Gina Marie Lindsey: She's piloting LAX into the 21st century

As executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, her job is to 'continue to push this [airport] forward.'

Gina Marie Lindsey

Executive Director of Los Angeles World Airports Gina Marie Lindsey speaks before members of L.A.'s Planning and Land Use Management and Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committees earlier this year. (Los Angeles Times)

Don't think that Gina Marie Lindsey is up in an ivory control tower. This week, the executive director of Los Angeles World Airports will be joining an estimated 2.6 million passengers in the Christmas/New Year's scrum at LAX, on her own holiday travels. In 2007, the woman who once ran Seattle's airport was appointed to run L.A.'s by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In October, Mayor Eric Garcetti decided to keep Lindsey on to, in her words, "continue to push this" — Los Angeles International Airport — forward."

Is Christmas LAX's busiest time?

From a traveler's standpoint it is; I don't know whether we can tell the difference anymore. Thanksgiving is more concentrated; Christmas is stretched out. A study of the top 20 airports across the nation [was] projecting how many days like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving those airports were going to have in five or 10 years. LAX and several others were going to have several days a week like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

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The tricky thing at LAX is that we're so far behind the 8-ball, we've got to cover the distance between where we are today and current expectations, but we have to also plan for the capacity we know is going to be demanded in the future.

What capacity was the airport built for, and where is it now?

It's complicated. There are three [potential problem] sectors: a bottleneck on the airfield, a bottleneck in the terminals or a bottleneck in the [airport] road system. They don't match. The trick to good airport planning and development is to make them all have equal capacity.

What's been the impact of the Nov. 1 shooting of the TSA agent?

A huge effect on the staff because we're doing a very, very thorough after-action report. We're already putting together an airport response team if we have multiple hours of an airport closure. You don't know exactly when you can open again. We need to send staff to wherever people are waiting — on Nov. 1, we had people out close to Century Boulevard. We need to hand out water, give them whatever information we have, just do a little person-to-person care. We were doing some of that but not as much as the duration of the event demanded.

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We have about 1,700 operations a day coming in and out. On that day, we still had 1,370 flights operate. The airport did a pretty remarkable job to get back and operational.

What kind of emergency system is in place?

A couple of years ago we activated the airport response coordination center. Up to that point there had never been an operations center for LAX, which was surprising to me. It's got good IT and camera availabilities, and emergency notification capabilities to all the airlines and service providers.

The new Tom Bradley International Terminal is very nice, but LAX's reputation is still grim compared to other airports. How much of it is deserved?

You look worldwide and airports are becoming incredibly wonderful public spaces. LAX didn't keep pace with that. It didn't even keep pace with what was happening in the United States.

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Over time, when you have dogeared facilities, a lot of the employee base tend to reduce their expectations of what the experience should be. That's my best guess as to how we slid in our service level.

We're trying to demonstrate that we can do world-class things; the new Bradley west terminal demonstrates that. I've seen an incredible change in the employees [there]. You tend to subliminally expect yourself to deliver something commensurate with the surroundings.

It is going to happen incrementally; you can't reconstruct the whole airport at the same time. You may remember the vale of tears about three years ago, the first time in about 20 years there had been significant procurement for new concessionaires at LAX. We went out for direct leasing opportunities and we got our clocks cleaned by the political process after the selections, because whoever didn't win seemed automatically to be a victim. That was a really painful process.

However, we got through it and you will find new concessions in every terminal. I ate at Campanile in Terminal 4 [recently] and it was fabulous. The concessions are not improved in Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 6, but they'll get there.

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