As Airport Lounges Fill Up, New Private Terminals Offer a Crowd-Free Alternative

The PS “private terminal” concept is expanding beyond Los Angeles to three new cities by 2025—with many more on the horizon.

Bar with blue velvet bar stools at PS private terminal at LAX

PS at LAX offers an exclusive arrival and departure experience completely separate from the main passenger terminals.

Courtesy of PS

When it debuted at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in 2017, the company behind PS (short for private suite) offered what seemed a uniquely L.A. service: an exclusive terminal off airport premises where well-known fliers, among other VIPs, could avoid the general public until they boarded their flight.

Now, more than five years and one pandemic later, PS is expanding to three new gateways in a bid to capture a growing market for those who—famous our not—are willing to pay a premium to avoid the crowds and chaos of the main commercial passenger hub.

This fall, PS will open a location at Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson International, followed by a third outpost at Dallas–Fort Worth Airport in 2024. And in 2025, PS will land in Miami, where it will take over the former regional headquarters building of Pan American World Airways, which the company touts as a link to “aviation industry’s golden age.” It is located across the street from Miami International Airport.

PS, which is owned by private investors, is already eyeing other cities for future expansion, with New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco next on the list, PS CEO Amina Porter told AFAR.

“We’d love to be in every major city in the United States within the next five years,” Porter said in an email interview.

Rendering of Pan Am headquarters building with reflecting pool lined by flags

A rendering of the historic Pan Am headquarters building at Miami International Airport, which PS plans to revive.

Courtesy of PS

What is PS and how does it work?

The PS space at LAX is actually a separate terminal with individual suites and amenities, including private TSA and customs screenings, and the level of upscale food, beverage, and service offerings that you would expect to find at a first-class airport lounge.

It’s located outside the LAX terminal complex, which is notorious for the traffic jams leading to and from the main terminals—another fringe benefit for PS fliers.

There are three tiers of membership services:

  • Salon, which is more akin to a private club, where members mingle with others in a shared space and are shuttled to their flight in a shared vehicle
  • Private Suite, which, as its name suggests, is a separate space reserved for a client’s use, and includes additional perks like a day bed, chef-prepared meals, spa treatments, and chauffeur-driven transport to and from the aircraft
  • PS Direct, a service for arrivals that whisks fliers and their baggage directly from their commercial flight and into a car to their final destination (within the L.A. area)

The cost of entry for the PS service starts at $695 for members and at $995 for nonmembers; annual memberships start at $1,250.

Couch with pillows flanked by bookcases with a window and a few trees at PS at LAX

An actually relaxing space in which to start your air travel journey at PS at LAX

Courtesy of Seann M Hogan/PS

The private terminal experience versus flying private

Of course, if you want to avoid all contact with commercial airlines, you could charter a private jet—but PS says it can replicate at least part of that experience for a more down-to-earth price.

“We get typecast as a service for public figures, but the truth is that they represent only a small portion of our business,” Porter said. “The typical PS customer is, of course, a premium traveler; some are frequent business travelers, and some are families that want to make their family vacations smoother and less stressful, especially with young children or pets.” Another subset, she said, are “those who are celebrating and want a splurge.”

Call it revenge travel, but that may be one reason why airlines also are investing more in fancier airport clubs and lounges for premium customers. Travel experts cite other factors like the travel disruptions of 2022, along with the staffing shortages plaguing the industry. Swanky lounges, in effect, can partially make up for lower service standards at the airport and in the air. Airlines are also adding airport perks for their highest paying passengers, such as Delta’s new dedicated first class check-in at LAX.

“We have entered a gilded age of airline lounges,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research. By offering champagne, plentiful meals, and other pampering preflight, “lounges have replaced a lot of the inflight experience.”

But that’s only at the most elite lounges. Last year, as travel rebounded, there were reports of overcrowding and long lines at some airport clubs, especially at facilities with credit card tie-ins or membership in lounge networks like Priority Pass.

Interior of Lufthansa's first-class terminal at Frankfurt, without passengers

Lufthansa provides a chauffeur to whisk first-class terminal guests to their flight.

Courtesy of Oliver Roesler/Lufthansa

Don’t have access to a PS private terminal? Try one of these luxury airport venues

If there’s isn’t a PS private terminal at the airport you are flying from, these are some other very exclusive airport suites, terminals, and lounges that rival that level of exclusivity.

London Heathrow’s Windsor Suite

As the name suggests, the Windsor Suite at London Heathrow Airport is known for occasional sightings of the royal family. But commoners with money to burn can also hide out here and enjoy the private rooms, individual security screenings, and meals curated by a Michelin-starred chef. Rates start at around $3,000 for a group of three.

Lufthansa’s first-class terminal at Frankfurt

As Lufthansa’s top-tier terminal, fliers can enjoy sumptuous food and drink, plus work and sleep rooms; when their flight is called, they can descend to the tarmac via an elevator and ride to their plane in a chauffeur-driven vehicle.

Emirates’ first-class lounge in Dubai

In Dubai, the Emirates first-class lounge takes up an entire floor of its terminal. At 100,000 square feet, and with capacity for up to 1,000 fliers, it’s said to be the world’s largest first-class airport club. And you’ll also be spared the crush at the boarding gate: Passengers can simply stroll onto the plane when their flight is called from one of the 30-plus gates directly accessible from the facility.

Barbara Peterson is AFAR’s special correspondent for air, covering breaking airline news and major trends in air travel. She is author of Blue Streak: Inside JetBlue, the Upstart That Rocked an Industry and is a winner of the Lowell Thomas Award for Investigative Reporting.
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