Virgin America plans minor renovation of LAX Terminal 3

Virgin America and Los Angeles World Airports are planning a small-scale renovation of the carrier’s Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport, records show.

Virgin plans to grow from six gates to eight, according to a report shared recently with the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners. Virgin’s new lease will be for $30,255,000 and cover a five-year period. The airline will receive 42,913 square feet of space.

Virgin will make about $20 million of improvements to the space, and the landlord, Los Angeles World Airports, will eventually pay the airline back for most of the cost. This is standard practice at LAX.

I wouldn’t call this a major overhaul. Here are the plans, taken directly from the airport board report.

Virgin Renovations – include branded improvements, unique to Virgin’s operational needs, such that it is not reasonable to assume that another airline could use the improvement without modification. The Virgin Renovations are estimated to cost $610,000 and will be solely Virgin’s responsibility.

Non-Proprietary Airline Renovations – include non-proprietary improvements to Terminal 3 that are usable by any airline operating in Terminal 3 and located in parts of Terminal 3 classified as “airline areas”, including a proportionate share of building improvements allocated to “airline areas” of the terminal. The Terminal 3 Airline Renovations are estimated to cost $13,752,000 which LAWA will purchase upon completion of renovation components.

Terminal Renovations – include improvements that are allocated to the “public areas” of Terminal 3 that are being implemented during the course of the overall project including a proportionate share of building improvements allocated to “public areas” of the terminal. Terminal 3 Renovations are estimated to cost $4,973,033. The Terminal Renovations will be acquired by rent credits to Virgin over the term of the Lease, including annualized accrued interest on the outstanding principal for the value of such improvements at a total cost not to exceed $5,386,000.

This pretty minor stuff in comparison to United, which is receiving $400 million in upgrades, and Southwest, which is getting a $500 million plus overhaul.

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American Airlines will sublease four LAX gates from United

American is building up at #LAX, while United is retrenching. Photo: American.

American is building up at LAX, while United is retrenching. Photo: American.

American Airlines will lease four gates and related counter and office space from United Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport starting in the third quarter of 2014, officials confirmed Tuesday.

American is picking up four gates at Terminal 6. The gates were formerly used by Continental Airlines, before it merged with United. The new combined United Airlines has been using them for several years.

When American picks up the gates, it will operate about 180 daily departures to 55 destinations from 28 gates, airline spokesman Andrew Christie told me. (Ned Russell of Flight Global points out that 10 of these gates are used by American Eagle, so American will have only 18 mainline gates under the new arrangement — still not a lot in relative terms.)

Christie wasn’t sure, but I believe the gates being transferred are 60-63. There is a United Club nearby, but Christie said American may not take it over.

“Working in a capacity constrained airport can be challenging,” Christie said. “With the agreement with United for the additional space we will be able to improve our customer service there and provide the customers with a better travel experience.”

This is not a perfect situation. American will now have gates that are literally all over the airport, and there will be no great way for passengers to transfer among them.

Here’s what American will have soon:

  • American is the exclusive carrier in Terminal 4. That will remain its base.
  • American operates American Eagle flights from a commuter terminal. The terminal is  accessible by bus from the main American terminal. This will not change.
  • US Airways, an American Airlines Group company, operates from Gates 30, 31A, 31B in Terminal 3. Passengers connecting to other American Airlines flights will have to continue to take a bus from these gates to their connecting flights. Christie said eventually American may stop using these gates.
  • American will have four gates in Terminal 6, subleased from United. There is a tunnel inside security– it has long been closed but should reopen — that connects Terminal 4 to Terminal 6. It is a long walk, however. Passengers must walk through Delta’s terminal.
  • American will eventually operate many of its international flights from the Tom Bradley International Terminal. The international terminal will be connected to Terminal 4 via a walkway now under construction.
  • At busy times, some American flights use what are called “remote” gates on the western edge of the airport. Travelers then must take a bus to Terminal 4. These gates may continue to be used.

I expect United to slightly trim its schedule to make up for the loss of four gates. United confirmed to me that Portland and San Jose will be cut Sept. 20. Both are operated by Skywest Airlines as United Express. “The flights weren’t meeting our expectations,” United spokeswoman Mary Clark said.

The internet says United is also axing its L.A. to Kelowna (British Columbia) flight, also operated by Skywest.

United will retrench in its Terminals 7 and 8. Los Angeles World Airports is planning a $400 million renovation of United’s operation at LAX.  

Meanwhile, in what American’s Christie deemed a “separate transaction,” US Airways is returning to United two gates that it had leased in Terminal 2 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

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United Airlines says it has begun its popular Mercedes-Benz car service at LAX

United will offer Mercedes-Benz rides to some customers at LAX. Photo: Mercedes.

United will offer Mercedes-Benz rides to some customers at LAX. Photo: Mercedes.

United Airlines on Wednesday confirmed my March report that it is bringing its popular chauffeured Mercedes Benz service to Los Angeles International Airport.

This is good news for all you big spenders, folks who spent $10,000 or more on a single plane ticket to London or Sydney. The rest of us will probably only notice the program when we see the cars parked on the ramp.

Here’s how it will work, according to a United release. (The Global Service customers mentioned below are United’s version of high rollers.)

“United will chauffeur selected Global Services members and United Global First customers to their connections in Los Angeles using its fleet of Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC SUVs, powered by environmentally friendly, clean diesel technology,” the airline says in its release. “United representatives will meet customers at the aircraft, escort them to the waiting Mercedes-Benz vehicle and drive them across the tarmac to their connecting flight.”

Delta PorscheDelta has a similar service at LAX, but it uses Porsches.

United has already rolled out its Mercedes service in Chicago, Newark, San Francisco and Houston.

Not that long ago, I interviewed travel industry expert Henry Harteveldt about these on-ramp car services. 

“I think only an appearance from Santa Claus and being able to ride in his sleigh would get people more excited,” Harteveldt told me. “I have seen adults get all giddy like schoolchildren when they realize they get the Porsche transfer in Atlanta. It’s special. It’s different. It’s distinct. It shows Delta’s appreciation for its most important customers.”

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American is evaluating LAX as possible hub for Asia flights, the airline’s president said

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

American Airlines is evaluating ways to make Los Angeles a primary gateway to Asia, but that does not mean it will happen, Flight Global’s Edward Russell reported this week.

“Figuring out how to make Los Angeles successful and a gateway to Asia is a strategic issue for us,” American Airlines Group president Scott Kirby said on April 4 at the Phoenix International Aviation Symposium. The Flight Global story is behind the site’s paywall but Russell gave me permission to cite it. Kirby said LAX is “very important,” to American.

In terms of Trans-Pacific flights, Los Angeles has been a difficult market for U.S-based carriers. American (Shanghai and Tokyo), Delta (both Tokyo airports) and United (Tokyo and Shanghai) have relatively few flights from L.A. across the Pacific. United and Delta have both had Hong Kong flights in the past, but no longer. LAX is still well covered in terms of international lift, but most of it comes from major international carriers ANA, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Korean, Asiana, Eva Airways, etc.

It’s possible American will change the dynamic. Los Angeles is not the ideal place for a Pacific gateway because it has not historically been as strong of a connecting hub as other airports. Flights tend to work best when there’s a good mix of local traffic (Angelenos in this case) along with connecting traffic. (Passengers from places like Phoenix and Salt Lake and Sacramento, etc. who come to the hub only long enough to change planes.) These gateways tend to be more lucrative when there’s relatively little competition from international carriers.

Los Angeles has the local traffic. The connecting traffic issue is more complicated. Yes, American has flights from throughout country to Los Angeles. But compared to say, Dallas and Chicago, Los Angeles is a small hub. So there are far fewer connecting passengers to feed the international flights. And it’s hard for American to add more domestic flights to feed the international ones, because the airline is gate constrained in L.A. Russell says American has access to 24 gates at LAX, though 10 of them are in a remote terminal and can only handle regional jets. It is to receive access to a few more gates in the airport’s new international terminal, but that’s no panacea.

Still, American is now the world’s largest airline. And as the world’s largest airline, American may need a West Coast gateway. San Francisco is taken — United owns it. And Delta is building a global hub from scratch in Seattle. So that leaves L.A. (I’m assuming that Phoenix is not a viable option.)

Here’s another thing people don’t think about with L.A. It’s actually quite a bit farther from Asia than San Francisco and Seattle. Russell says L.A. is 327 miles farther from Asia than San Francisco. L.A is about 432 miles father from Asia than Seattle.

What do you think? Will American try to build an Asian gateway in L.A.?

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United will bring chauffeured Mercedes-Benz car service to LAX ramp

United will offer Mercedes-Benz rides to some customers at LAX. Photo: Mercedes.

United will offer Mercedes-Benz rides to some customers at LAX. Photo: Mercedes.

United Airlines will drive its most lucrative Los Angeles customers to gates in chauffeured Mercedes-Benz cars starting this spring, an airline spokeswoman told me this week.

Los Angeles will join other United hubs in Chicago, Houston and Newark with the Mercedes-Benz service. United spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm was short with the details, but presumably the Los Angeles operation will work like the others.

For San Francisco, which was announced last week and like Los Angeles also begins this spring, United will use Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC SUVs. Eligible consumers will be part of United’s Global Services program or will be traveling in United Global First Class. United only has two L.A. routes with Global First — London and Sydney.

“United representatives will meet customers at the aircraft, escort them to the waiting Mercedes-Benz vehicle and drive them across the tarmac to their connecting flight,” the company said in the San Francisco release.

I believe Delta is the only other airline that offers that connecting chauffeur service at LAX. Delta uses Porsche Cayennes in Terminals 5 and 6.

United’s Dohm said she does not have an exact date for the start of the LAX service but said it will be this spring.

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