This Is How You Do LAX and JFK Like a VIP

CHECK IN: Virgin America's Loft at LAX

Coughing children in a communal waiting area? No thanks. This is how to get across the coast right.


The new Tom Bradley Terminal had some issues when it opened last September -- frequent false fire alarms, people getting stuck in elevators -- but at least it looked good, and that's important in L.A. The last time parts of this airport got a nip and tuck, Pan Am was still in the air. But along with the new expanded Bradley Terminal -- where American is getting four gates -- Delta is undergoing a $229 million face-lift at Terminal 5. Phase One, now underway, will include some not-so-dramatic improvements to ticketing desks and the baggage carousels. Phase Two, which will continue through 2015, supposedly will involve more major architectural upgrades, along with a brand-new VIP lobby. As for the other airlines (United, Virgin America and JetBlue), there aren't any plans for major surgery anytime soon. Maybe makeup will help.


Virgin America has only one lounge of its own in the whole country: the Loft at LAX, a hipster paradise bathed in so much neon mood lighting, it's like having a layover inside a Michael Mann movie (it's free for premium-class passengers). Delta recently renovated its SkyClub to match its sibling at JFK (minus the cool SkyDeck). And just like in New York, American has a flagship first-class lounge (this one with Bose music stations), while United only opens the doors of its international lounge to transcontinental passengers with GS cards. But JetBlue has no lounge at LAX. Passengers will have to wait to board at the Wolfgang Puck Express.

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When JetBlue introduced its total gut rebuild of JFK's Terminal 5 in 2008, it was as if veils had been lifted from the flying public's eyes. Who knew that checking into an airport could be a pleasant experience? JetBlue's modern, people-friendly design -- cool Italian furniture, nifty 40-foot LCD monitors, a children's play area -- put the other airlines to shame. So far, only Delta has risen to the challenge, reopening Terminal 4 last May after a $1.4 billion makeover that included revamped check-in areas and a slew of new retail shops. American refurbished Terminal 8 in 2007, so further improvements there will probably be a while off. But United still is operating out of cramped old Terminal 7, which hasn't been updated in forever (except to add Continental's globe to United's post-merger logo).


Delta's brand-new Sky Club is so airily gorgeous -- with its 2,000-square-foot outdoor rooftop terrace -- passengers will be begging for a flight delay (a business-class ticket gets you in for free). American has a first-class lounge at JFK, which is like an Admirals Club, only they serve a buffet (free if you're flying first class). United will allow premium passengers into its international lounge if they have a black "Global Services" frequent flyer card (otherwise, you'll have to slum it in a United Club). Virgin Atlantic has the "Clubhouse," with a pool table, but Virgin American flyers have to pay $75 to get in. Maybe try JetBlue's lounge -- it's only $40.

CHECK IN: The new Sky Deck at Delta's Sky Club at JFK.