When I pulled into the driveway on an unusually gloomy Los Angeles morning, a man with a wide, toothy grin and a bulletproof vest emblazoned with "SECURITY" greeted me cheerily. The dichotomy caught me off guard; they'd been expecting me, he said, and the tall gates parted, revealing a modern-looking, one-story building facing the airport runway.
The Private Suite is a terminal built specifically for wealthy travellers flying in and out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). (I'm not a wealthy traveller by any means, but the folks at The Private Suite made an exception for this story. I get the feeling they treat their paying customers with the same dutiful enthusiasm.)
The independently owned and operated terminal opened in October 2017 and offers a quiet, crowd-free, luxurious space to hang out before boarding a commercial flight.
As you may expect, it's not cheap. But for celebrities routinely hounded by paparazzi in the public terminals at LAX and wealthy businesspeople and families seeking solitude, it's a safe haven offering the best privacy, security, and amenities money can buy.
Here's what it's like inside The Private Suite.
The Private Suite is owned and operated by security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates. It's located opposite the public LAX terminals, so there's no traffic to battle.
The Private Suite accommodates travellers flying on one of the 70 commercial airlines operating at LAX.
It's the first private terminal at a major US airport, but similar models exist at airports in London, Munich, Frankfurt, and Dubai. My first impression was that it's intimate and isolated, in the best way.
The experience is like having an airline priority lounge all to yourself — and never having to wait in a line. The Private Suite founder and CEO Josh Gausman summed it up after he'd given me the grand tour: "It's as seamless of a travel experience as you could ever imagine."
The $US4,500-a-year membership cost is just the base fee. It's an additional $US2,700 for each domestic flight and $US3,500 for each international flight. That includes the paying member and up to three guests.
Non-members pay between $US500 and $US1,000 more per trip at $US3,500 for domestic flights and $US4,000 for international flights, which covers up to two additional guests.
Aside from the "savings" per flight, Gausman said members enjoy a range of other benefits, including the ability to schedule complimentary haircuts, massages, and manicures in their suites. Members also get special rates and perks at hotels, like the Four Seasons in Bora Bora.
A spokesperson for the Private Suite says there are "thousands" of members, making up about 80% of the client base. Gausman said members are their best advertisers.
"It's like the most influential, most powerful, most famous people in the world being blown away," Gausman said. He shared some of the responses he's heard from members: "This is game-changing," "This will forever change travel," "I can never go back," and "This is better than flying a private jet."
There's an employee ready to greet you the second you step out of the car. For travellers who don't arrive by chauffeur, there's a small valet parking lot full up with Mercedes-Benzes, Land Rovers, and the like. Cars are washed and detailed at no extra charge to members.
There are 13 suites available for reservation — members have first dibs and a better cancellation policy. A few of them can be made into adjoining rooms for large groups travelling together.
The rooms are distinct in their decor, but they all share one purpose: a space for travellers to hang out in peace pre-flight.
A "logistics team" of eight people is assigned to each suite, says Gausman. From the second you step out of your car to the moment you walk onto the jet bridge to board your plane, a Private Suite employee is on hand.
But they aren't like butlers who check up on you every few minutes, he said. Their job is to fulfil travellers' requests and keep an eye on the clock. There's a phone in every room — a direct line between travellers and their Private Suite team.
Free snacks are provided in every room and the selection can be customised. There are also speakers, a TV with streaming access, plus pillows, ear plugs, headphones, and chargers for the taking, in case you forgot anything at home.
Each room has a kitchenette and a fully stocked minibar.
Members can pre-order fresh meals and snacks like chips and salsa, avocado toast, smoked salmon, gourmet salads, ramen noodles, and sandwiches to be waiting in their suite. The kids menu prominently features organic and gluten-free options.
The mini fridge is stocked with bottles of white wine and champagne, along with various non-alcoholic beverages. Travellers can request a bottle of red wine, too.
Every room is equipped with large candy dispensers and branded to-go bags.
Gausman says the team is always happy to customise a suite for celebrations, like a birthday. (Think: Cake and extra champagne).
Special accommodations are set up for parents with young children. There's even a "toy menu" they can order from before arrival at no extra charge — and the toys are theirs to keep. Gausman says they make sure the TVs are set to cartoons, too.
A conference room is available for business travellers. Gausman said members have held lunch meetings here with guests who fly in and right back out.
Perhaps the most luxurious part of each suite is the bathroom. An aromatherapy candle was burning in this one and the backlighting on the mirror was grade A.
At the far end of the bathroom, there's a shelf full of travel-size toiletries, from mouthwash to deodorant to stain remover and even condoms. Yep, they're free.
There's no shower in the suite bathrooms. Enter: the member's shower spa. It smelled like any lavender-scented spa you might encounter at a luxury hotel, just on a smaller scale.
In the spacious single-use facility, members can make use of the rain shower ...
... and get ready for their flight. There's a mini-fridge with chilled beverages under the sink.
There's also outdoor space just outside the suites. One of the rooms even has its own private patio.
There's space for pets and kids to run around and plenty of lawn games to pass the time.
Meanwhile, your assigned logistics team is keeping an eye on the clock. When it's time to go through security, they will come get you.
Gausman says The Private Suite team tries to ensure there's only one group of travellers moving through TSA at any given time. It's all about avoiding lines and minimising unwanted interaction, he said.
For those travelling internationally, there's a customs area adjacent to TSA, complete with a plush waiting lounge and currency exchange machines.
After you've gone through security, your chauffeur awaits. The Private Suite owns a fleet of 7-Series BMWs that takes travellers to and from the main terminal. (I didn't personally partake in this part of The Private Suite experience, but I'm confident it's as luxurious as it sounds.)
It's about a seven-minute drive across the runway. "This is as cool as it probably gets," Gausman said.
One you arrive, a Private Suite employee personally delivers your luggage to an airline employee. You can walk up the stairs and directly to your (presumably first class) seat before other passengers begin to board.
The Private Suite may be coming to a city near you. Gausman said they have just been approved for construction at New York's JFK airport. It's an important service they're providing to high-net-worth travellers, he said. "Time means money to many of our members."