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By DANIEL TAUB

Staff Reporter

LAX is one of the world's busiest airports, but it's never been considered a "hub" that is, a place like Atlanta, Chicago or Dallas that serves as a connecting point for hundreds of domestic or international flights each day.

United Airlines is now looking to change that perception through both a major advertising effort and a $260 million renovation and expansion at Los Angeles International Airport.

But how can LAX be a hub?

Attribute it to an increasing amount of international travel especially to such destinations as Mexico City, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong as well as an increasing number of passengers using shuttles between L.A. and smaller cities like Fresno and Santa Barbara.

Five years ago, less than 25 percent of its passengers were catching connecting flights at LAX. Today, that figure is 40 percent. And even more growth is expected.

"We've been building for four or five years," said Peter D. McDonald, managing director for Southern California for United Airlines. "The $260 million is not going to be it for our time in Los Angeles."

United terminals at LAX are likely to become even more crowded. On June 10, SkyWest United Express a partnership in which SkyWest planes fly under the United Express banner will increase from 181 departures a day to 194. Passengers on United Express flights are typically making connections to and from United Airlines planes. Such growth will mean more revenue for the airport, because airlines pay a landing tax for each arriving plane.

In promoting L.A. as the airline's newest hub, McDonald said the point is to let customers know they can use United for most of their flights out of LAX both domestic and international and accumulate frequent-flier miles in the process.

"There's no specific date in time when you become a hub," said McDonald. "But we've been building for four or five years."

Some in the industry question how much of a hub LAX really is for United. Most hubs typically have more than just 40 percent of their passengers boarding connecting flights, said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines and LAX's third largest carrier in terms of passengers.

"I will tell you that (LAX) is far under the average of what is generally thought of as a major kind of connecting hub," said Smith. "At our Dallas-Ft. Worth or Chicago hubs, about two-thirds, or 66 percent, of our passengers are connecting."

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