Those rebuilding Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) found themselves facing a big problem. They had a variety of remote gates that were spread far away, and they wanted to bring as many of those into the central terminal area as possible. The airport did come to a solution, but it’s a compromise. And it’s not a great one for travelers who are forced to use it.
Here is a look at the central terminal area at LAX. Up top you have Terminals 1, 2, and 3 from right to left. At bottom, you have 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 from left to right. That little standalone building on the bottom right is the current American Eagle remote gates. Then at the far west end, you have the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
As you can see — and as you well know if you’ve driven through the airport — the central terminal area is served by a horseshoe road that occasionally sees speeds above 5 mph. It’s jammed. But they are working to remake the place with a new people mover you can see taking shape in the spine of the terminal area.
In its current configuration, there is limited room to grow in this horseshoe, though there is a future plan to build concourse 0 attached to Terminal 1 on the top right and to replace the Eagle remote gates with a Terminal 9. But at the west end is where there really is more opportunity to grow the most, outside the horseshoe.
The first thing the airport did was completely rebuild the gates in Bradley. Instead of having small gate areas that only hung on the east side of the building, they razed it and built a palace with gates on both sides. But demand kept growing, so they created plans to build the new Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) which you see at the left end of the photo. The MSC is only partially complete. The eventual plan will extend further to the south with more simple narrowbody gates.
The MSC was built with a long tunnel beneath the taxiway to connect the buildling to the Bradley Terminal, but there was a problem. All of this gate growth came with exactly NO growth in the headhouse. In other words, there were a ton more gates, but there were no new ticket counter positions to handle the additional flights.
I have to assume that there was some evaluation of a way to put more ticket counters in Bradley, but it was decided to skimp on that and instead, build a remote ticket counter. Enter Terminal 1.5.
Between Terminals 1 and 2, there used to be nothing at all. It was, in fact, one of the few places you could actually see airplanes from the horseshoe. But LAX built a massive new structure which will connect to the people mover. It has a large new security area, it connects Terminals 1 and 2 behind security, and it has ticket counters for a bunch of airlines that park their airplanes over at the MSC.
I never thought this was a good idea, but I didn’t have the chance to experience it for myself until I went to a recent event for Breeze at the airport.
Let’s forget that I mistakenly went to Bradley first — that’s entirely my fault for not double-checking — but I eventually walked back toward 1.5 and began the journey. It started at the Breeze ticket counters.
After getting my gate pass, I had to head back toward Terminal 2 and up escalators to get to the security level.
Apparently those escalators overshot themselves, because I then have to walk back down some stairs to security itself.
That was completely empty — something to keep in mind if nearby checkpoints are busy, I suppose. Once through, it dumped me out in between Terminals 1 and 2 where a sea of stanchions had been set up to wait for the bus to show up. At least the view is nice.
I waited for awhile, maybe 10 minutes, and heard the various interactions there. It was weird. Nobody ever checked my boarding pass, but when someone came up saying they were just going to use the lounge in Bradley, the lineminder told them they absolutely could not go. Only those with boarding passes for flights from Bradley could use the bus. But again, nobody ever checked my gate pass, so I guess the moral is to just be quiet.
Finally, the bus arrived, and the lineminder apologized for the wait. Maybe that wasn’t normal to have the lengthy time in line. We went right back downstairs to the bottom level for boarding.
We were then dumped out into a covered corridor where the bus was waiting. Peek-a-boo, Southwest.
After a couple minutes, we began our arduous journey. We headed straight out to the end of the concourses and then hung a left on to a taxiway over toward Bradley. The roads get complicated from there, as we had to turn left and follow along the main Bradley gates toward the middle of the concourse. If you aren’t in a hurry, at least it’s a great view.
Then in the middle of the terminal, you wait your turn and the bus darts across to the MSC when the coast is clear. I had a nice view of the Breeze airplane, among others.
We then had to wait a bit on that side of the taxiway until some other ground traffic cleared. Again, hello sexy view.
Once we were cleared, we went under the MSC where they have bus gates that dump you out into the lower level of the concourse.
It was then time to go up some more escalators until reaching the main part of the concourse. First impressions… it’s not ready for primetime. There’s still a lot of work to be done on concessions as they finish the build-out. But it looks like a nice place, just like the main Bradley concourse but with a little less flourish.
While the gates are nice, Terminal 1.5 is a really annoying extra step in the journey. I mean, just take a look at this visually, it’s a full tour of the airport.
Red is walking, green is bus
It wouldn’t bother me as much for a big international trip since you usually get to the airport earlier for those anyway. Norse was using this setup when it briefly flew to LA this year, and that’s fine. Air Transat and Viva Aerobus, also not the end of the world. I suppose the same goes for Southwest which runs its international flights this way, but that’s also temporary until Concourse 0 gets built. But the other airlines using this are Allegiant, Breeze, and Sun Country. That just adds a lot of hassle and time to the experience of taking a domestic flight.
For what it’s worth, I walked out via the Bradley Terminal to see if that was better, and it is still a long way to go. You have to go down two levels in the MSC to an underground level where there is a very, very long corridor.
Way on the other side, it brings you up into the main hall at Bradley, but it is not easy to get out. I followed the signs to baggage claim and ended up at a dead end near the outdoor smoking patio that told me to turn around and use a different exit.
It’s definitely better than using Terminal 1.5, but it’s still a hassle compared to the other terminals. That’s especially tough for an airline like Hawaiian which has been relegated to that location from its previous positions in Terminal 5 and before that, 2.