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LAX loses the airport Olympics, again

March 3, 2010 |  5:12 pm

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

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