Delta’s Plan to Move to Terminals 2 and 3 at LAX Would Solve a Lot Of Problems

Late last week, Delta CEO Richard Anderson decided to let slip in his message to the troops that Delta had signed a letter of intent that would ultimate see the airline move to Terminals 2 and 3 at LAX. Though this appears to have caught just about everyone off-guard, and it’s far from final. If this happens, it would be great news for travelers flying in and out of the airport.

In his message, Richard didn’t say much, but and it blew up from there. I asked Delta for more information, and this is all I could get.

Delta has signed a Letter of Intent with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and the City of Los Angeles to rehabilitate Terminals 2 and 3 at Los Angeles International Airport and relocate its operations. The agreement remains subject to approval by the LAWA board of airport commissioners and the Los Angeles city council.

This raises so many questions, and there are no answers to be had. I asked LAWA for a quote, and they referred me to the Mayor of LA’s office. The Mayor’s office also had no statement and said someone would get back to me. (Still waiting…) Then I asked people at long-time Terminal 2 tenant Hawaiian Airlines if they had anything to say about it. They didn’t even seem to be aware. It seems pretty clear that Richard started talking about this long before he should have. What I’m told is that this is a non-binding letter of intent, so nothing is in stone at this point (or even close to it).

I’ve made a California Public Records Act request to see the LOI, so whenever I get it, maybe it will shed more light. But what is clear here is that Delta wants to move to Terminals 2 and 3 and LAWA obviously likes the idea or it wouldn’t have entered into the agreement. Even though it’s early, it’s hard not to speculate about this. This would make things better for just about everyone.

To see why, take a look at this current map of how the airport functions today.

LAX Current Lineup

As you can see, it’s a mess and there are a lot of problems.

  • Southwest is starting international service soon, but it has no ability to handle that in its current terminal, so it will have a split operation.
  • Delta is separated from all of its joint venture partners (Air France/KLM, Aeromexico, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia) and has its own operation split across 2 terminals. It wants more gates and can’t get them.
  • The cats and dogs (Allegiant, Boutique Air, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Virgin America) operate in a crumbling Terminal 3.
  • American is split across 4 different terminals, one of which requires busing.
  • United is separated from its joint venture partners (ANA, Lufthansa Group)

United is pretty much the only airline with a good setup. Once it finishes its renovation of Terminals 7 and 8 (which are basically one terminal, connected behind security), United will only have one issue. It will still be separated from its joint venture partners. That’s not going to be resolved regardless.

That being said, it’s easy to think about how this could turn out. Before getting too excited about this, it’s important to remember that a Delta move over to Terminal 2 and 3 will take years if it happens. By 2020, however, it could look something like this.

Possible Future LAX Lineup

On the north side, you can see those amorphous blobs representing Southwest and Delta. Southwest is currently renovating Terminal 1, but there has long been talk of a Terminal 0 where a parking lot is located. As Southwest grows, I assume we’ll see some cohesive large solution to serve the airline’s needs.

As for Delta, we have absolutely no idea what Delta will do there. It says in its statement that it will “rehabilitate” Terminals 2 and 3, but is that really possible? I would imagine it would have to be a complete redo. It would certainly require creating one facility behind security that would also need to connect to the Bradley Terminal. This would give Delta the gates it needs and it would connect it with its joint venture partners. I’m sure it would end up being a huge upgrade, regardless of what actually happens.

But what about the airlines that are displaced? Fortunately, the process has already begun on building the midfield satellite concourse to the west of the existing Bradley Terminal. The north part of the concourse has been approved and will be done in 2020. It’ll have 11 gates, and those gates would be perfect for serving all the Canadian/Latin airlines that are in Terminal 2 today (except for Aeromexico which might co-locate with Delta). Those gates could also be used for some of the cats and dogs depending upon how many gates they need.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the airport, getting Delta out of Terminal 5 allows American to consolidate its operation all in one place. Most importantly, it could kill the remote terminal where all Eagle flights operate today and move those back into the main terminal area. That alone would make for a dramatic improvement in the experience at LAX for travelers.

This spring, the connector between Terminal 4 and the Bradley Terminal opens, making it easy for American to connect to its joint venture partners (British Airways/Iberia, JAL, Qantas). American is also using gates in the Bradley Terminal itself, and this will now be much easier for the airline to do.

With this, I find myself wondering if Alaska could be moved into Terminal 5 as well. This would allow American to further strengthen its relationship with the airline. But for now, I’m assuming Alaska stays where it is in Terminal 6 while American abandons its gates. Some of the cats and dogs could move in there. United stays as is.

I don’t mean to put the cart ahead of the horse here, but I just wanted to illustrate how this Delta move could make things better for everyone. Travelers would have a better experience across the board regardless of the final layout. Airlines would be able to consolidate their operations. And LAX would start to resemble a functioning airport.

For the millionth time, we need to remember that Delta’s move is far from a done deal, but it’s exciting to think about how dramatically this could improve things. Let’s hope it happens.

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