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LOS ANGELES — The clock at Los Angeles International Airport’s Terminal 3 shows the time is just after midnight. While devoid of all but a few passengers in these wee hours of Saturday morning, the space is buzzing with activity.

Where one may normally see a baggage cart on the ramp at Terminal 3, passengers here on this night are just as likely to spot two office chairs being dragged unceremoniously to their new home.

But it’s not the normal rush of passengers through the terminal or buzz of baggage carts racing across the tarmac. Instead, it looks more like moving day. And for good reason.

More than 200 movers had spread across the sprawling international airport in the wee hours of Saturday morning, kicking off a five-day “terminal shuffle” that will see 15 airlines relocated across four terminals. The move will happen in overnight phases so as not to disrupt the normal schedule at the nation’s second-busiest airport.

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The effort underway this week takes place as Delta Air Lines shifts from its current home in Terminals 5 and 6 to new space in Terminals 2 and 3. Delta’s move alone will take three separate nights to complete, all part of a multi-billion dollar upgrade and investment plan at the airport. If moves made earlier this year are counted, more than two dozen airlines will have relocated at LAX.

But it’s the five-day relocation of 15 airlines that just began that’s emerged as the most-complex phase of the effort.

“It is the largest relocation of its kind in U.S. aviation history,” said Ranjan Goswami, Delta’s VP of Sales, West Region.

Planning began over a year ago when it became clear that the airline had simply run out of space to grow, Goswami said.

“We’ve been growing here at L.A. more than 100% over the past six years, more than other airline in the L.A. market,” he said.

But with only 16 gates in their possession, the airline’s LAX footprint had been pushed to a breaking point.

PHOTO TOUR: Behind the scenes at Los Angeles International Airport (story continues below)


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“If we tried to grow any further the operation wouldn’t be reliable anymore,” Goswami said. “We would be winding things too tight on each of those gates. So we realized moving was in our future.”

Thus began a move for the ages. When Goswami describes the relocation as the largest in U.S. aviation history,…