"Can you pick me up at LAX?"
Many Angelenos rate those words on the stress scale just slightly above going to the dentist or visiting the IRS auditor. Add Thanksgiving arrivals and departures--and you have an instant Excedrin vision of cars, buses, vans, limousines, passengers, passengers' bags and passengers' relatives, all jockeying for position as blood pressures rise and horns blare.
Even the 1984 completion of an extensive $700-million renovation project, which turned Los Angeles International Airport into a more manageable two-level facility, hasn't turned picking up Aunt Blythe into a picnic.
Where They Begin and End
"This is what is called an origin/destination airport," explained Lee Nichols, a spokesman for the City of Los Angeles Department of Airports. "That means that 75% to 80% of the passengers that come through here either begin or end their flights here, rather than make connections to somewhere else."
However, there is insider information to be had. Frequent flyers, airport officials, skycaps, taxi drivers and police all have their theories for getting in and out of the world's third-busiest air travel center without (1) getting stuck in traffic, (2) having apoplexy in the parking lot or (3) missing the plane or the arriving relatives. What follows is a distillation of the best of their advice.
GETTING THERE For many travelers, this is the worst part. Traffic approaching the airport on the San Diego Freeway can be agonizingly slow, the closer you get. And at peak holiday hours, it can take 45 minutes to travel the few blocks of Century Boulevard from the San Diego Freeway to the airport entrance.
The safety valve, said Los Angeles Police Officer Jim Dahl, who works at the LAPD substation at LAX, is Sepulveda Boulevard. Consistently less crowded than Century, Sepulveda runs north and south and borders the airport loop on the east. For those approaching the airport from the south on the San Diego Freeway, Dahl suggests exiting at Imperial Highway and driving west to Sepulveda. For those coming from the north, he suggests exits at Sepulveda, La Tijera or Manchester boulevards (La Tijera and Manchester eventually intersect Sepulveda).
Also, Dahl said, while there are overpass ramps connecting Sepulveda to the airport loop, "probably the best way to get into the airport from Sepulveda is on 96th Street." The short 96th Street is parallel to and just north of Century Boulevard. Not a lot of people know, but it hooks neatly into the airport loop just next to Terminal 1.
Once in the loop, Dahl offers another tip for picking up passengers: "If you're going to meet somebody and they don't have any baggage to claim, the secret is to park on the upper level rather than on the lower level."
The upper level of the airport is designated for departing passengers, the lower level for arrivals. "People don't know that they can park up there," Dahl said, "and they tend to crowd into the lower levels." But passengers without heavy luggage often find it just as easy to exit on the less crowded upper level.
For those who want to avoid the vehicular madness altogether (or view it from somewhere other than behind a steering wheel), a variety of public transportation serves LAX.
The heyday of public transportation at LAX was during the months of heavy construction prior to June, 1984. Today most passengers arrive by car, although extensive public transportation remains.
Buses--A private company called the Airport Bus Service serves LAX from Los Angeles, Hollywood, Beverly Hills/Century City, the Wilshire District, Orange County, Long Beach, Pasadena and Universal City. Airport Bus of Bakersfield serves that city. FlyAway Bus, another private bus company, connects LAX with West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Fun Bus travels to and from Anaheim. Great American Stageline runs to and from Woodland Hills, Westlake Village and Ventura County. Sims Executive Airport Shuttle serves Los Angeles and the USC area and Santa Monica. Information and tickets for many of the lines are available at sidewalk booths in front of the terminals or call for schedules using your telephone directory.
Public city bus service to and from the airport is also available on Culver City Bus Lines, Norwalk Transit, Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines and Los Angeles RTD. Call those offices for their schedules.
Door-to-door transportation services--There are 10 private carriers, serving different areas of Southern California, that will pick you up at your home and drive you directly to LAX. They include Airport Coach, Airport Stage Lines, Airport Transportation, Corjen Transportation, Green Flag Airport Express, Santa Barbara Airbus, Sims Executive Van Service, Stagecoach, Sunworld Airport Van Service and Super Shuttle. Consult your telephone directory; services are summoned by phone much like a taxi. At LAX, many of these companies have direct phone lines on display panels in baggage claim areas.