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Oases of Comfort Amid Planned Remodel at LAX

October 21, 2006|James Gilden | Special to The Times

It would be romantic to think that the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport reminds one of a time when flying was more civilized.

But romance is hardly what many travelers associate with the Bradley terminal.

More than two decades after the terminal's opening, flying internationally has changed dramatically, and the terminal has not kept up with the times.

Today there are more than twice as many airlines flying out of the terminal, security screening has become a greater priority and the terminal cannot accommodate a huge new airplane headed its way, the Airbus 380.

With that in mind, the Los Angeles City Council this month approved a $723.5-million makeover for the aging terminal. Bomb detection equipment, escalators, elevators and paging systems will be among the areas upgraded. Work is expected to begin in January and be completed in 2010.

In the meantime, travelers through the terminal will have to deal with dust and disarray.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge suggested last week that the city should give every passenger coming into the terminal a free bottle of water, but then joked later that the offer should be upgraded to a free root beer float because of the expected hassles.

For most travelers navigating through the Bradley terminal, the changes will be most apparent once the overhaul starts next year. But for business travelers flying first class and business class, the airlines have already started to smooth the way.

Since business travelers are the airlines' most valuable customers, a consortium of airlines that operate out of the terminal has taken action to ensure that premium passengers are as comfortable as possible during the construction chaos.

The first steps came Oct. 10 when a new temporary first-class lounge and another lounge for business-class passengers were opened at the Bradley terminal. For the next eight months, these premium passengers of the 33 airlines operating from the terminal will share the temporary lounges while airlines' existing lounges are demolished and new ones built.

The temporary lounges were built and are being operated at a cost of $10 million, said Joe McGlynn, project manager for the consortium. The airlines are collectively footing the entire cost of both the temporary lounges and the new lounges that will replace them.

The temporary lounges feature comfortable areas for relaxing or working, and they include wireless Internet access and pay-as-you-go computers.

The new lounges were designed by HOK, an architectural design firm based in St. Louis with offices in Los Angeles.

"We just tried to create a space that would be quiet and peaceful and relaxing and take you away from all the stress," said Todd Osborne, project manager for the architectural firm.

I toured the lounges the day after they opened. The temporary first-class lounge is tucked away behind the food court on the mezzanine level, before passengers go through security.

The 4,000-square-foot space is designed to accommodate as many as 133 travelers at a time, a number that was arrived at by analyzing passenger traffic at peak operating hours.

Passengers said they were pleased with what they saw last week. Areeta and Milton McKenzie of Fort Worth were traveling from their home in Palm Springs to Hong Kong for a five-week vacation in Asia.

Members of United's Red Carpet Club and American Airlines' Admiral's Club, they found the temporary first-class lounge to be "very comfortable, very pleasant," Milton McKenzie said.

To get to the temporary business-class lounge, passengers must first pass through security and then board a bus for a ride out to the tarmac.

The ride takes about four minutes; three buses are in continuous operation for the 20 hours a day that the lounge is open.

Approaching the new business-class lounge, I was not certain what to expect. It is built of 22 mobile trailers connected together to form one giant, 16,000-square-foot box sitting near an enormous aircraft hanger.

It is surrounded on three sides by barbed wire and the front is protected by large concrete barriers.

The impression it gives is of temporary construction office on steroids. There was neither charm nor grace to the exterior, and 747 aircraft trundled noisily past to and from their gates less than 100 yards from its front door.

But walking in that door is like the moment in "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy opens her black-and-white front door and encounters the Technicolor world of Oz.

"It was really a surprise," said Yehuda Lachman, managing director of Israel-based Omega Advanced Technologies, who was using the lounge before a flight back to Israel. "From the outside it looks like sort of a container."

Inside, it was "fancy, clean, quiet," he said. The space is designed to seat as many as 578 passengers in one large, open room.

"The challenge is to get the seating required for peak [crowds] but not have it look like a furniture store," said project manager McGlynn.

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