A look inside Delta’s new $1.9-billion LAX terminal

Delta Air Lines passengers flying through notoriously congested Los Angeles International Airport will soon enjoy about double the amount of terminal space and nine additional passenger gates under a $1.9-billion terminal renovation project that is more than a year ahead of schedule.

Delta executives and LAX representatives offered a sneak peek at the expanded and renovated terminal project Tuesday which will be open to the public next month. It will feature 27 gates — compared with the 16 passenger gates offered before the overhaul — and 1.2-million square feet for passengers, compared with 600,000 square feet in its previous location at LAX.

The slowdown in passenger traffic during the pandemic allowed Delta to speed up construction, putting the project about 18 months head of schedule. Parts of the project, including the outdoor bar in the 30,000-square-foot club lounge, won’t be open until next year.

A man in suit and glasses

Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian at the unveiling of the carrier’s new $1.9-billion Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In an interview, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said the extra space and additional gates will help ease LAX’s congestion and make the airport more attractive to fliers.

“We never had the facilities to manage it because we couldn’t slow down to build out what we needed for the future,” he said. “The pandemic, one of the silver linings was that it allowed us to slow down and build up.”

The new terminal project was the result of a massive reshuffling of terminals in 2017 so that Delta could move its LAX operations from Terminals 5 and 6 to Terminals 2 and 3, forcing 19 other carriers to relocate. The move connects Terminals 2 and 3 to each other and with the Tom Bradley International Terminal, cutting down connecting times by up to 20 minutes, according to the airline.

A row of worker stations in Delta's new LAX terminal

A look inside the renovated Terminal 3 at LAX.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The opening comes as air travel demand has climbed in recent days to more than 90% of the travel numbers recorded before the pandemic in 2019. COVID-19 cases and deaths have dropped so much that an airline trade group that represents Delta, American, United and other carriers, has asked the Biden administration to end the mask requirement and eliminate other COVID-19 protocols for travelers.

Bastian said the expansion will help serve the rebound in domestic and international travel that he says has already begun. The investment at LAX was intended to capitalize on the demand that is expected to come through Los Angeles, particularly from international destinations, he said.

“We are the largest airline in L.A. currently and we intend to hold on to that,” Bastian said.

LAX, the nation’s second busiest airport, has been ranked by periodicals and surveys as one of the nation’s most congested and most difficult to navigate, a problem airport and Los Angeles city officials hope to address with a multiyear, $15-billion modernization of the airport expected to be completed as soon as next year.

A row of Delta planes at LAX

Delta says the new terminal layout should save passengers up to 20 minutes when making connections.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

During a news conference at the new Delta terminal, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed LAX’s tarnished reputation, saying LAX is “an airport that was once synonymous with everything that was dysfunctional and slow.” He quipped that the six most feared words in Los Angeles were “can you drop me at LAX.”

Airlines such as American and Southwest are also investing in LAX by expanding or overhauling their terminals, lounges and other facilities.

In October, American Airlines is expected to complete a $1.6-billion overhaul of its facilities in Terminals 4 and 5, creating a single 300,000-square-foot hall with bigger bathrooms, more power outlets and large windows that will allow in natural light. The overall area won’t expand much, but American Airlines officials say a reconfigured ticket counter and check-in area will reduce wait times.

In 2014, Southwest Airlines kicked off a $508-million overhaul and modernization of Terminal 1. The project is expected to be completed later this year.

“Improving LAX while running the third-busiest airport in the world is kind of like having open-heart surgery while running a marathon,” Garcetti said. “You have to think about the logistics that this is taking.”