Airport Business

FEB-MAR 2018

The airport professional's source for airport industry news, articles, events, and careers.

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Page 16 of 43

COVER STORY February/March 2018 airportbusiness 17 another soul, save for a few of the eight or so staff members assigned to me that day. And all of it is by design, says founder Gavin de Becker. Smartly dressed and bespectacled, de Becker appears right out of central casting himself and speaks with the vision of a Jeff Bezos and the hypnotic pentameter of Jeff Goldblum. The Private Suite is an outgrowth of his internation- al security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates (GDBA), which provide security for high net worth individuals, CEOs, heads of state, and even members of the CIA. Yes, GDBA serves the CIA - which should give some sense of the level of privacy and security afforded members of his newest offering. The Private Suite was eight years in the making, says de Becker. "We made 100 visits to overseas airports- London, Munich, Frankfurt, Dubai- to experience every airport VIP system we could. To see what we might want to emu- late, and to see what wasn't working well. In all of that work, London Windsor Suite at Heathrow- now called Heathrow VIP- just dominated in terms of service. And though it has private rooms, guests don't get their own bathrooms or food-service pantries like ours do. Certainty the most beautiful is the Al Majlis Lounge in Dubai Airport, but it's not private; it's commu- nal. Likewise, Munich has the VIP Wing, but it's also communal, has an unattractive décor, and is trying achieve a party-like atmosphere. I don't think that's why people go to the airport [for a communal experience]. I don't think anyone on the way to the airport is interested in doing anything but boarding their flight." Armed with that laser-focused thesis, de Becker set about the leasing process with the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) to secure a leasehold at LAX to create The Private Suite. For an airport, the notion of a privately-run remote terminal in which passengers are screened by TSA and international arrivals are processed by CBP, and subsequently driven airside in BMWs directly to aircraft, requires a forward-thinking airport authority. Yet, that's what de Becker found in LAWA, because he was providing a solution to a multitude of problems that seemed unsolvable. And that solution would not only benefit LAWA but virtually every stake- holder in the greater LAX aviation community. De Becker explains, "One of the issues fac- ing LAX was the reduction of congestion for the tens of thousands of regular passengers who every week were effected by paparazzi. Outside the terminal, the sidewalk is blocked, the doors are blocked, there is screaming going on, pushing and shoving. Then, if you put Tom Cruise through the TSA line, everybody pulls out their iPhone, the line stops moving forward, people begin leaning and pushing- it changes the whole environment profoundly." By removing celebrities, heads of state, and other well-known individuals from the general public who already face long lines at TSA, all parties benefit. The paparazzi no longer block the doors at LAX to snap photos of celebrities. That distraction now removed, TSA lines move more quickly for the general public. And the celebrity gets (and pays for) things they value highly: peace and privacy. The pitfalls of the celebrity lifestyle, and de Becker's tale about photographers in particular, would soon be brought into focus during my departure from LAX later that day. Smoother flowing TSA lines and fewer secu- rity concerns are only some of the benefits to LAX. There are other intangible benefits as well explains de Becker. Simply put, "Having a high- end experience available at your airport elevates your whole airport. For example, if there's a beau- tiful $10,000 a night 'Presidential Suite' on top of a hotel- though you and I might not stay in it- the whole hotel is elevated by the offering." Also, de Becker is repatriating premium airline passen- gers back to the airport, people who have been chartering for years. This dynamic has also made The Private Suite enormously popular with the 71 airlines that serve LAX. To date, 70 of those 71 air carriers have executed agreements to permit passenger transit to their aircraft via The Private Suite. Says de Becker, "We are boarding passen- gers the airlines weren't seeing before. We are bringing passengers to fill their premium cabin who weren't flying commercial. We've had a lot of people come through who said 'I haven't flown commercial in 5 years.'" Returning to the airport as beneficiary, de Becker notes several qualitative –and one very quantitative- reason an airport may wish to con-

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