On the scene at one of the biggest airport terminal relocations in history

By Gary Walker

Workers change out a sign on the first night of LAX’s massive terminal swap
Photo by Gary Walker

The central terminals of Los Angeles International Airport were a beehive of activity as Friday night became Saturday morning, with nearly 200 movers and more than 30 volunteers scrambling to accomplish the first night of one of the most expansive terminal relocations in American history.

Orange-jacketed airport employees loaded pallet after pallet of green and yellow boxes — thousands of them — plus furniture, wheelchairs and more than 300 computers onto 14 large trucks. Others changed out the airline signs over passenger drop-off and retrieval areas, or repositioned aircraft and gates until just before regular operations resumed at 5 a.m. LAX volunteers scurried through ticketing areas to assist morning travelers, with shuttle buses at the ready to ferry confused ticketholders to their correct terminals.

And perhaps most impressive of all, just about everything happened according to plan.

“It went extremely well. There was an army of people out there,” LAX spokeswoman Mary Grady told reporters early Saturday morning.

Of more than a dozen airlines that swapped terminals overnight on May 12-13, May 14-15 or May 16-17, Delta Airlines had the most to do, its move extending over all three nights. Other airlines accomplished their moves all in one night: Allegiant, Boutique Air, Frontier, Sun Country, Virgin America, Virgin Australia and Volaris on Night 1; Avianca, Interjet and Spirit on Night 2; and JetBlue, Air Canada and international service for Southwest on Night 3.

By relocating from terminals 5 and 6 to terminals 2 and 3, Delta picks up several more gates and gains access to the wider taxiways of LAX’s northern runway, reducing air traffic wait times. Delta’s move is also part of a long-range $1.9-billion plan to provide a much smoother passenger experience in a streamlined double terminal that also connects to the Tom Bradley International Terminal — upgrades set to take place over the next seven years, said Ranjan Goswami, Delta’s VP of sales for the Western U.S.

Delta spokeswoman Liz Savadelis spent several hours observing the Friday-Saturday move.

“One of the benefits of the relocation is now you’ll have three of the largest airlines on the same side of LAX: Delta, American and United Airlines. So this will help relieve congestion and the new amenities will help provide operational excellence, which Delta prides itself on,” Savadelis said.

Officials with Los Angeles World Airports, the public agency that oversees LAX, closely monitored what they confirmed as the largest terminal swap in the airport’s 68-year history.

“Months of planning are beginning to pay off as our airline partners begin transitioning into their new terminals,” said Trevor Daley, the agency’s executive director for external affairs.

Airport and airline officials also went to great lengths to notify ticketholders of the upcoming changes.

Jesse Xavier of Pasadena learned of the terminal changes about a week ago and made sure to arrive extra early for his Delta flight to New York. Xavier said he likes the renovations that have already taken place so far at LAX and is eager to see them come to fruition.

“It looks really modern and colorful,” he said of terminal upgrades over the past several years. “It’ll be interesting to see what the new terminals will look like.”