Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, has long been the airport everyone loves to hate. However with a whole raft of refurbishments now coming online, particularly in the terminals Kiwi’s frequent, the dreaded LAX stopover is becoming a thing of the past. Here’s a handy guide on how to survive LAX.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
LAX is one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. It has a whopping nine terminals, processes over 70 million passengers a year, and receives flights from over 150 different destinations around the world. Simply closing a terminal or runway would not be possible without causing mass flight delays and cancellations. So renovations and improvements have had to take place at such a limited speed that the airport lost ground against up and coming rivals, especially those in Asia.
But before we get too stuck in, it’s important to note that almost all international airlines use the same terminal at LAX, the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). This terminal was the first to undergo renovations and with the first stage complete, there’s now three times as many food outlets, a ‘Great Hall’ of retail stores, roomier gates and even a children’s playground. So if you’re merely connecting onwards to another country, on a foreign airline, you need only to finish this paragraph. The experience is a much improved one from years past, and renovations are continuing to really bring it up to par.
OUTSIDE OF TBIT
The real problems occur when connecting to domestic flights, or if transferring to a US airline, which usually requires a change of terminal. LAX’s other eight terminals are pretty much split between the major US airlines as follows...
Terminal 1 – Southwest.
Terminal 2 – Hawaiian. Also Canadian and Central American flights with Air Canada, WestJet, Aeromexico, Avianca and others.
Terminal 3 – Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit and Virgin America.
Terminal 4 – American Airlines.
Terminal 5 – Delta.
Terminal 6 – Alaska and US Airways.
Terminal 7 – United.
Most terminals are not currently connected, so you’ll need to exit TBIT and walk or catch the free shuttle (look for the blue signs saying ‘LAX Shuttle-Airline Connection’) between terminals. Terminals 1-3 are to the left, and 4-7 are to the right. When transferring, be wary of people offering information or assistance as it's sometimes a scan and they may demand payment. Official airport staff are uniformed and usually close by. Now having said all that, there is of course, an exception. Anyone flying Virgin Australia should be aware that arrivals go through TBIT, but when departing you need to check in at Terminal 3.
THE ‘OTHER’ TERMINALS
The domestic terminals can be incredibly clogged, inefficient, and are a nightmare to connect through in general. Queues are notoriously long and difficult to navigate, even for the savviest of flyers. More renovations are on the go and will correct this, but at the moment we recommend a minimum of three hours between flights at LA, and having even more time up your sleeve is never going to be a bad thing. While they’re not as strict on having printed boarding passes etc as European airlines, it’s always much less stressful if you have this information on hand. Some airlines have automatic check in booths, while others still have staff at the desks.
GOING THROUGH SECURITY
Security measures change so often that the best advice is to check with your agent a few days prior to departure, or check the TSA website. In general though, it’s a lot stricter than in New Zealand. You will be asked to remove loose clothing (hoodies, jackets etc) and shoes to be x-rayed. The airport no longer uses the controversial full body image scanners (the naked scanners).
WHAT ABOUT YOUR BAGS?
This all depends on what fare you’ve been booked on. Your travel agent will be able to give you the exact details, but in general, if changing flights then your bags will be subject to a security check. Also, be aware that the American authorities (TSA) love to have a look through your bags, even if you have a padlock on them! TSA will simply cut off the padlock and slap a sticker on your bag explaining what’s happened. However, you can get special TSA approved padlocks which they can open without destroying. See the TSA website for more details.
If overnighting at the airport, there is an absolute plethora of hotels within the immediate area. That being said, several famous beachside suburbs such as Hermosa Beach, Venice Beach and Santa Monica are not far away, and are a much nicer place to stay. Most airport hotels have complimentary shuttles and there is public transport to the city, Anaheim and San Diego. However, LA is a city made for cars so booking an airport transfer ahead of time or getting a cab is much faster and less stressful.
story by: Tom Ricketts