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LAX loses the airport Olympics, again

Bradley Terminal It sucks to suck.

Once again, Los Angeles International Airport is ranked among the lousiest big airports in the country. Only Newark, New Jersey’s airport, saves LAX from taking home the razzberry palm as the very worst airport. Passengers in the J.D. Power survey hated L.A.’s crummy access, wretched services and snail’s-pace security.

I’m sure there was more to gripe about, but we all know what they are. How, after you claim your bag, you have to dodge traffic to get to a shuttle bus. How the only airport food you can find, with rare exceptions, falls into my definition of Americans’ four major food groups: fast, frozen, fried and junk.

LAX was designed in an age even before the "take-me-to-Cuba" skyjackings, back in the day when well-dressed and usually well-heeled people could just step out of their cars and step right aboard their planes.

That’s not how we fly now. The footprint of LAX and other airports wasn’t crafted for the possibility that we’d have to show up three hours before flight time. It wasn’t designed for dreary, complex security screenings or thumb-twiddling waits even when your flight is on time, nor for the tedium and fury when your flight is delayed.

The city of L.A. just began expanding and sprucing up the Tom Bradley International Terminal, again. Already, in my experience, that terminal has better restaurants and services than the other, mostly domestic terminals. At Bradley, they finally fixed that visitor-hostile practice of demanding that people just off planes from interminable flights from Shanghai or Johannesburg have the U.S. bucks to pay for a luggage cart.

The Bradley’s advantages are only comparative, not absolute. Other terminals are dim and grim, or loud and crowded, with a soundtrack of 1970s Muzak and unintelligible loudspeaker announcements. Honestly, one of these days, as I’m trundling down a dingy, marathon-length maze to my gate, I expect to see a hand in a white lab coat sleeve reach down and pluck me out like the lab rat I surely am.

I’m happy about the improvements to the Bradley terminal, but what about the rest of us? What about those other half-dozen-plus terminals? The gate seating (not enough, and feeling like reform school). The alleged food. The gulag lighting, and all the rest. LAX is one crummy place to be stuck, and its very echt awfulness costs the city all the money that travelers aren’t spending there, or the even bigger money because they’re avoiding LAX altogether.

The city needs to lay down the law to airlines and concessionaires and make the place livable – because, at least for some hours with every flight, we do live there. I couldn’t have made better recommendations than those on Slate dot com’s website, as part of its "Ask the Pilot" column. Among them:

  • Public transport to the airport. A no-brainer, except in L.A., where urban legend holds that the taxi lobby – yes, there are taxis here and they have leverage – the taxi lobby derailed a right-to-the-airport train line, and the Green Line’s airport stop is still a disgraceful shuttle ride away from LAX. Frankly, it's embarrassingly bush league.

  • Wireless Internet, free. Duh. Let’s get some stimulus money there right now. It’s turned me into a bandwidth hoodlum. My laptop and I have slouched right outside the door of those fancy first-class lounges, trying to figure out how to get the free wireless signal I know is inside. Free wireless encourages business and makes waiting less wasteful.

  • Play areas for kids. Even if you’re not flying with yours, you will be happy to have the tykes scream and jump and wear themselves out in an airport version of Chuck E. Cheese so they won’t get on your plane and start trying the same thing.

  • Information kiosks not run by the airlines – therefore, about services, not sales.

  • Real food. Real shops. Bank ATMs and mail drops (what, afraid I’ll squirt my three ounces of hand lotion through the mail slot?).

So, full speed ahead for the Bradley terminal makeovers, sure – but ye masters of LAX, look above you, to the airports at the top of the passenger satisfaction list, and not just in the U.S. but internationally. Make them your model, and make LAX fly for all of us passengers, or we’ll find other rides. I hear that high-speed rail thingamajig will be fantastic.

Photo: Entrance to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

-- Patt Morrison

 

Comments () | Archives (27)

The comments to this entry are closed.

drabbitt

Patt:

Maybe LAWA can do what they did for ONT: build a beautiful, functional terminal with declining airline service, caused by high overhead and no support or marketing.

Steve

Some minor points:
-Lack of public transport to the airport is a biggie, but it's not clear if this is the fault of LAX or city officials.
-It seems that, more and more, Wi-Fi is not free at airports. A concessionaire at the Atlanta airport complained to me that while there used to be lots of free access, airports have taken to charging it. Is LAX an excpetion to the rule of not? Author doesn't say.
-Most importantly, such surveys are, like most surveys, full of hole sin how they were conducted, who participated, what crteria were used and how they were weighed, etc. This survey rated highly both Orlando (it's a real mess, with long lines, lax security and gas stations that charge twice that you pay outside airport property) and BWI, including for shopping, thoug there are almost no stores or restaurants outside of security, and you can't even buy a TSA-approved lock. Take a look at Ontario: absolutely NO eating or shopping places outside of security (in case you are waiting for someone).

runcatalina

I like Denver. . .albeit it is a very new airport. But the design, compared to LAX is enviable.

misanthropicus

Just came from Munchen, Germany - the customs paperwork phase worked OK, yet:
1) the carousels are are stupidly, longitudinally marked, instead of having a diamond shaped configuration which would allow an easier identification of the flights -
2) luggage retrieved, I found myself in a long line TWICE the width of lobby for the final customs clearance -
3) then, after marching out from the lobby into the exit I found myself simply immobilized for minutes in a browninan whirlpool of people pushing carts in any directions, yelling and trying to get somewhere -
4) outside, after figuring the confidential shuttle signs, I eventually found myself in the Green line shuttle -

Certainly, Dusseldorf and Munchen are not of LAX's size - but they are significantly better organized and the contempt for the travelers' convenience so obvious in Los Angeles is inexistent there -

They have even smoking booths for cigarette, pipe and trabucco hardened smoking criminals!

Paul

"Certainly, Dusseldorf and Munchen are not of LAX's size - but they are significantly better organized and the contempt for the travelers' convenience so obvious in Los Angeles is inexistent there -

They have even smoking booths for cigarette, pipe and trabucco hardened smoking criminals!"

And, at least the airport in Munich even has a sex shop.

I think the author is much too easy on the Bradley terminal. Unless changes have been made in the last year, once you clear security, there is virtually nowhere to eat (one small nasty-looking place )or shop or keep your interest while you are waiting for that delayed flight across the Pacific. Dreary, dreary.

Aardvark

We have only ourselves to blame. Our ridiculous "environmental" law, CEQA, requires years of endless study to "discover" facts that are obvious on their face. Then once the "study" is complete, people use this screwed-up law as a way to hold a project in legal limbo for decades. No wonder the elected officials and city staff long ago gave up on any more projects to improve the airport. Do you realize what they went through over the Bradley expansion, all due to very small but very loud NIMBY groups?

Blame yourself. Our collective insistence on believing that everything can be made perfect through more and more laws and regulation is pathetic and sad. Sometimes you have to accept trade-offs. Want a good airport? There's going to be more traffic because more people will use it. Airplanes make noise--don't like it, don't buy a house near the airport. This lack of common sense and attempting to please everyone means nothing ever gets fixed.

Ron C.

The four food groups are junk, fat, frozen and fried. Get the joke right.

AV Siewert

Amen on all counts. LAX is in dire need of many fixes. It's an embarrassing place to fly from (or to). LA is the centre of so much thriving cultural diversity. You could make its airport reflect that in an enjoyable way. Why not bring in food truck-style eating areas with hands- and walking-friendly menu items? How about some roving entertainers during high-traffic times?

LAX could be a fantastic gateway for what's to come...

Daniel

LAX is not an airport, it is 8 little airports, and your experience will vary widely depending on what airline you fly, and more importantly what your status is with that airline.

Some terminals are far worse than others, I would not care, for example to fly US Air or Southwest out of T1 or Delta out of T5, but United in T6/7/8 is a joy. Additionally, having flown many of the US and world airports, I find LAX to be quite good in many respects, the next time you fly John Wayne and LAX time how long it takes to get your checked luggage, in almost no case does LAX T7 for example take more than 15 minutes, while John Wayne has never taken less than 30 for me.

It does seem to me that most people who dig on LAX have no premium status with an airline, because it gives you a very different experience, and frankly as a weekly user, I don't much care what the peasants think about the place, so long as it is set up to make my workweek better, that is all I need.

Paul

Please, somebody fix terminal 2. It's a disaster EVERY Monday morning. TSA could give a hoot.

Porky

More San Francisco envy from the Southland... Patt couldn't bring himself to mention it, but you know what he was thinking with every criticism - each issue has been addressed quite successfully at SFO.

Katie Ross

I fly a lot. I am an Alaska MVP Gold member which makes my actual flying experience nicer most of the time. That really has nothing to do with my airport experience so I don't understand Daniel's comment.

I have been thinking and commenting for years that LAX is the worst major airport in the country. Everything about it is dated and dowdy. I am based in Seattle but I fly to So Cal several times a year and also take several flights destined to DC but doglegging though LAX. The worst is to be stuck out in the "30"s gates for a delayed flight or a long layover. The comfort level is zero and the amenities suck. It's time travel to the 1960's - in a bad way.
May I suggest the LAX port authorities visit SeaTac airport. Waiting there is almost a pleasure. The central concessions area is upscale and varied. You can go to the winebar where you can also purchase a bottle of wine you can actually take in your carry on bag; you can have a high quality meal at Anthony's home port restaurant, or enjoy one of the several other outlets of good quality Seattle area food retailers. The best part, the retailers are not allowed to charge more at their SeaTac branches than they do at their outside branches. And they are rewarded with mass patronage form their captive passenger/customers.

LA - you should be embarrassed by LAX - anyone who is passing through there would not want to return to visit and spend money in your city.

Mark

Well said Porky - SFO is light years ahead of LAX. The International Terminal at SFO is amongst the best in the world, there's a landside BART station, an automated people-mover that links terminals and the rental car center, and the food is a haute cuisine as an airport can get. It's a mystery why a field as important as LAX has lagged so much in development and modernization, particularly compared to O'Hare, DFW, JFK, and ATL.

cmcee

I couldn't agree more. Having just come through a small airport in Koh Samui, Thailand and then through Bangkok and Taipei, it was almost shameful to arrive back in LAX. The spectacular contrasts between the cleanliness, shopping, food, lighting and design that significantly poorer Asian nations can muster as opposed to the alleged great City of Angels is appalling. It makes me feel less proud as an American and native of Los Angeles to know LAX is the first face that arriving international visitors have to see- an ugly, depressed, crowded, uninviting. lackluster, cluster$%&@. What an awful thing to have to say about coming home.

DonW

I agree with all the comments and add one: The employees are mostly sullen and poorly trained to serve the public. My "favorite" is the first LAX employee many people see: As we walk the sometimes endless boring corridors toward the baggage claim area, there is this person sitting at a table making sure that we don't reverse ourselves and go back to the gates. Invariably the security person is downcast, reading a book or magazine; the table and chair are plastic; there are food wrappers strewn about. And I think of a visitor: "Welcome to LA. We don't care".
And what about the TSA person who constantly shouts out to the waiting herd to pull out laptops and take off shoes (as if we didn't know) and the inevitable shouts for people needing added security checking ("Price check on six")?

A few cheap suggestions that can be implemented quickly:

1. Have a roving paint crew to paint over those scuffed walls and baseboards.
2. Use movie stars for the public service taped announcements. Visitors associate LA with movies and want that experience, so let's try to give it to them as soon as they step off the plane. I am sure some recognizable stars would do this free.
3. Get sponsors to commission murals in those old corridors, baggage claim, etc. Artists could portray LA's ethnic heritage, history of films, etc.
4. Appoint a volunteer LAX passengers advisory group to meet every two months with LAX senior managers and offer suggestions.

Marvin

A bigger disgrace than anything mentioned is that you cannot buy a TAP card / day pass / weekly pass for the Metro at LAX. Then again, considering you can't actually board a bus or the Green Line at LAX, I suppose it fits in with the lackluster, half-baked vision that constitutes our region's largest airport...

Bike LA

For 10 years I regularly flew between New Zealand and London. I would always fly through Asia if possible. The airports there are futuristic compared to LAX, which is probably the second worst airport I have ever been to, after the now replaced Moscow SVO. To return to LAX after being in Asia or Europe now is to be reminded that US economic power has been eclipsed, any business person arriving from the far East will question why they are willing to risk investing in a place so obviously in decline.

bob jones

your comments are right on! but is anyone at the airport commission listening?

discerner

I agree with most comments, but have a few additions 1) once you get to know the airport it actually is fairly reasonable to get in and out of if you have someone picking you up and/or dropping you off and 2) it is not necessarily fair to compare to most asian countries as their laws and system of government is more permissive to let their government agencies build whatever, wherever, however. Fly from Shanghai back into LAX and the contrast is clear. Comparisons to other airports in California i.e. SFO is appropriate.

RuhRoh

LAX is an embarrassment. Dirty, dank and depressing don't even begin to describe the environment. Unfortunately, I have to fly to NY once a month and unless you connect elsewhere, there are few options. I have to say that I find LAX even more depressing than EWR. If you fly Continental to EWR the terminal is clean and full of great dining options. They even have attendants of some variety actually wiping down the porcelain in the restrooms. When was the last time a toilet in LAX was cleaned? 1973?

SFO is a great airport. JFK is improving, ORD is good but impossible to get in and out of. DFW Terminal D is nice, the rest of the airport is depressing.

But the thing I find most interesting is the availability of WiFi in the 2nd and 3rd tier airports. Free and great connectivity. Why can an airport in Sarasota Florida provide free WiFi but the major hubs charge $8 a day or higher knowing you are only going to use it for an hour or two? Because they know you have to. I admit I try to pick up a signal near the airline lounges but they are getting wise. I had to try a few different passwords last week outside the British Airways lounge at JFK but I found it.

Let's face it, flying is a miserable experience these days. LAX is proof of that. In a city that promotes image like nowhere else, let's get going on improving LAX. Even Detroit has a better facility than LA. Detroit!!!!!!!

NorCal guy who likes LA

Well, when flying to LA, Burbank is the choice for me. Also, I avoid the United terminal at any reasonable cost, as should you.

jack lorenz

cmcee...my experience exactly!
DonW...very positive ideas
Yes it will be incredibly difficult to change..like an old man set in his ways.....
I am beyond being embarassed as a former Angelino when I return..I want to help....but where is the money coming from? Our country spends it all on WAR!

Sam

Several of the comments really ring true. Employee's attitudes are miserable if not arrogant. Last time I traveled to Germany, I flew back to LAX and really felt bad for first-time visitors.

Expecting any sort of a welcome? Fugettaboutit! Upon deplaning, expect a 1/2 mile hike down endless corridors & escalators. Almost no signs, or partly defaced. You've studied English so as to be ready for the states? The joke's on you! Most of the employees hardly speak the language themselves, often with accents so thick and bad that a native speaker can't understand. The first humans one encounters after the half mile hike are a gang of badly-dressed, half-uniformed, thug-like people running at you with dogs, yelling undecipherable commands! It's like they had no idea that passengers would be disembarking any time this week, and act completely caught by surprise!

Yeah, welcome to the US of A!

sharai

Recently, I was returning to Canada from puerto Rico and had a three hour lay over at LAX. It was terrible. I had been flying already for nearly nine hours with a brief stop over in Atlanta. By the time I got to LAX I was on the verge of a panic attack because I needed fresh air. I could not leave the airport because I had two bottles of alcohol with me that I knew I would not be able to bring back through security to get on my plane. There are no lockers for already cleared passengers to store their stuff so they can go outside. So I was stuck. There was no where to go for fresh air and there was nothing to eat except BK and SB's. I was in terminal 3. I hated every second of it and on any future trips I will avoid LAX. It felt so dirty, cramped and unfriendly there.

Milquetoast

I haven't been in an airport in a long time. It was pleasureable. I saw my Mom off to Hawaii at the Delta terminal in '93 and it looked nice to me, but I'm hearing all of this stuff about L A X and I have to say- when I watch "The Amazing Race" and I see the conditions of airports in places I've never heard of, it makes me wince! Clean, fresh and futuristic are the adjectives that come to mind. Especially in Asia, but everywhere else to a lesser extent as well. Something else tells me that after all is done to L A X ......... they're going to fall short. Why would I think that?

JD

LAX is a crazy place, and yes it has its faults. I fly from Syd - Lax frequently and find that upon arriving all of the things we are complaning about actually remind me that I"m home. So, even though I would like better food, quicker security lines, nicer people and public transport, it is all just a realization that in fact, I am back in the U.S. I'm used to it. When you don't expect much, what you get is alot of surprises.

Lansing

The article hits the nail on the head. LAX is a civic embarrassment, even by the low standards of US airports. And yet there are so many easy fixes, if only the overpaid political hacks who work for the airport commission would do their jobs. Among the low-hanging fruit:

* Tell TSA to record the instructions for security lines (perhaps using movie stars as another commenter suggested) and play them on the PA system so we don't have to endure the endless, high-decibel yelling from their inept minimum-wage employees while standing in line.

* Force the rental car companies, nearby hotels and off-airport parking lots who thrive off business at LAX to consolidate their shuttle buses into two high-frequency lines (one for Century Blvd, one for Sepulveda/rental car lots) to clear out the intolerable congestion on the LAX roadways and the life-threatening dodging of traffic by arriving passengers.

* Compel all food and beverage concessionaires in LAX terminals to offer healthful items on their menus, and show calorie counts on their full menus, as a condition of license renewal.

* Impose an English-language proficiency test for all would-be airport employees whose jobs involve interaction with the public.

* Tell TSA and all airlines (hello, Southwest?) that security lines must be accomodated indoors and may not under any circumstances be allowed to spill out onto sidewalks and roadways. This is a matter of basic safety, especially as terminal entrances provide a much softer target for terrorists than areas beyond security -- recall the gun attack at the El Al counter in TBIT in 2002.

* Offer access to special expedited security lines, similar to those set aside for first-class passengers, for a one-time fee of $25 or $30. Airlines do this now for non-members wishing to use their lounges and it can provide incremental revenue for facility improvements.

None of the ideas above costs much (or anything) to implement, and yet all would go a long way towards making the airport a more tolerable place to be.


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