafeteria (which one recent Wednesday was closed at 1:15 p.m.). By Gate 66, there are two generic cocktail lounges (one of which was closed at the same time as the cafeteria), one with Pizza Hut ovens. Due in six to 15 months: Starbucks, Old Town Deli of Pasadena, Burger King, Jodi Maroni’s (sausage) and a Home Turf bar.
Shopping: There’s a newsstand/gift shop by Gate 61. By Gate 66, there’s another newsstand/gift shop, this one with a small Waterstone’s bookstore inside.
* Terminals 7 and 8: United.
The scene: The clamor and crowding capital of LAX. The terminal handled 8.7 million passengers last year, and that was before the new Shuttle by United commuter service was in full swing. Terminal 8, at the far end of Terminal 7, is all commuters. Behind closed doors: Near Gate 71, United’s Red Carpet Club. Memberships: usually $275 to join, $175 per year, $25 for a day. Near Gate 75, the United International First Class Lounge.
Food and drink: Near Gate 70, Wolfgang Puck Express opened last August, and does a rollicking business. Next door, a McDonald’s opened in July. Near Gate 74, a generic cafeteria (chicken sandwich, $4.99; domestic beer, $3.23). Near Gate 75, generic cocktail bar. Due in six to 15 months: Starbucks, Cinnabon (bakery), La Salsa (Mexican food) and an as-yet-unnamed working microbrewery in Terminal 7; California Pizza Kitchen, Burger King and Hermosa Beach Micro-Brewery in Terminal 8.
Shopping: At Gate 70, there’s a newsstand/gift shop (Mickey Mouse ties, $25). Near Gate 73, a duty-free shop and a second newsstand/gift shop. At Gate 80, there’s a newsstand/gift shop (white teddy bears, $4.99; Beverly Hills T-shirts, $20-$24).
LAX pays for itself. In fiscal 1994, LAX brought in $256.7 million in operating revenues, leading to net income of $108.5 million. LAX pay phones alone brought in $2.35 million.
Source: City of Los Angeles Dept. of Airports
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TOM BRADLEY INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL
ANA (All Nippon)
AOM French Airlines
China Eastern Airlines
El Al Israel Airlines
Eva Airways (Taiwan)
LACSA (Costa Rica)
TACA (Central America)
USAir / USAir Express
Air New Zealand
American Trans Air*
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
TWA / TWA Express
TERMINAL 7 & 8
Shuttle by United
* Seasonal and charter airlines.
SOURCE: City of Los Angeles Department of Airports