Pay $2,500 to evade paparazzi at LA airport

LOS ANGELES • Rapper Kanye West has had words (and more) with photographers chasing him at Los Angeles International Airport; a friend of actor Jared Leto tangled with one in August; and the list goes on and on.

Soon celebrities coming through the airport will be able to avoid the paparazzi - and security lines, the long walk to gates and contact with autograph-seekers - now that a plan has been approved to set up a private lounge for the rich and famous.

Under the proposal, approved last Thursday by the Board of Airport Commissioners, a security firm that caters to the 1 per cent will turn an old cargo facility into a special lounge for those who can afford it, to open as early as next spring.

For a fee that will most likely run to about US$1,800 (S$2,500) a trip, a movie star, sports legend, diplomat, business magnate or regular private citizen who craves privacy will be able to enter through a private gate, avoid the infamous airport traffic and wait far from the crush of people at the central terminal of the airport, which is known as LAX.

They will be shuttled from the lounge to their flights and back to the lounge upon return and receive various other amenities to be determined.

"We've had a lot of issues of the years with paparazzi around celebrities making it difficult for other passengers," said Mr Sean Burton, president of the Board of Airport Commissioners.

"We've had incidents where paparazzi have knocked people over. We had one incident last year when someone in a wheelchair was knocked down."

Ordinary passengers will also benefit, he said, because the lounge will help allay the crowding, pile-ups at security and occasional violence that follow movie stars at the airport.

A private celebrity security firm, Gavin de Becker & Associates, will build and run the lounge, which is expected to bring in US$34 million for the airport over 10 years, and help fund a major airport expansion, which includes a project to connect the airport to the region's rail system.

The lounge in Los Angeles is to be modelled on one at Heathrow Airport in London, which was originally designed for the royal family before opening to the general public for a fee starting at £2,000 (S$4,290).

At Heathrow, those who use the special lounge do not have to wait in line at security or customs; such details are still being figured out for Los Angeles.

Other major airports around the world have also added such amenities in recent years - Dubai, Amsterdam and Paris are among the cities that have them - but Los Angeles International will be the first in the United States.

Gavin de Becker has also expressed interest in expanding the celebrity lounge programme to Kennedy Airport in New York and airports in Miami and elsewhere.

Mr Burton said it was fitting that the first lounge of this type would be in Hollywood's backyard.

"With all the celebrities that come in and out of the airport," he said, "we really do think it will benefit all passengers at LAX."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'Pay $2,500 to evade paparazzi at LA airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe