Visiting American’s Flagship Check-In, Other New Lobby Areas at LAX

American recently decided to revamp its check-in lobby at LAX, and the result is going to be the blueprint for all of American’s hubs. American invited me to come on up and take a look last week. The highlight? The Flagship check-in service for the fancy pants travelers. I also got an update on a few other projects American is working on at LAX while I was there.

Let’s start with Flagship check-in, which is like checking in with a hotel. If you are traveling in First Class on a three-cabin airplane (either to New York or internationally), if you’re a Concierge Key member, or if you have purchased , you are entitled to use the Flagship check-in area which has a separate entrance directly from the curb. About 65 to 85 people per day use the service, so it’s rather exclusive. (Raquel Welch was checking in as I got my tour, so that certainly added to the glamour.)

This whole thing really does have the feel of a hotel to it. There is a doorman out front with a hotel-style bag cart. The doorman has an iPad with the list of people arriving every day so he can greet them properly.

Once inside, there are kiosks for those who want to use them, but most will just go to the hotel-style desk where an agent can help.

After checking in, the traveler walks out the door and into an elevator which goes upstairs to security. This uses the same security area as the regular premium line travelers (discussed below), but there is a separate line so people can go straight in.

Pretty fancy, huh? While it’s not easy to become Concierge Key or cheap to buy a First Class ticket, you can get Five Star Service for $125 a person ($200 for two). Is it necessary? Nah, but it does make you feel a little like a rock star.

Now, what about check in for the rest of us? As anyone who’s flown through LAX knows, the biggest challenge for check-in is that the lobby areas are pretty narrow for today’s purposes. That’s what happens when you’re in old terminals. But American has done a fairly good job at making this work after this last makeover.

The west end of the lobby (closer to the Bradley Terminal) is now all self-service.

They’ve pulled out banks of six kiosks attached to a computer where an agent is manning the operation. Everyone checks in there, and there are skycap-like runners (no tips) who take your bags to the belt. The counter itself is no longer used. By the end of 2014, there will be an in-line baggage screening area built, the counters will be removed, and bags can then be dropped right on the belt for their journey through the underbelly of the airport. At either end of the counter, there are “resolution centers” if people need help.

By the way, that inline baggage screening area will be built on the bottom floor of the new behind-security connector being built between American’s Terminal 4 and the Bradley Terminal next door. American will take 4 gates in the new Bradley concourse and people will be able to pass freely between the two. So that’s the airline’s growth plan. I asked about whether the new tunnel between Terminal 4 and 5 would ever open, and John Tiliacos, Managing Director of Los Angeles for American, said that they would like to open it up but the old tunnel has become something of a storage closet. It might take awhile before we see that happen.

The east side of the lobby has traditional counters for those who need ticketing (John said a lot of people still come to LAX to ticket, surprisingly) or have more complex issues. But the far east end of the lobby is the new premium check in area.

There is someone standing at the far end of this lobby to make sure only premium customers come in. After check in, there is an escalator there just for premium customers which takes people up to the new security checkpoint above the ticket counter so they never interact with coach passengers. (This is the checkpoint the Flagship check-in uses as well.)

All in all, I like what they’ve done with the place. The Flagship check-in piece seems particularly good for recognizing those travelers who really do spend a silly amount of money with the airline.


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