Los Angeles International Airport is not a bad airport in many respects. It is a hub for multiple airlines, and the resulting competition often provides some fantastic fare sales. If I lived in the area, I’d be hard pressed to not travel frequently on sub-$400 intercontinental fares. LAX also has an eclectic mix of airlines that serve the West Coast’s largest city. Admiring the various planes at Tom Bradley International Terminal is a favorite activity of mine when I pass through.
Yet LAX has some significant drawbacks. Here are five reasons why the airport does not make my list of favorites.
The Horrible Traffic
Los Angeles is known for some of the worst traffic in the nation. It easily makes the U.S. top 10 list. The airport is no different. I was surprised how bad it was during the middle of the day when I took a hotel shuttle to Tom Bradley International Terminal. The drive to the airport wasn’t so bad this time of day, but just getting past terminals 1 through 3 took far longer than I thought it would.
If you do need to make a longer drive to the airport, you’re also in trouble. I thought a drive from Ontario to LAX wouldn’t be that bad of an idea during a work trip several years ago. Nearly two hours later, and I’m finally pulling into the rental car lot. I expected traffic, but never did I expect it would be this atrociously bad. Why I didn’t fly into and out of Ontario airport, I’ll never know. I probably didn’t even realize there was an airport there at the time. I also distinctly remember traffic backing up onto the 105 when I was nearly to the airport. Turns out I should have taken Century Boulevard.
With so many people, it does not surprise me that the Los Angeles area has five major airports: LAX, Ontario, Burbank, Long Beach, and Santa Ana. If you must fly out of LAX, you’ll have to suck it up and deal with the traffic. However, if I lived in the area (something I never hope to do), I’d be looking for a more convenient option much of the time.
Getting Between Terminals Takes Forever
Looking to walk between the United Terminals and TBIT for your international flight on Air New Zealand? Be prepared to hoof it. If you arrived into T8, you’ll have to pass through Terminals 7, 6, 5 and 4 before you get there. It’ll probably take you close to 30 minutes and you’ll cover over a mile.
I did the reverse on a recent trip, exiting TBIT and heading all the way to the very end of T8 for my regional flight. Boarding has already started when I arrived. Actually, we were at the tail end. This had not been my intent, as it took longer than I expected to get there. But things worked out just fine.
Airport Hotels and Rental Cars Are a Pain
This issue is certainly made worse by the traffic, but there are no super convenient airport hotels right at LAX. Many other large airports either have an on-airport hotel, or some that are super close. LAX does not. And there aren’t any in the works. If LAX could reconstruct a parking garage with a hotel on top, the operator would probably make a killing.
Even SFO to the north made a brand new Grand Hyatt part of their airport expansion. While rates will surely be astronomical, it will be an extremely convenient option for travelers. The Grand Hyatt SFO is right along the Airtrain.
Likewise, the rental car center at SFO is so utterly easy using the Airtrain. I love it. LAX? Not so much. You must take a shuttle bus off-airport for that, too.
Cell Coverage Can Be Fickle
I covered bad LAX cell coverage issues in a previous post. If cellular data isn’t cutting it for you, you can always switch to the airport WiFi, but that isn’t always that great either. There has to be a ridiculous amount of data traffic with the number of travelers passing through LAX.
Getting onto the lounge WiFi is always essential. I feel that it is the only reason I was able to work effectively last time I was in Los Angeles. Luckily, Priority Pass has me covered, even if I do have to hoof it to the TBIT from wherever I landed.
Utter Lack of Mass Transit Connection
For a giant city, Los Angeles is woefully behind when it comes to connecting its airport to their mass transit system. Hence the horrific freeway traffic. The fact that LAX has never been part of the Los Angeles light rail system boggles my mind. Even Portland, a city which sees roughly a quarter of the passenger traffic that LAX does, has connected their MAX Light Rail with the airport, making it extremely convenient to get to downtown directly from PDX.
To their credit, Los Angeles is in the middle of a project that will connect their mass transit system to the airport. They are a bit behind schedule, as the new LAX line was supposed to open this fall. But once it is up and running in 2020, things should hopefully improve. This light rail line will connect with a people mover system that will serve the airport.
Bonus: The New Rideshare Situation
Considering that I’ve never taken a rideshare from LAX (nor do I plan to), this likely won’t ever directly affect me. But I can imagine how awfully frustrating it must be for folks used to hailing their Uber from the baggage claim, getting into their car when it arrives, and then heading out of the airport directly to their destination. That’s how Uber is supposed to operate, isn’t it?
Now you have to catch a shuttle to get to your rideshare. If there ever was a convenience-killer, this is it. But the change is admittedly to combat the horrible traffic at the LAX airport, so I guess not everything is bad? It just shouldn’t have to come to this. I’m not surprised that the roll-out of the new system was a total disaster. LAX really needs to dream up some more creative solutions.
You may think that I might be missing two other poor aspects: parking and Uber pickups. Truth is, I’ve never had to experience either of those at LAX, nor do I care to. Being put through the traffic and rental car hassle once was enough. I hope all my future visits to Los Angeles International Airport are connections only. If I’m flying in for any other reason, it’ll hopefully be to SNA or BUR. I’d gladly pay a premium.
But things are not all bad at LAX. There are several reasons why I actually love transiting the airport, which I’ll cover as a follow-up in a couple weeks.