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Los Angeles - A newly renovated terminal at Los Angeles International Airport could make it tough to remember there's a plane to catch.
When it opens in August, the 150,000-square-foot Great Hall at the cavernous Tom Bradley International Terminal will highlight the excesses of Los Angeles, with a lineup of duty-free shops featuring luxe boutiques such as Hermes and Gucci.
A Parisian bar will offer champagne and caviar that passengers can carry onto a plane. And if champagne bubbles don't provide enough kick, travelers can plunk down $20,000 for a bottle of cognac.
The terminal is part of a $4.1 billion upgrade at the nation's third-busiest airport that seeks to elevate the reputation of the facility from a place some travelers try to avoid to one they don't want to leave.
Although it's behind schedule and still two years from full completion, the $1.9 billion terminal is being showcased in advance with media tours and open houses for the public. Three new gates are in operation, with five more to be opened by the end of summer.
When fully operational in two years, there will be 18 gates, nine of which can accommodate the double-decker Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane that holds more than 800 people.
Asian travelers are expected to be a large segment of the clientele and the terminal reflects that, said Michael Lawson, president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners.
A destination board features two-sided screens showing images and information on destinations when flight information changes for a particular city. People traveling to Hong Kong, for example, would see their departure time alongside a ship with red sails floating on the South China Sea or a map with factoids about Hong Kong's history.
There's an 80-foot "Welcome Wall" that greets arriving passengers with a series of visual cascades, ranging from a flowing cloudscape to an LA shoreline. Throughout the 50,000-square-foot lobby are 60 retailers and restaurants.
Curtis Fentress, the project's architect, said one of the biggest challenges was translating the multifaceted identity of Los Angeles into physical forms.
"We spent a lot of time trying to understand the culture and what really makes this place unique," Fentress said. "What did people want the airport to be?"
At meetings around the city, the public was asked to tell designers what they thought reflected the city. Hollywood and the ocean were common responses. And so, for example, the terminal roof was built to look like ocean waves, a nod to the city's beach lifestyle.
While construction continues, there is a legal fight over other aspects of the project, notably moving a runway closer to neighboring homes. Opponents of the expansion raised concerns over the effects of noise, traffic and air-quality from modernizing the airport.
Los Angeles World Airports, which operates and manages the airport, said the project is built in a way that minimizes environmental harm to surrounding areas, including the designation of specific routes for construction vehicles to and from the site, and using equipment with emission and noise reduction devices.