The jet set years of Pan Am’s stylish stewardesses and service for the masses may be the stuff of TV
nostalgia, but that doesn’t mean you sacrifice comfort and care when flying out of town. Fortunately, the greater Los Angeles area is served by three commercial airports. Fasten your seatbelts as we discuss the good, the bad and the upgraded just in time for the holidays.
- Written bySusan Salter Reynolds
BIG IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER, BUT YOU CAN’T BEAT THE VARIETY.
LAX is located just south of Marina Del Rey, 16 miles from downtown. (Why the “X”? Because when airports were required to start using three-letter codes in the 1930s—a few years after the Los Angeles International Airport was built in 1928—many existing airports simply added an “X” to their two-letter code used by the National Weather Service.) In 1837, LAX was a clump of willows on a land grant called Rancho Sausal Redondo. It was purchased by a Scottish lord, Sir Robert Burnett, in 1860 and was used as a sheep ranch and then a barley farm.
Because of its location on the coast, it is subject to more fog and other weather-related delays than BUR. It is the most convenient airport for travelers going to and from Beverly Hills and West LA, and it is by far the largest and most difficult of the three airports to navigate. LAX serves more than 70 million passengers per year and has around 635,000 take-offs and landings each year. Seventy airlines fly in and out, and the airport has more delays and longer security lines than its much smaller siblings.
The least expensive parking at LAX is Lot C for $12 per day. Central Terminal structures charge $30 per day–$3 for the first hour and $2 for each additional half-hour. Shuttles marked “C” take passengers to and from the lot and the terminals and run efficiently every 12 to 15 minutes; C and G shuttles also stop at the Metro Rail Green Line station, where travelers can hop on a bus to downtown LA, Culver City, Santa Monica and Torrance. There is a cell phone waiting lot at the southwest corner of Lot C. Vehicles in the cell phone lot must be attended at all times.
Frequent travelers use one of more than a dozen private valet services—the one with the most consistent praise seems to be the Hilton LAX valet service. The charge is $11 per day for self-parking and $12 per day for the valet service. Free shuttles run 24 hours to and from the airport.
LAX Flyaway vans offer round-trip service to Irvine, Union Station in downtown L.A., Van Nuys and Westwood. There are 40 rental car companies on site, as well as Prime Time Shuttle and Super Shuttle shared-ride vans. Roadrunner Shuttle goes to Simi Valley, Ventura and Santa Barbara. Taxis have an automatic surcharge, as of last April, of $4. The WiFi at LAX is spotty—with Neptune Networks kiosks that charge $6 per hour and around $9.99 for a day pass. T-Mobile hotspots day passes are also $9.99. First class and business class lounges offer free WiFi.
LAX is the place to go for all international flights and for people traveling from the Westside and Beverly Hills (though Long Beach airport can be reached from Santa Monica and Venice in less than 30 minutes in off-peak travel times). LAX is a hub for American and United Airlines. It offers, by far, the best food choices, with more than 60 restaurants, cafes and bars, many of them local: Gladstones 4 Fish in Terminal 3; La Brea Bakery in Terminal 7; Jody Maroni’s in Terminal 6; Malibu Al’s in Terminal 5; Redondo Beach Brewing Co. in Terminal 6; and the L.A. Roadhouse in Terminal 2. Shopping is best in Terminal 1, but there are See’s Candies and Hudson News stands everywhere and a bookstore and a Body Shop in Terminal 7.
Long Beach Airport
A THROWBACK TO SIMPLER TIMES, THIS SMALL AIRPORT IS MORE THAN JET BLUE.
Long Beach (LGB) is by far the most picturesque of the three—the main terminal feels like a balmy island airport. Lines tend to be quick (for security, ticketing and taxis), and the parking is simple and efficient but not as inexpensive as one would hope. Valet parking is $22 per day; Lot A (closest to the terminal) is $19 a day; and parking in covered structure B is $17 per day. Taxis can also be pricey—around $72 to downtown L.A., $60 to LAX, $45 to Disneyland and around $55 to South Coast Plaza. There are five rental car companies on site—the usual suspects: Alamo/National, Hertz, Budget, Avis and Enterprise. A $13 cab ride gets you to the nearest Metro Rail station and from there to the Blue Line bus station in downtown Long Beach.
The terminal, which services five airlines (Alaska, Jet Blue, Delta, U.S. Airways, and Allegiant), is currently being modernized using eco-friendly LEED design specifications and is scheduled to be completed by 2013. Most flights are on the west coast, but there are several each day to Boston, New York (JFK), Chicago, and Washington, D.C., as well. Legends Restaurant and Bar is truly delightful (there is often a bit of a wait for a table) and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Daugherty’s Café downstairs is a good place to grab food (sushi, pita pockets, sandwiches, etc.) for your flight. Long Beach is the only airport with complimentary WiFi.
Bob Hope Airport in Burbank
AN IDEAL ALTERNATIVE TO LAX FOR YOUR DOMESTIC COMMUTE.
There are many reasons to love BUR (in 2010, BUR celebrated its 80th anniversary)—fans are loyal, enthusiastic and emphatic! Located just north of LA, BUR is best for travel in the west. Seven airlines (Alaska, American, Jet Blue, Sky West/Delta, Sky West/United, Southwest and U.S. Airways) serve around five million passengers a year. For visitors heading to Hollywood, downtown, Universal Studios or Six Flags Magic Mountain, arriving at BUR can cut down freeway time significantly. The airport is small (just two runways), easy to get in and out of, and the menu of parking options is fantastic—from economy lots starting at $10 per day to Black Diamond valet service (your own year-round space that is one and a half times the size of regular spaces—$14,600 per year!)
Burbank is the only airport with its own Amtrak and Metrolink stations on site (Jet Blue passengers can ride for free!) Taxi lines are long—after a brief scuffle to establish a minimum fare of $15.50 for all fares originating at BUR, the Burbank Traffic Commission announced that the decision was beyond its authority. There are four rental car companies on site (Alamo, Hertz, Avis and National), with shuttle service to additional companies. Food options are limited. Best sit-down food is at Chezz Burger; best drinks at the Paradise Bar. As for gifts … well, don’t leave your shopping ‘til the last minute—there’s little more than newsstands here. WiFi is pretty good; $7.95 per day and $19.95 monthly.
The LAX dining scene takes off, thanks to the recent upgrade at Bradley International Terminal.
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