United Airlines’ President Scott Kirby told pilots in a recent closed-door meeting that United is eyeing a major expansion at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) after years of letting its competitors gain market share. The plans include claiming back leased terminal space and staking claim in a new terminal under development.
United Falls to #3 at LAX
By most measurements, United is the #3 carrier at LAX, accounting for 15% of traffic behind Delta’s 16% and American’s 20%. Both Delta and American are investing heavily in LAX, with Delta moving to Terminal 2 and 3 with expansion and beautification plans and American recently adding several Asian destinations.
Kirby’s “Terminal 9” Vision for LAX
Kirby mentioned his goal to stake claim in a future “Terminal 9” at LAX. A theoretical Terminal 9 has been under contemplation for many years. Check out this feasibility study of a new Terminal 9 and commuter terminal with a proposed competition date of 2000. Essentially, a theoretical Terminal 9 could run parallel to Terminal 8 on the east side of Sepulveda Blvd, near where American has its “Eagle’s Nest” satellite terminal for American Eagle regional operations. The terminal would be easily connected by bridge to Terminal 8 and could provide a viable avenue for United to expand.
The gate crunch at LAX right now routinely leads to long waits for gates after landing. A new terminal could alleviate this issue. But would United get it? UA has a case for it — especially if American takes Terminal 5 when Delta moves to Terminal 2/3. Personally, I’d love to see United take Terminals 4 and 5 so that it is connected with its Star Alliance partners in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, but that is unrealistic — especially after the huge investment United has made in Terminal 7.
What is perhaps more realistic than a Terminal 9, at least in terms of immediate impact, would be United claiming back its Terminal 6 space currently leased to American. I remember United’s aggressive operation from Terminal 6 just a decade ago. Moving west into Terminal 6 instead of east into a theoretical Terminal 9 might be the time-saving, budget-concious move.
Other LAX Expansion Plans
Terminal 9 is not the only enlargement plan at LAX. Plans for a separate midfield concourse, Terminal Zero, and Terminal 1.5 are also in various stages of planning–
A new structure called the Midfield Satellite Concourse will add 11 gates in its first phase, while the airport also is considering a proposed new Terminal Zero and starting environmental reviews for a small Terminal 1.5. The latter building will have extra space for ticketing and baggage check-in but no additional gates…
United Already Has SFO
United already has a dominant California hub 400 miles north in SFO. Delta and American are expanding at LAX because they do not have a fortress west coast hub (though Delta arguably is building one in Seattle). While I applaud United’s strategy not to abandon my home airport, there is a reason that any one carrier has failed to dominate at LAX: it is a highly-competitive market with lower yields.
I’d love nothing more than to see the second daily Heathrow flight brought back along with Frankfurt, Paris, and Hong Kong. But any expansion plans should be carefully weighed against the competitive pressures unique to LAX.
Any rumors of expansion and airport improvements at LAX are welcomed by me. It is one thing to tell pilots in a private meeting about taking a new Terminal 9 at LAX. It is quite another to actually negotiate with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) to actually get it. United will not be the only player at the table.
And while United may expand again one day at LAX, actions speaker louder than words and cancelling the second daily London Heathrow flight is more indicative of UA’s policy than a chat with pilots by President Kirby.