A Complete Guide to the Biggest Terminal Move in LAX History

LAX Traffic Jam - Getty - H 2017
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With TV Upfronts and Cannes looming, 16 airlines are moving terminals between May 12 and 17. Here's what you need to know so you don't miss your flight.

The good news is that LAX is about to take one giant step toward being a world-class airport. The bad news is that you might not feel like celebrating if you’re stuck in gridlock on Century Boulevard.

At a moment in which many in Hollywood are preparing to travel to New York and Europe — with TV Upfronts and the Cannes Film Festival looming — the largest terminal move in the history of LAX threatens to make air travel a little more exciting beginning the night of May 12. In total, 16 airlines will be relocating over a six-day period, headlined by the migration of Delta from terminals 5 and 6 to terminals 2 and 3.

The big move is part of a 15-year, $14 billion effort to reimagine and rebuild LAX, the nation’s second busiest airport. The endgame sounds awesome — gleaming, interconnected terminals; improved access and public transit; restaurants that you actually want to eat in — but there’s likely to be some short-term pain to enjoy those gains.

Delta fliers have good reason to be excited about the airline’s long-range plans. With a $1.9 billion dollar plan approved and in motion, terminals 2 and 3 will be radically modernized and fully connected. Instantly, the airline will pick up six new gates (and ultimately double its gate count), and because the terminals on the north side of LAX have wider taxiways, planes can simultaneously enter and exit the terminal. One recent study determined that LAX's runway taxi times — nearly 11 minutes on average — are worst in the nation, so Delta’s new facilities should be good news to frequent fliers who hate to land on schedule or a little early, only to hear that the taxi process will be lengthy or the gate isn't ready. And connections to Delta partners like Virgin Atlantic and Aeromexico will be greatly simplified.

But first, everyone has to survive the highly choreographed chaos that is set to unfold May 12-17. (If you’re grumbling about the timing, airport and airline officials say that Mother’s Day weekend has the lowest traffic volume in all of May and that it’s critical this move be complete before the summer rush that begins in June.) The entire relocation will take place over three nights — Friday, May 12, Sunday, May 14, and Tuesday, May 16. On those three nights, as the last red-eyes at impacted gates go out, a massive crew (led by a consulting company that specializes in terminal moves) will rush in and work overnight to move furniture, signage, computer equipment and other infrastructure so everything is in place before passengers arrive at LAX for early flights the next morning.

For every impacted airline other than Delta, that means all operations will move over the course of one night. So be warned that if you are flying to New York for Upfronts on JetBlue or Virgin America, you may return to a different terminal than you took off from.

This is the schedule of all of the airlines that are moving over that week.

May 12-13: Allegiant (moving to T5), Boutique Air (T6), Frontier (T5), Sun Country (T5), Virgin America (T6) and Volaris (Tom Bradley International Terminal).

May 14-15: Avianca (TBIT), Interjet (TBIT) and Spirit (T5).

May 16-17: Air Canada (T6), Hawaiian (T5), and JetBlue (T5).

Because Delta’s enormous operation at LAX is being incrementally relocated over this six-day period, the airline is going to great lengths to communicate its plan to consumers. “We’re aware that it’s simply not possible to overcommunicate with customers in this situation,” says Ranjan Goswami, Delta’s western vp sales. “Most of our L.A.-based customers should get six to ten calls or emails about the move. Pilots have been making announcements on flights for weeks. And we’re actively briefing companies like Uber and Lyft, so everyone is prepared and informed. We don’t expect massive headaches.”

I attended a briefing at UTA’s Beverly Hills headquarters on April 28 in which Goswami laid out the details of the move to travel planners with the agency, as well as others representing AEG, the L.A. Lakers and other area companies. There, he pointed out that Delta’s work on terminals 2 and 3 will represent the second-largest private investment project in Los Angeles, only topped by the future home of the Rams at Inglewood Stadium.

Here’s how Delta’s move will unfold. All of the flights to New York will remain in Terminal 5 until the last night of the move — meaning that any nonstop Delta flight set to depart on or before the night of May 16 will leave from Terminal 5. In many cases, customers who are flying to New York or to connecting cities en route to France will fly out of T5 and return to T2. (If you are courageous enough to drive your car to LAX in that time period, there will be special neon green shuttle buses circling the airport that you can take to get back to the right lot.)

The spa-like Delta One lobby and the Sky Club in Terminal 5 will remain in operation through the end of the move. (There will be a Delta club open in the terminal starting the morning of May 13, but Delta One fliers will have to wait a while for a dedicated entry lounge to be built.) The airline strongly urges customers to consult the Delta app before heading to the airport so they know which terminal to head to, but the airline and airport authority plan to have scores of representatives cruising the sidewalks and pre-security areas to help passengers find their way. If you get dropped off at the wrong terminal, you can jump on a neon green shuttle bus to get to the right place.

Given how normal traffic around LAX often ranges from bad to horrific, congestion on the week of May 12-17 is likely to be memorable. Even if you’re flying on an airline that isn’t moving, leave early and confirm your departing terminal and gate.

One final word of advice for the entertainment industry and anyone flying that week: Remember where you park.