Inside The Private Suite at LAX
Despite the influx of celebrities and other VIPs who travel through LAX, until earlier this summer, they had no way of flying commercially without having to encounter other passengers at the airport. United tried to solve this "issue" with a special service for its VIP passengers, but even then, it was invite-only and guests still had to deal with the troubles of being dropped off in the main terminal area.
This all changed when The Private Suite opened in May 2017 as a newly-built remote terminal available to any first- or business-class travelers willing to shell out for an exclusive level of privacy and pampering. Photography is usually forbidden inside its gates, so I gladly accepted when I was given a rare chance to try out the arrival experience and get a tour of the VIP facilities. Note that this is an inside look, not a review of the service.
The $22 million complex is hidden between airline catering and cargo facilities inside the Imperial Terminal, tucked away from the heavy traffic surrounding the rest of the airport.
If I hadn’t been sent directions prior to my tour, I would have never found the unmarked entrance.
To ensure everything goes smoothly, The Private Suite has assigned a team of eight people with different roles to each guest. After being let through the highly secured entrance, departing passengers can leave their cars with the complimentary valet and be escorted to their suites. Since the terminal is landside (vs. airside), you're allowed to bring non-traveling guests in with you.
From there, a team member will stop by to verify IDs and pick up checked bags — note that airline cutoff times for checked baggage still apply. When it’s time for the flight, another agent will come by to escort passengers through a private TSA screening and into one of The Private Suite’s cars. Those flying are then driven across the tarmac to their aircraft, where they are met by yet another team member who is there to escort them to the door of the plane.
Those who are arriving at LAX go through a similar process, but in reverse. My experience began when I was greeted by a representative from the airline at the aircraft door to escort me down the jet-bridge to the tarmac. Waiting for me were a BMW 750i sedan and two team members from The Private Suite — one to drive me to the facilities and another to personally escort me there. The car ride from Terminal 7 took roughly 10 minutes, which I used to do some amazing plane spotting.
Upon arrival at the private terminal, international passengers are taken to a private Customs and Immigration lounge. Note that although it would probably be faster to go straight to the CBP officer, since arriving passengers are pre-screened and there are no lines, there are Global Entry and Mobile Passport kiosks available. While passengers do still need to wait for their checked bags to arrive before clearing immigration, at least there are comfortable seats and snacks around. Since I was arriving from a domestic flight, I was taken through a hallway straight to my suite.
There are a total of 13 private suites — one of which has its own terrace — as well as a communal lounge, which is essentially just two regular suites that are connected. Each is furnished with a seating area, a two-person daybed and flat screen TV.
Regardless of which suite you're in, you will have great views of TBIT and the south runway. Blankets and pillows are also available below the daybed.
Each suite has a food pantry stocked with an abundance of snacks and drinks — hot coffee and water were already in the suite, but espressos and cappuccinos were only a call away.
The non-perishable snacks in the pantry included every type of Nohmad chocolate and various types of cereal and oatmeal, among other treats.
While not all airlines allow you to BYOB, the mini-bar had a large selection of carry-on approved bottles of liquor, which guests could take with them.
Inside the two refrigerators were drinks ranging from protein shakes to organic lager beer as well as snacks like cheese and guacamole.
There were more snacks and goodies by the TV as well.
The snack basket included treats like sweet potato chips and dried fruit, many of which were organic.
On the end of the shelf were various travel accessories such as phone chargers and power adapters for guests to keep.
Each suite also has its own bathroom located right by the entrance.
As you can probably guess by now, the bathroom was stocked with every toiletry and medicine a traveler could possibly need. Unfortunately, there’s no shower, but there was a Japanese-style toilet.
When I was welcomed into my suite, I was told, “Everything here — except for the TV and furniture — is yours to keep.” I was initially overwhelmed by the abundance of items in the room, but founder Gavin de Becker later explained to me that the reason it's stocked with such a large selection is because he doesn't want to inconvenience guests by making them call to request items. That said, if there's anything a guest needs that's not already in the suite, all they need to do is pick up the phone and someone will be on the line right away — you don't even have to dial a number.
The Private Suite has many items readily available. For example, had I been flying to a rainy destination and forgot to bring my raincoat or if I'd spilled something on my shirt, I wouldn’t have had to worry since The Private Suite has a full wardrobe, including rain coats and dress shirts, while other items like workout clothes and full suits with accessories, ties and cufflinks are also available.
When browsing through the children’s toy menu, I came across a box of Legos that suited The Private Suites perfectly — I couldn’t resist requesting it.
The toy menu isn't the only menu guests have access to. Prior to arrival, you'll receive a food menu, though special requests, such as a meal from your favorite restaurant in LA, can also be arranged.
The amenities don’t end there. Guests with annual memberships can request various complimentary services such as in-suite massages, manicures, haircuts and even a doctor’s visit — clearly, The Private Suite does not try to nickel-and-dime its members. All suites can also be customized to accommodate virtually any type of special need. Parents traveling with infants can expect to find a changing table and bottle warmer while Muslim clients can expect prayer mats, a Quran and medjool dates. There's an outdoor area, too, where guests can enjoy some fresh air or children can play. And although there apparently wasn’t much demand at the time, there is a shower area being built since there are none in the suites.
The Private Suite has a fleet of 16 cars to drive guests to their planes. While the majority of them are BMW 7-Series, there are also BMW X-Series SUVs and a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van.
As one would expect when paying for a service like this, the Wi-Fi in my suite was lightning-fast during my visit and I had no issues using it to host a livestream on my Twitter feed.
How to Book It
Perhaps the most distinctive thing about The Private Suite is that it isn’t airline specific and all 70+ airlines at LAX are served by the new private terminal. That said, this level of luxury comes at a price. The shared lounge service costs $2,000 per person for domestic trips and $2,500 for international flights — regardless of whether or not you're using the service on departure or arrival. However, if you’re traveling with a companion, it makes more sense to go with the private suite service that costs $3,500 per group of up to three travelers for domestic flights and $4,000 for international flights.
There's no time limit for how long you can stay in the suite. "If you are in a suite and your flight is delayed, it’s good news because it extends your comfort rather than make you suffer in the main terminal," de Becker said.
Frequent users of the service can save a little by going with the annual membership plan — the $7,500 fee provides preferential pricing (a savings of $800-$1,000 less per visit) and covers parties of up to four travelers at no extra cost. Other benefits of the annual membership include complimentary access to all in-suite services previously mentioned and the ability to nominate others for trial membership, among other perks.
Given the high price tag, I came in with very high expectations and they were all exceeded. With the help of former leaders of VIP services at London’s Heathrow Airport, The Windsor Suite and The Four Seasons Hotels, private security firm operator Gavin de Becker & Associates has carefully thought through every step from car seat to plane seat — that's 70 steps to be exact — and it shows. This service dramatically enhances the airport experience, removing any stress that may come with it.
Although airports in London, Frankfurt and Dubai already have similar set-ups, this is the first of its kind in the US and the special treatment ends for most members once they leave LAX. However, that should change soon — The Private Suite has plans to expand to airports in New York and Miami in the future. Moreover, The Private Suite will soon be opening at Westfield’s newly renovated Century City shopping mall in Los Angeles, where members can expect similar perks, including a private entrance, VIP suites and private escorts throughout the mall.
If you come across the opportunity to experience the new VIP terminal at LAX, you're definitely in for a treat. And while it might be a while before I can afford to regularly use this service, I sure can’t wait for that day to come!
All photos by the author.