What It's Like to Be a Celebrity Flying United at LAX
If you follow celebrity news magazines and websites, you've probably spotted a picture or two of an A-lister at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — perhaps getting out of a car at the terminal, or walking through baggage claim. And while you might see a top celeb sitting at the departure gate now, that'll soon change — at least if they're flying on United.
But don't they always fly private, you ask? While a Gulfstream flight might be worked into a movie deal, long-haul private jet travel is prohibitively expensive — even if you're worth $50 million, spending $400,000 on a round-trip flight to Australia just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. And while transcon VIPs may be more likely to travel in AA's first-class cabin, some are loyal to United, or may prefer the airline for long-haul travel.
So if they're not waiting at the gate, how do they get to the plane? UA's most distinguished passengers are driven directly to the aircraft in a Mercedes S600, better known as a Maybach (United has two at LAX). The service is very similar to what Lufthansa offers to all First Class Terminal passengers in Frankfurt (and some first-class passengers in Munich), but you can't pay extra or redeem more miles to experience it with United.
While they might only be in the car for a minute or two (as I was when I got to try out United's new VIP services last weekend), they'll certainly be riding in comfort. Since I was flying in from Newark (on a paid economy ticket upgraded to business with an RPU), a Global Services representative was waiting with my name on a sign just past the aircraft door. She led me down the jet bridge staircase to my waiting Mercedes.
Depending on how far your gate is from the private lounge, you'll have a chance to do some serious plane spotting on your drive.
After a minute in the car (quite possibly my shortest drive ever), we pulled up to gate 71A, which is located right next to the airport's brand new (and overall fantastic) United Club.
From there it was a short walk to a ground-level elevator.
VIPs are escorted at all times, until they reach the private lounge. This ground-floor elevator allows celebrities to make their way from the car to the lounge without seeing a single other passenger.
The elevator opened up directly to the "private" lounge, which was actually still under construction (it should be finished within a few weeks). VIPs originating at LAX will be able to use a special entrance and security checkpoint with direct access to this same private elevator and lounge.
There was some temporary furniture in the lounge, which I imagine will be much more posh once the final touches are applied.
It's not a huge space, and there's only one room, so the airline may need to prioritize when multiple VIPs are traveling at once.
There's also a private bathroom, but just like in the main lounge, there's no shower here, unfortunately.
Overall, this is a pretty slick perk, if you're able to take advantage. It sounds like the private lounge will really only be accessible to VIP passengers, though Global Services members will be greeted by a waiting Maybach from time time time. United also offers private car transfers on select connecting flights in Chicago, Houston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington Dulles, but that program includes different vehicles and is available to a greater number of the airline's top customers.
At LAX, the car service is perhaps most useful when you're connecting from a domestic flight to a United partner located at the Tom Bradley International Terminal — while it's now possible to make an "airside" transfer between Terminal 7 and TBIT, the walk takes at least 20 minutes and involves a handful of escalators, several underground passageways and walking through a few crowded terminals. A short car ride makes all of that a thing of the past. It sounds like this is something that you'll need to arrange in advance, though, and it won't always be available, so be sure to give the Global Services line a ring well before it's time to fly.
Have you managed to score a United Maybach ride at LAX?