L.A. airport braces for "major disruption" as terminal swap gets underway

Terminal swaps at LAX

It's moving day at Los Angeles International Airport.

The world's fourth busiest airport is used to seeing some 220,000 people take off or land on nearly 2,000 flights every day. But tonight, it's the airlines that will be moving around, not the passengers. LAX will begin what is slated to be the largest terminal swap in history at an active airport.

Fifteen airlines will be packing up and moving to new terminals over the course of three nights, and they've got to do it in the roughly five hours between when the last flight arrives and the first one in the morning starts boarding. Six airlines have already moved. The race against time took nine months of planning, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

"This is a major disruption to this airport," said Keith Wilschetz, LAX deputy executive director of operations. "It is incredibly large and complex. We are unaware of any airport who has ever tried something this massive in terms of moving airlines – 21 airlines – over the course of just a number of days. It's essentially the same as moving Midway Airport."

Delta Air Lines is footing the entire bill for the move. It'll go from terminals five and six to roomier digs in numbers two and three – part of the airline's $1.9 billion renovation project. 

In 1963, LAX handled just 20,000 travelers per day. Today, passenger traffic is 10 times that. The airport is now in the middle of a $14 billion, multi-year modernization project to meet increasing demand. They are upgrading terminals, adding gates and connecting the airport with a new light rail system.

"We know these will be a painful next few years as construction, relocation, transit comes in. But when we are done, this is going to be one heck of an airport," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. 

The airline move will involve 220 workers nightly with 10 trucks moving everything a carrier uses at gates, ticket counters and lounges, including 300 offices and 3,000 computers. Nearly 1,000 signs inside and out need to be changed.

"We're not expecting everything to go perfectly," Wilschetz said. "But at the end, we want everything to be in place, and we want our passengers to feel like… they're glad that we did this, and we didn't have any major problems."