Retailers will share as much as 32 percent of revenues with the airport, Lindsey said, and the entire terminal has been designed to look like a wave from the Pacific. It is filled with new technology, including laser-guided docking tools for pilots coming to its gates.
But the real reason the international terminal needed updating is to accommodate the double-decker A380s many international carriers are now using.
"We now have six A380s a day. By this time next year I think we'll have 10 A380s a day," said Lindsey. "Without these gates, these airplanes were having to park at a remote gate off by the beach and be bused in to the terminal, which is not exactly the kind of hospitality that Los Angeles wants to offer."
Airlines do have more choices these days. With the longer range of many modern jets, carriers can often fly over Los Angeles and bring their sought after international travelers directly to destinations further inland.
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While the renovations at LAX will mean higher landing fees and terminal rentals for the airlines, Lindsey hopes they find the costs worth it. "No longer are we going to be the tired airport where everybody just kind of rolls their eyes and say, 'I don't want to have to stop at LAX.' "
—By CNBC's Jane Wells. Follow her on Twitter: @janewells.