Revealing a new world-class face for LAX Airport

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Los Angeles now has a terminal to rank with the very best at the world’s airports. That’s the firm conclusion to be drawn following last week’s media unveiling of the new Tom Bradley International (TBIT).

The event was an emotional one for many of the protagonists. One could sense how much it meant in the faces and voices of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – who departs office this week with this signature project completed; of architect Curtis Fentress, who also worked on Incheon International’s terminal design; and LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsay, who oversaw the eight-year project. In an airport system that was previously riven by litigation, and where union control on labour remains strong, this is no mean achievement.

More importantly though, TBIT promises to raise the quality of the consumer experience. LAX, as the Mayor and other senior executives candidly admitted, was long perceived to be among the very worst airports in the USA for the travel experience. That’s all changed.

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Entering the vast, 150,000sq ft Great Hall, you’re captivated by the sweep of the roof, the natural light, the great sightlines through the building and the high glass walls that offer views to the west. The media locations, including a 70 foot LED tower installation, are stunning and will provide a showcase for advertising unrivalled almost anywhere in the world.

What’s impressive too is the local/international mix of both retail and F&B.

There are boutiques from well-known local brands such as Fred Segal and Kitson that aim to “introduce the Southern California style to a global audience” according to master developer Westfield.

International luxury fashion brands include Bulgari, Michael Kors and Coach. These are complemented by stores representing Hugo Boss, Porsche Design, Tumi and Victoria’s Secret.

F&B carries a strong flavour of California, and in a refreshingly upscale way, through well-known local brands such as Umami Burger, ink.sack, 800 Degrees Pizza and Larder at Tavern.

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DFS is among the anchor tenants – its contract is with the airport rather than master developer Westfield – and it has delivered a beautiful new store, for the first time with co-branding of the airport location. The dual DFS (complete with new logo) and Los Angeles branding works well, and its smart store fronts are matched by exceptional window displays – sometimes an under-used feature of airport retailing. Here, they’re used to tell brands’ stories and to impart the impression of luxury.

The interior doesn’t disappoint either. The P&C outlet, which accounts for more than half of the main outlet’s space, is the match of any beauty store in the DFS network, either at a Galleria or downtown. The personalised branding is superbly executed with good space between the top brands to allow them to create their own worlds. The size of the store also speaks to the huge importance of Asian spends on beauty here.

The wine & spirits zone blends local with international well. There’s a range of Californian wines, plus prestige international spirits as well as a strong offer catering to the vital Chinese traveller (4% of traffic but 50% of DFS’s spend at LAX).

Lining up across the concourse are DFS’s fashion and watches outlets, the latter mirroring the best of the group’s Galleria concepts. The fashion units – Hermès, Gucci, Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo – will open progressively over the coming months as the terminal takes shape.

One of the concessionaires at the media unveiling at TBIT told me: “This puts the rest of North American airport world on notice.” That’s certainly true. But I would go further: with its remarkable design, its blend of local and international concepts plus the range of brands making their debuts in the channel, TBIT is set to be one of the great airport openings of recent times.

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