MIAMI — Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) took a giant leap forward today in its ongoing turnaround act, officially opening the new Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at the stroke of midnight. The brand new terminal features significant upgrades in passenger experience in a bid to turn LAX from one of the most derided international gateways in the modern world to one of the best.
In a ribbon cutting ceremony set for noon, Los Angeles International will be formally ushered into its new future. The new terminal represents everything the older one could never have hoped to be: bright, open, and very passenger friendly. The 150,000 square foot behemoth is over 50% larger than its predecessor and, thanks to improvements in passenger flow, can accommodate 4,500 folks an hour, twice the previous rate.
The airport touts that passengers can now (theoretically) reach the curb from the plane in twenty minutes instead of two hours. During those twenty minutes folks can expect a more pleasant experience in customs as well. Instead of being ushered through a subterranean white-washed hallway, the new customs area will be far more open.
Those waiting for a flight can look forward to a visit to the Great Hall, which houses extensive high-end dining and retail options along with airline lounges. Gate areas are larger and more open than the older terminal, with a reported 50% of the seats having power plugs. Some even offer foot rests. Boarding is likely to go faster as well, with jet bridges being built to accommodate newer and larger aircraft such as the Airbus A380. Many gates accommodate two jet bridges, and some even three.
The overarching architectural design makes the terminal feel decidedly light and airy. One can see the giant curved vaulted roof, the signature element, from quite a distance around the airport. The design is meant to evoke a series of cascading waves from both the outside and the inside, with architect Curtis Fentress noting that passengers would feel as though they’re in the curl of a wave.
The extensive use of glass in the design and throughout the terminal allows for lots of natural light to filter in–something the previous terminal decidedly lacked. The extra light also reduces operating costs and increases energy efficiency, helping to earn the building a coveted LEED Silver certification from the US Green Building Council.
In many ways the terminal mimics the exceptionally highly ranked airports of Asia, such as Seoul Incheon and Singapore Changi. And while Asian airports may reflect the current trends in airport architecture and amenities, the resemblance is also not entirely a coincidence.
LAX sees thousands of passengers arriving from Asia every day, and estimates show there are around 36,000 roundtrips between LA and the continent per year. Those travelers have grown accustomed to fancy, well-appointed airports in their home region, and as Asia’s middle class continues to grow those travelers also have extra dollars to spend on premium shopping and restaurants before leaving the US. The building was designed and apportioned with Asian travelers in mind, seeking to draw them, along with others, back to LA.
LAX had begun to bleed traffic out to nearby San Francisco International which, with its comparatively fantastic terminal, has been gaining on LA for years. Even distant Seattle, also in dire need of a new international terminal but nowhere near the level of decrepit the old TBIT, has increasingly become a competitor to LA as carriers have begun taking advantage of the city’s more advantageous geography.
The new terminal, which ought to vault LAX into the pantheon of top airports (or at least top terminals anyways) worldwide, will better position the city against both growing competitors.
Looking down the road, the new building is only one part–albeit the largest–of a wider effort to improve the airport. Many of the domestic buildings have an equally poor reputation, and the race has been on to renovate. Southwest and United have announced extensive terminal renovation projects (1, 6, and 7 respectively). Delta is in the middle of revamping T5, and Alaska completed a renovation to their space in 2012. The projects are expected to be completed between 2015 and 2017.