$1.9 Billion L.A. Airport Upgrade Missed the People's Choice: Decent WiFi

Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Tom Bradley International Terminal

When the flight-information group FlightView took a survey of airport travelers last year, 72% said they wanted free, reliable wi-fi in the terminal so they can access the Internet. Many airports heed that sentiment, and provide the service

According to AirFair Watchdog, 33 out of 52 major airports nationally offer free wi-fi, with no strings attached, including California airports in Ontario, Orange County, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento and San Francisco. Another 19 smaller airports in California have free wi-fi, according to Wi-Fi Free Spot.

But when Los Angeles International Airport debuted its $1.9 billion upgrade of the Tom Bradley International Terminal last week, Hugo Martin at the Los Angeles Times asked why it was still using the same slow, wi-fi system used throughout LAX, which is free for just the first 45 minutes. A high-speed connection is also available, but that costs $4.95 an hour or $7.95 all day.

Even more in demand than fast, free wi-fi are charging stations for devices, including computers and phones. Around 87% of people surveyed wanted that. 47% of business travelers requested writing tables and 17% thought printing stations would be nice. Half the seats in the terminal have electrical outlets, but not much else was added to the terminal beyond the meager offerings already in place.

But the terminal, with its “epic visual landscapes” at the “intersection of sculpture, story and brand,” looks marvelous. Passengers are greeted by an 80-foot-tall “Welcome Wall” (pdf) of “stunning atmospherics and joyful scenes of greeting.” A 72-foot “Time Tower,” festooned with giant LED screens, dominates the setting and 42 high-end vendors hawk their wares to a decidedly high-end clientele. People can gaze upon the “Bon Voyage Wall,” featuring images of people jumping joyfully in slow-motion, while queuing up for security screening.

The airport promotes (pdf) those and other project highlights, including “passenger actions and movements [that] trigger interactive video effects,” and the “first deployment of corporate sponsorships in a U.S. airport.”

The 150,000 square-foot Bradley terminal, named for a former five-term L.A. mayor, sports the Antonio R. Villaraigosa Pavilion at its heart, named for the city’s last mayor. In addition to 60 shops and restaurants, it has a full-service spa.

The terminal is part of a $4.1 billion airport makeover that received some critical reviews in June from then-City Controller Wendy Greuel. One of her department’s audits faulted management for letting the 2009 projected cost of $1.545 billion grow to $1.9 billion and its over-reliance on consultants to handle work normally done in-house. The entire capital improvement project is expected to cost $6 billion over the next decade and is funded by airport revenues.    

LAX was late to the movement among airports around the country to provide free wi-fi service to travelers. And even then, when finally approved a year ago by the Los Angeles city council, it was slow and free for just the first 45 minutes, while others were fast and unlimited. At the time, city officials vowed that they would embark upon a two-year quest to upgrade the service which, admittedly, was being provided by Miami-based Advanced Wireless Group under a no-bid contract that left its critics scratching their heads.

New bids for upgraded wi-fi are reportedly expected to go out soon.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

At LAX's Remodeled Bradley Terminal, Where's the Wi-Fi? (by Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times)

Audits Are Critical of Agency Managing LAX Modernization Project (by Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times)

Want Free Airport Wi-Fi? LAX Says Yes With a Hitch (by Darren Booth, CNBC)

Audit of the Los Angeles World Airports’ Capital Development Program (Los Angeles City Controller) (pdf)

Audit of the Los Angeles World Airports’ Financial Operations (Los Angeles City Controller) (pdf)

Leave a comment