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Remodeled Terminal at LAX Debuts

August 01, 2002|JENNIFER OLDHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Passengers are seeing double in the American Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

Double the number of agents in the ticket lobby. Double the amount of concession and baggage claim space. Twice as many seats in waiting rooms near gates. And, of course, two Starbucks.

The additional room is the result of a four-year, $300-million renovation of Terminal 4 at LAX--the airport's largest improvement project. American, the facility's second-biggest airline, will dedicate its new building today.

The contemporary facility, which mimics grand transportation halls built in the 1940s and '50s, is one of a series of massive renovation projects undertaken by American, including a $1.3-billion terminal reconstruction at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and a $1.7-billion improvement project at Miami International Airport.

"Los Angeles has been a focus city for us for 70 years," said Art Pappas, the company's managing director in Los Angeles. "We have a lot of employees here, and we want to do what we can to keep our customers and make travel at LAX as easy as we can."

American has 5,000 employees in Los Angeles and operates 180 flights a day to 37 cities with its regional airline partner American Eagle. The renovation, unlike many construction projects at airports across the country, continued after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The carrier hopes its remodeled terminal will help it lure travelers back to LAX.

"A lot of features in this building were the direct result of complaints and comments we got in the mid-'90s from passengers," said Scott A. Windham, a regional manager for corporate real estate.

Like other airlines suffering the lingering effects of a poor economy and the skyjackings, American saw its passenger count at the airport fall in the first half of 2002. It served 3.7 million people at LAX from January through June, down 9% from the same period last year.

American grappled for years with inadequate space at Los Angeles' antiquated international gateway. To gain more room in Terminal 4, architect Rivers & Christian raised the ceilings, added a floor in some places and tunneled underground. The carrier pays $4.6 million a year to lease the 43-year-old terminal from the city agency that operates the airport.

"The building has great curved spaces that evoke light and an uplift in spirit," said architect Donald Christian, whose firm also worked on United Airlines' international terminal and the FedEx complex at LAX. "That's what an airplane is: It's an uplifting experience."

Architects used perforated aluminum panels in vaulted ceilings, terrazzo flooring and travertine on walls in high-traffic areas. The aluminum panels boost acoustics in the terminal, where a new paging system increases its volume as crowds get thicker and prevents employees from broadcasting messages simultaneously by holding messages in a queue.

The terminal also features a fiber-optic computer system programmed to change colors displayed under glass planets embedded in the floor near security checkpoints. Art inspired by the solar system is part of a $1-million commission that American awarded artist Susan Narduli to develop a series of pieces. She says they are designed to evoke humankind's yearning to "transcend earthly bounds and soar toward the heavens."

Among the artworks are likenesses of muscular nude men sandblasted in oval granite slabs near security checkpoints. The images were papered over last summer after the airport agency questioned whether they were appropriate for a public place. The men were uncovered after the Cultural Affairs Commission ruled that they satisfied the city's design specifications.

Art elements designed by Narduli include several other pieces embedded in the floor--the phases of the moon and the sun, depicted in metal, and the asteroid belt--plus 1,000 square feet of laminated glass panels installed on the wall that feature cloud patterns.

The terminal also includes a new 100,000-square-foot customs facility that can serve 1,200 people an hour through 20 passport stations. The unit also will process American's connecting passengers who arrive at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

This facility empties into the domestic baggage claim area, which features four new carousels. A new system with automated laser bag-tag readers--in lieu of an employee with a scanner--helped the carrier quadruple the number of outbound bags it can move each minute.

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