Frequent travelers often dream of airport terminals that are nearly empty, simply allowing them to breeze right through and board their flight undisturbed by the masses. While the best that most of us can hope for is the occasional treat of skipping security lines through TSA pre-screening or the fortuitous upgrade to first-class, the wealthy and famous can effectively have their own terminal. At least, they can at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
The LA Board of Airport Commissioners recently approved plans to convert a former cargo facility into a separate 43,750 square-foot terminal. It will feature a huge lounge and private suites with first-class dining options to accommodate famous and wealthy travelers. A corresponding secure parking lot and door-to-door transportation options to lounges or other secure drop-offs will maintain privacy and deter paparazzi from harassing high-value travelers — not to mention keeping star-struck crowds from interfering with other passengers who are simply trying to get from one end of the airport to another without missing their flights.
In reality, it should be a win-win situation for everyone except for the paparazzi and celebrity watchers. Swarms of passengers trying to catch a glimpse of passing celebrities are not only annoying; they arguably present a potential security risk. At the very least, they make it difficult for the airport to maintain normal operations. A separate VIP area solves all of these problems.
Use of this terminal will not be cheap. Estimates put the upper-end cost around $1,800 per use of the facility. The new terminal will compete with existing facilities, as most airlines already have some sort of luxury accommodations that are semi-private. For example, Delta Air Lines already has its own VIP Select lounge at LAX with transportation options that greet passengers on the tarmac and shuttle them and their luggage out of the airport. Celebrities exit through a separate gate and to a "secret subterranean location" where they meet with their own personal drivers.
The celebrities at the highest levels of wealth and status are more likely to choose the Los Angeles Suite simply because of its presumed prestige and luxury, assuming the airport follows through as planned. Being independent of any particular airline's operations, the airport may have an advantage in flexibility that renders airline lounges to second-class status.
VIP terminals are not a new concept. They already exist in major metropolitan areas such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Dubai. There may well be similar suites in other cities that thrive on relative anonymity. Others might be developed in the future, where expansion room is available.
Reportedly, the Los Angeles Suite is modeled after a similar suite at Heathrow Airport in London that was used by the royal family and dignitaries until 2008, when the British government cut the funding to maintain it. Making the best of the situation, airport officials now allow it to be used by anyone willing to pay $3,000 for the privilege.
An estimated completion date for the Los Angeles Suite is not readily available. Construction will begin before long on the south side of LAX, separated by the public terminal by a set of runways and in an area currently flanked by the LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet facilities.
As privacy continues to be at a premium and terror threats increase worldwide, expect the trend of VIP terminals to continue within major airports across the globe. The rich and famous will spend whatever it takes to stay safe, secure, and pampered.