The cavernous ticketing center of the newly remodeled Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX is airy and better lighted than it used to be. Crowded, chaotic conditions have been reduced because passengers no longer have to lug their bags to security scanners before check-in.
New facades beckon travelers to bars and restaurants on the mezzanine level. Downstairs, the dim arrival area has been transformed with a bistro, flower stands and translucent walls that change color like the decorative pylons at the airport entrance. The floors are terrazzo.
"I like it," said Janet Fitzgerald, 46, of New Zealand, who was headed with her family to a ticket counter recently. "I've never seen it better in here."
In one of the most visible signs that the modernization of Los Angeles International Airport is underway, city officials on Wednesday will mark completion of a $737-million renovation of the Bradley terminal — a portal for almost 9 million passengers a year that has not seen a major overhaul since 1984.
"This is the first phase of a total remake of the Bradley," said Gina Marie Lindsey, director of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX. "This is a huge improvement for us. The terminal used to have a low level of customer service."
By 2013, the airport plans to make $3 billion to $4 billion in improvements related to the Bradley, which is at the western end of the terminal area.
LAX officials hope the projects will improve security, give the aging facility a contemporary feel and eliminate the crowding that frequently bothers travelers at peak times in the morning and late evenings.
The current project, which began in February 2007, involved a major renovation of the Bradley's interior and included new flooring, improved lighting, better signage for flight information, wider corridors and remodeled restrooms.
Two boarding gates were added to accommodate the next generation of wide-bodied airliners, such as the giant Airbus A380, the Boeing 747-8 jumbo jet, and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
In the hall reserved for customs and immigration inspections, high-capacity baggage carousels were installed to move luggage faster from aircraft to waiting passengers.
From there, travelers can leave the terminal by walking up gently sloping corridors that lead to a remodeled and roomy greeting lobby, where they can meet friends, relatives, or business associates.
There is a halo of lights in the ceiling and the longest video project ever installed at a U.S. airport to entertain people as they wait for passengers. Suspended from the roof, the media wall of 29 side-to-side, 46-inch display screens extends 90 feet in a serpentine pattern.
Among the concessions are a Petals flower shop, a money exchange and Daniels Bistro+Bar. The menu includes items not found at other airports, such as chicken and apple panini, flatbread pizzas and the house special — beef brisket panini with grilled onions, cheddar and arugula.
"It looks welcoming and is laid out well," Sam Magee, 41, of Los Angeles said as he waited in the terminal recently for his wife's parents to arrive from Japan.
The largest part of the project added 45,000 square feet to house a $140-million in-line baggage system that employs elaborate conveyors to move luggage from ticket counters to security scanners before it is loaded onto planes.
The system has eliminated the large boxy scanners in the Bradley lobby, which were a major inconvenience for passengers who had to carry their luggage to the devices during check-in.
LAX "should offer a travel experience worthy of a world-class city," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "These modernizations will improve the experience for travelers and provide the kind of sustainability, safety and security features necessary in this day and age."
LAX officials say, however, the next phase requires that at least $100 million worth of current improvements to 10 of 11 gates at the terminal will have to be torn out to make way for future construction.
Though the renovation offers a significant improvement in esthetics and convenience for passengers, Jack Keady, an aviation and airline consultant in Playa del Rey, cautioned that there are still major problems at LAX, which has often received low marks from the traveling public.
Arriving passengers are still being bused from remote gates to the Bradley terminal and traffic around the airport is terrible, Keady said. The new renovation "won't help if international travelers continue to come out of the Bradley and are met by diesel fumes and traffic congestion."
Keady and airport officials say the next phase of the Bradley overhaul should help relieve some of these concerns. Plans call for new concourses, additional gates that can handle larger aircraft and a grand central hall filled with restaurants and retail shopping.