Who will pay thousands of dollars to use a private terminal before boarding a commercial flight? Rich folks, of course, but also maybe those who employ rich folks. At LAX, where celebrities move through and paparazzi pursue, entertainment companies and talent agencies may take a look at The Private Suite, a facility that opened this month. They may not be the only types interested in corporate memberships.
By all accounts, the people who put together The Private Suite thought of everything, at least when it came to designing the actual product. It’s operated by Gavin de Becker Associates, a firm specializing in protecting public figures.
The gated facility is on the opposite side of the airport from the rabble of the main passenger terminals. Members avoid the nasty road traffic getting into LAX. At the private building, they get their own TSA screener (for outbound) or customs official (for international inbound). There are lounges for individuals and for groups. Users get rides in BMWs across the tarmac to their commercial airline’s lounge or direct to the plane. The glitz includes pre-flight massages, manicures and haircuts. A team of eight escorts travelers, handles the bags and attends to special service requests.
It’s a private jet experience without the private jet. All for a mere $2,700 per group (up to four people) for a domestic flight. For international flights it’s $3,000 per group. That’s if you have an annual membership, which runs $7,500. Non-members can pay higher “trial” rates.
Corporate memberships apparently come with similar pricing. A spokesperson said the company still is working to set up corporate accounts and wouldn’t answer questions.
Multiple Los Angeles-based sources who looked at the service thought it would appeal to some despite the cost. They asked not to be quoted because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
New York-based CBS Corporation vice president of travel services Hal Rudy called the concept “interesting.” He questioned the pricing but said he would consider the service for talent travel if more attractive rates could be had.
“It may be cost-prohibitive for us as when our talent does fly commercially, we use a paid greeter service for considerably less money,” he said. “I would imagine if the talent is traveling on their own dime they would use this service when flying commercially.”
Altour provides travel management services to entertainment and other VIP clients. SVP of West Coast operations David Sefton said he could see top talent demand The Private Suite in contracts with entertainment companies. But he also pointed to that industry’s existing private meet-and-greet services. Sefton suggested private equity firms may be the more likely corporate users.
He said Altour is interested in securing volume-based discounts on membership fees for some clients.
United Airlines at LAX receives VIP travelers from and hands them off to The Private Suite “every day,” said Anthony Toth, the carrier’s Western Division managing director. Passengers are taken to the airplane or an elevator from the ramp directly into United’s lounge. “We have our own car for moving Global Services members and stars,” he said, “and could even do a car connection.” United’s Global Services is the ultra-elite level of its loyalty program.
Toth said United is considering how to jointly market to corporate accounts. “There may be ways to partner together for more than just celebrities,” he said. “I see huge applicability: ambassadors, government dignitaries and CEOs who just want that level of service.”
Toth agreed that the proposition “sounds expensive,” but suggested membership may be worth the time saved by avoiding crowded customs lanes after inbound international flights.
It also could appeal to those with excessively long layovers at LAX who want to spend the time resting or squeezing in a meeting.
The Private Suite apparently had to negotiate access to each individual airline’s ramp space but still had a few to secure by the time it opened, according to sources. Not with United. “We took care of that,” Toth said.
A spokesperson for the facility did not answer questions about ramp access or the next steps in corporate sales. Some travel management pros who serve the entertainment industry last week said their calls hadn’t been returned.
Sources wondered if the next private terminal for commercial passengers in the United States would be in New York. There’s already one at London Heathrow, offering many of the same perks as the one in Los Angeles. Called Heathrow VIP and also known as Windsor Suite, it’s been open for about five years to those premium-class passengers who can afford to plunk down another £2,750 per visit. According to a Heathrow Airport spokesperson, the facility does not arrange for corporate memberships.