Review: Virgin Australia’s Odd LAX Check-in and Star Alliance Business Class Lounge LAX

I got to experience the strangest physical layout for a check-in experience I think I’ve come across — check in at one terminal, departure from a different terminal.

Virgin Australia uses the Star Alliance business class lounge, which features an outdoor deck and fire pits. A lovely way to start off a late night long haul departure…

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction: Virgin Australia and Delta Business Class, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney
  2. Concourse Hotel LAX, a Hyatt affiliate

Virgin Australia has a really unique situation at LAX. If you ask to be dropped off with Virgin Australia, you may get taken to the Tom Bradley Terminal. That’s a mistake. Virgin Australia does fly out of the international terminal. But that’s not where the check-in desks are.

You want to get dropped off at the end of terminal 3. If you do get dropped off at the Bradley terminal, that’s ok, it’s just right next door. You can just walk outside along the sidewalk to the next terminal.

Virgin Australia is at the far end of terminal 3, as close as you can get to the Bradley terminal without actually being in that terminal.

There wasn’t much of a wait for business class check-in. I had a bag to check and they weighed that, and issued boarding passes for both my Los Angeles – Brisbane and Brisbane – Cairns flights. Bags were tagged through as well, but for all connecting passengers they were explaining the procedure (similar to in the U.S.) where you have to claim and re-check bags on arrival in Australia.

They also insisted on weighing carry on bags. They allow only 7 kilograms (~ 15.5 pounds). I knew this, or at least figured that as an Australian airline there would be a good chance they’d care about carry on weight. Interestingly they didn’t ask to weigh carry ons later in the journey. And they didn’t check closely that carry ons had been tagged (or hadn’t increased in weight since check in) at boarding. But they did go through the procedure.

I admit I won’t ever understand the weight limit issue, especially at this low amount. Size, sure, there’s a limit to how much space exists in the cabin. But how much the bag weighs doesn’t seem especially relevant or if it matters it’s only at a weight much greater than 15 pounds.

Having planned for this, though, and since I was going to check a bag anyway with multiple climates and a need for multiple suits on the trip it didn’t actually matter.

Once checked in you walk down the street to the Tom Bradley International Terminal and go inside to clear security, visit the lounge, and board the flight.

You head through the departures hall and to the terminal’s security checkpoint. It’s a gigantic area, and lines are long. There’s no precheck but fortunately there’s a premium passenger queue, and that took only about 10 minutes to get through.

Once cleared, the interior of the terminal is gorgeous, at least compared to anything else at the airport or for that matter just about anything at a US airport. It’s such a stark contrast to the truly decrepit conditions of the old LAX international terminal.

The departures level is four. oneworld lounges are on five. And Star Alliance lounges are on six.

We had been given passes for the Star Alliance business class lounge, which I had visited a month earlier for my Etihad departure.

This time I’d have access only to the business class side, and not the first class side. That was fine, it certainly wasn’t crowded and the business class space is both comfortable and gorgeous.

It features an ‘outside’ area inside the terminal, and an outdoor deck as well.

The lounge has shower rooms as well.

The only thing I don’t find appealing: the food choices. I didn’t eat here on my last visit, and skipped food on this one as well. Nothing wrong with the food. It was sustenance.

I spent my time waiting for the flight sitting out on the outside deck. It was a little bit chilly but still perfectly pleasant, and a bit of fresh air before a long haul flight is always welcome.

The Star Alliance lounge here is really nice. The outside area absolutely makes it. I’ve been on the first class side, it has prepared-to-order dining which is nice. But the space itself is better on the business side.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The Tom Bradley International Terminal is an un-numbered building at LAX located between Terminal 3 and Terminal 4 (it is not “Terminal 4” as indicated in your post). Terminal 4 is located past the Bradley terminal and is occupied by American Airlines.

  2. Carry-on baggage weight is a security issue. In an accident, the contents of the overhead compartments will spill out on the passengers below. Heavy bags will cause head injury or even death to people.

    Kudos to Virgin Australia for the safe approach of free checked bags and restricted carry-on weight. The U.S. airlines should learn from that.

  3. @Mark I did not literally mean it was terminal four, just meant to illustrate that it was the next terminal over and that the existing numbering doesn’t make sense, I will edit to avoid confusion.

  4. @Good service – you believe that most planes in the world, where the airlines don’t enforce 15 pound carry on limits, represent elevated death risk? (And that Virgin Australia’s other flights I was on where they didn’t do this represented such a risk as well?)

  5. @good service. I highly doubt the reason they want carry on bags at 15 lbs has to do with bags flying out of bins in an accident. I have seen this practice on Swiss Air and British Airways as well. I have seen a closer look at carry on sizes in general from foreign carriers. Can you point out any examples of a crash situation where carry ons are what killed the passengers? They just decided on an arbitrary basis about something like this. I can see wher ethis can be an issue for some people. 15 lbs is not alot of weight.

  6. That’s interesting about the Terminal 3 check-in. I’m curious whether VA passengers in J will eventually have access to the new Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in Terminal 2. I’m not familiar with LAX but is it possible to transfer terminals airside?

  7. What’s the process if your carry-on is heavier than 15lbs? Is it extra cash, or do you have to check it?

    I fly regularly with photography gear in my carry-on for work, and it weighs more than 15lbs for sure. However, until the airlines are willing to take responsibility for my stuff if it gets broken or lost, I’m not checking it. This would 100% influence which airline I chose to fly.

  8. Air New Zeland dispatches its carry on police before boarding to
    Try and bust any passenger trying to board with a heavy carry on
    Just whip out your credit card and check it is usually how they solve it
    Ka ching ! Revenue enhancer for

  9. @joey I’d be surprised to see Virgin Australia pax having access to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse. Although they share the Virgin name, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group only owns 10% of Virgin Australia. LAX is, I believe, the only airport where both carriers have operations.

  10. One important missing comment is that the LAX Virgin Australia ticket counter does not open until 3:00 PM pacific time (or sometimes a little earlier)!

    So if you arrive on an early flight stay in the secure gate area or if possible go to your arrival airline club until the counter is open. Once you leave the secure zone to get to the Virgin Australia ticket counter you can’t go back to your original arrival area without a current ticket.

  11. Carry-on baggage is a hazard during emergency evacuations… falls out of bins and a scramble to climb over in a hurry.

  12. Thank you so much for actually explaining how it works. I have been repeatedly told that the flight leaves from terminal 3. Virgin booked us from boston to brisbane with only 1h45m in LAX. Without your advice, we would probably have missed the flight. I hope we make it now!

  13. Does any know the phone number of the Virgin Australia Ticketing Desk? I have been trying to purchase an additional bag for a flight to Australia

  14. You might want to update your article as check-in is now done at Terminal 2 for Virgin Australia.

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