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PLANE SPEAKING

What LAX Lacks

June 18, 2005

To get from the plane to a rental car at Los Angeles International Airport, you walk down endless corridors, out into a blast of exhaust, and across a few lanes of traffic to a bus stop.

Retired NASA scientists employed by the airport authority have developed a complex algorithm to guarantee that, no matter what company you rent from, buses from every other company must pass you at least once before you are given the opportunity to chase down the one you want. Then you take a delightful tour of LAXland, ending at a distant lot that disappears like Brigadoon as soon as you drive away, because you will never, ever be able to find it again.

To get from the plane to a rental car at the Burbank airport, you walk a short distance through an admittedly grimy terminal. Out the door, turn right, another minute's walk and behold: Your chariot awaits! Then to return the car, you just park it. That's all -- just park it in the lot next to the terminal. And then you walk to your plane.

Cursed with LAX -- an airport so soulless that it actually is known by its airport code -- Los Angeles is also blessed with a scattering of smaller fields: Burbank (officially Bob Hope Airport), Orange County (officially John Wayne), Long Beach (Cameron Diaz anybody?). In almost every way, they have what LAX lacks. They are both more practical and more romantic. As the diabolical hub-and-spoke system weakens its grip on the airlines, and airports become gateways to the real world again (rather than places where you merely switch planes), the need for big central airports is reduced.

Are L.A.'s lesser airports the wave of the future? Probably not. They exist today only because they existed long ago. And to be fair, the charm of these airports may well depend on not living near one.

So the eternal planning for a new LAX continues. Meanwhile, though, we still believe in a place called Bob Hope Airport.

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