LAX Opens Its New Front Door To The World: The New Tom Bradley International Terminal

Curbside at the Tom Bradley International Terminal

Curbside at the Tom Bradley International Terminal

Reported from LA by Dan Landson Twitter: @DanIsInTheNews, Contributing to

Travelers flying through Los Angeles International Airport are noticing something new. It’s the totally revamped Tom Bradley International Terminal. The giant terminal is one of the largest and most technologically advanced international terminals in the United States. The TBIT project includes 18 gates with nine multi-jet bridge gates able to handle the new generation of large aircraft like the A380s and Boeing’s 747-8 Intercontinental. Passengers will also see a new experience with new screening areas, upgraded customs/immigration facilities and secured walkways allowing passengers to connect to terminal 3 & 4. Even the curbside of the check-in hall has been updated with new LED lighting and sleek exterior appointments.

The Grand Hall

The Grand Hall

In 2006, Los Angeles and LAX officials announced the start of the $4.1 billion modernization project called LANext. More than 20 separate projects will be completed by the time it’s finished in 2014. Of those, the centerpiece is the $1.5 billion TBIT.  “We went from the worst passenger experience to the best,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villariagosa said.  “This will set the standard. This is what we celebrate today.”

Construction photo from March 2012. You can see the two spots where jet bridges will be installed. Photo: Chris Sloan

Construction photo from March 2012. You can see the two spots where jet bridges will be installed. Photo: Chris Sloan

For years, LAX has struggled to keep up with demand and competition. In 2001, SFO opened a new international terminal that allowed for seamless connections and is starting to become a more popular gateway for flights to Asia and Europe. LAX’s image was not where it needed to be in order to compete with airports in Asia where it’s normal to have very high-end terminal offerings. Officials are hoping passengers will be able to get from the gate to the curb in only 20 minutes.

One of 9 gates able to handle an A380 an d 747-800

One of 9 gates able to handle an A380 and 747-800

Inside TBIT, passengers will notice some big changes. First you’ll see the “Grand Hall” is built to allow more natural light to give it a more expansive feel. The natural light can be seen from all sides of the terminal. You’ll also see tall ceilings and feel less confined. “This is the most exciting (project) to date,” Curtis Fentress, principal architect in charge of the new Tom Bradley International Terminal, said. Curtis Fentress is well-known in the aviation world. He has designed many iconic airports including Denver International, Incheon International, and Seattle-Tacoma International. The shape of the new TBIT may look somewhat familiar. “It’s designed to look like waves coming in from beach,” Fentress said. “And inside it is supposed to feel like we’re under the wave.”

High-tech Flight Information Display Board

High-tech Flight Information Display Board

Technology is front and center of the passenger experience from the moment you walk inside. The airport worked with technology leaders to make the travel experience as high-tech and as user friendly as possible. Old flight information displays have been replaced with new monitors displaying everything you need to know about your upcoming flight.

This is the only "Integrated Environmental Media System" of its kind in the United States

This is the only “Integrated Environmental Media System” of its kind in the United States

TBIT also features an “Integrated Environmental Media System.” During the preview the screen was displaying various images from around LAX and the Los Angeles area. The system is designed that it can be a source of advertising revenue.

The gate area at TBIT.

The gate area at the new TBIT. 50% of seats have electrical outlets underneath to charge personal electronic devices.

The interior concourse of the original TBIT. This will be demolished soon after the new TBIT opens.

The interior concourse of the original TBIT. This will be demolished soon after the new TBIT opens.

Extra: Airchive’s Extensive LAX Photo Gallery click here.

Passengers will also see more than 30 new dining options. New restaurants include 17 local Los Angeles eateries including ink.sack, Border Grill and more. Executive chefs say by building LAX, they’re able to expand their brand to people from around the world. TBIT will also be home to one of the world’s first airport locations for Starbucks Evenings. This is when the coffee giant rolls out a new food menu in the evenings along with wine and beer. If you’re in the mood for something sweet and don’t want to pay for a sit-down bakery you can grab some frozen Yogurt at Pinkberry. Overall, the dining selections go above and beyond any traveler’s imagination. There’s literally something for everyone.

Here's a sample of the new restaurants coming to TBIT

Here’s a sample of the new restaurants coming to TBIT

The new TBIT is on pace to becoming a shopping destination in addition to international airport terminal. Airport officials partnered with concession management company Westfield to bring in some of the world’s most luxurious names. Travelers will get the chance to shop at brands like Hermes, Gucci, Burberry, Victoria’s Secret, Michael Kors and Hugo Boss. These store-fronts create a high-end mall-like setting taking up about 50,000 square feet of space. Now, if you’re tired from traveling but still want to shop, you are in luck. The airport is rolling out a new personalized shopping and concierge service.

Duty-free shopping is also a big money maker and LAX is projecting big things. The 25,000 square foot duty-free store in the TBIT is expected to bring in more than $300 million in first year sales. Fashion boutiques, beauty brands as well as wine and liquor companies will be part of the duty-free experience.

If you’re not into the high-end shopping game, no need to worry. There will be the traditional airport newsstands, candy stores, an express spa service and a 7-Eleven.

1 of 3 TBIT gates in operation.

1 of 3 gates in operation.

The terminal is equipped to double the number of passengers it can handle per hour. LAX Officials said the goal is to move 4,500 people through the airport per hour. The current TBIT can only handle 2,800 per hour. Part of the terminal includes doubling the number of passport control desks and an expanded customs area. LAX is getting a head start to find and fix any potential problems within TBIT. Three of the 18 gates are already in operation. The remaining 15 will be finished and expected to be open by the end of 2013.


Extra: Images of new TBIT under construction. Click here.

The current ticketing area for passengers traveling internationally from the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Photo: Chris Sloan

The current ticketing area for passengers traveling internationally from the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Photo: Chris Sloan

Tom Bradley International Terminal History

The international terminal was originally built to handle passengers for the 1984 Summer Olympics. It was a-then staggering 963,000 square foot facility and cost $123 million to build. It opened two years after the ground breaking on June 11, 1984 and was named after Los Angeles’ first African-American Mayor Tom Bradley. It has been renovated over the years, particularly the main check-in lobby, but remains a poor “front door” for a world class city such as Los Angeles. Competing airports, particularly San Francisco’s SFO International Terminal built in 2001 have lapped the original TBIT and hampered LAX’s ability to compete. LAX’s terminal 1 was also part of the Summer Olympic expansion project. Terminal 1 is still in operation today handling mostly Southwest Airlines and US Airways traffic.

More Photos of Current Construction

A Look Back at LAX
Southern California is steeped in aviation history. The forerunner to what is now known as LAX was originally created in October 1928. The year before a real estate agent offered to lease 640 acres of land to the city to use for the first airport. This created Mines Field. For nearly 10 years, Mines field, also known at this time as the Los Angeles Municipal Airport, was home to dozens of airplanes and the Los Angeles’ only paved runway. In 1937 Los Angeles bought the rights to the field for less than $3 million dollars. 13 years later the airport would change its name for the last time to the Los Angeles International Airport.

Airport wars were starting to heat up around this time, too. As Mines Field was operating, Burbank’s own airport was starting to etch itself in the history books. Built in 1930 but not taking off until 1934, this airport was suddenly southern California’s main airport. It was known as Union Air Terminal. But, it’s main tenant was growing by leaps and bounds. In 1940, Lockheed purchased the airport, turning it into the Lockheed Air Terminal. The airport suddenly became a power player in World War II as it was the home to P-38s and B-17 Bombers. Much of the airport was covered by camouflage tarps during the war to hide it from potential enemy aircraft. Lockheed Field is now known as the Bob Hope Burbank Airport. If you do get a chance to fly through there, take a few moments to look at the historical artifacts lining the walls in the main terminal.

During the late 30s and early 40s, Lockheed field remained Los Angeles’ main airport of choice for the airlines. But by 1946 Los Angeles’ own airport was finally ready for airlines and slowly their operations shifted to the Los Angeles Airport. In 1949 the airport was finally renamed to the Los Angeles International Airport. In 1949 Los Angeles officials purchased Van Nuys airport for $1 million. Today it is the busiest general aviation in the United States. The last major airport acquisition was in 1967 when the Los Angeles Department of Airports acquired the Ontario International Airport.

Postcard advertising LAX has entered the "Jet-Age" circa 1960

Postcard advertising LAX entering the “Jet-Age” circa 1960

By the 1960s, LAX became the leader for jet airline service. It’s design was built around the theme and it’s still there today. The current “jet age” complex including the iconic theme building opened in 1961-62 with much of the original infrastructure still in place, though heavily remodeled.

As the years progressed, LAX always worked hard to stay on the forefront of air travel. To date, it’s the world’s busiest “O&D” airport, meaning the airport with the most people starting and ending their travels there. It’s also the fifth busiest airport in the world, according to Airport Councils International.

Extra: Vintage LAX Post Cards here

Extra: LAX  75th Anniversary Brochure here.

What’s Next
This is the first of two phases of the new TBIT. The second phase includes more gates and even more space is on pace to open in 2014. When the entire project is completed, the new Tom Bradley International Terminal will contain enough steel to build 148 A380s, enough glass to create 6.5 football fields, and enough concrete to fill 8,000 cement trucks. There are additional plans in the future to build another nearly identical new TBIT terminal called “TBIT West” connected via bridge to the new TBIT wing. Eventually, the check-in area will be replaced as well with the demolition of the current parking garage as seen in this model.

LAX's master plan model lays out plans for the airport's future.

LAX’s master plan model lays out plans for the airport’s future.

The TBIT expansion project is part of makeover for the entire airport. It’s only one of 25 projects underway right now. The modernization project will ultimately create 40,000 jobs including 1,700 permanent positions within its concessions. The massive project will put LAX back on the map as a flying destination instead of just an airport.

Extra: More images of LAX master plan model here.

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