Bob Bentley, a record producer who flies to San Francisco twice a week, said he usually eases into a parking space at Burbank Airport about 10 minutes before takeoff.
But this week, Bentley, 34, arrived an hour and 40 minutes early--prepared to fight for a parking spot.
"I thought about parking in areas posted 'No Parking,' and I thought seriously about flying out of LAX," said Bentley, a Hollywood resident who spent 20 minutes searching for a parking space Monday. "But it really is too far from where I live."
Bentley and other travelers caught glimpses last week of the work that is causing them problems now--transformation of a 650-car parking lot east of the terminal on Hollywood Way into a dirt-filled construction site. The lot, which had more than a fifth of the parking spaces operated by the airport, is the site of a new terminal and parking garage, as well as a parking area for airplanes.
The construction project--the airport's response to a 1986 FAA order requiring jetliners to be parked farther from the runways--is expected to take three to five years to complete at a cost of about $4.9 million, airport spokesman Victor J. Gill said.
Airport officials decided to start construction in February because it is usually a slow time for air travel, Gill said. Airline fare wars, however, are prompting increased air travel now, so travelers are encountering near-holiday parking problems, he said.
Many travelers are parking in spots for the handicapped or in zones intended only for passenger loading, or are circling repeatedly around parking lots before landing a space.
When questioned by airport police about illegal parking, most motorists have cited the lack of available spaces as an excuse, airport police Officer Michael Dean Briseno said.
"With the new construction under way, we have to sympathize because we know there's no parking available," said Briseno, who estimated that there has been a 5% increase in parking citations since the eastern lot was bulldozed.
"I remember the days when you could just pull in and out and park in 15 minutes," said Lynne Christianson of Woodland Hills, who circled for 20 minutes Monday morning before finding a spot. Even with the reduction in parking spaces, Christianson said, she finds Burbank Airport easier to use than Los Angeles International Airport.
But Marlon McClain, lead guitarist for Dazz Band, said he plans to fly out of LAX on his next trip.
"This is the last time I'm flying out of this airport," said McClain, who lives in Portland, Ore.
"There are a lot of panicked people," said Tom Lavoise, who drives a shuttle van for VSP Parking, a private lot across from the area under construction. The lot usually is filled by about 9 a.m., but these days all the spots are taken by 7:30 a.m., he said.
The loss of the 650 spaces leaves about 2,500 parking spots available in two long-term lots and a short-term lot on the airport grounds, and in a remote lot at Winona Avenue and Hollywood Way, Gill said.
Airport officials expect to replace about 400 parking spots by mid-March, Gill said.
In the meantime, they are warning travelers to make alternate plans for getting to and from the airport--such as taking cabs or getting rides from friends--or to allow for extra time to find a parking place.
"It's going to be like a holiday weekend all the time for the next few months," Gill said.