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The statistics are impressive: Nine terminals, 70 airlines, more than 80 million passengers annually. According to Airports Council International, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the fifth-busiest in the world by passenger traffic.
It’s also one of the most stressful airports to fly to, from, or through, thanks to aging infrastructure, poor planning and the sheer volume of people passing through its facilities.
LAX is currently in the midst of a $14 billion improvement project. Among the components finished already is the massive Tom Bradley International Terminal. Future upgrades will include links to the city’s light-rail system, an automated people mover, a consolidated rental car facility and the renovation of several terminals. Construction is projected to last through 2023, though, so it will be some time before most passengers begin to see the benefits.
In the meantime, here are 18 tried and true hacks for getting through LAX as painlessly as possible, gleaned from my 15 years living in the city and transiting through the airport hundreds of times.
1. Depart from Arrivals
LAX has two levels. The upper one is for departures and the lower one is for arrivals. Because most departing passengers get dropped off on the upper level, and both Uber and Lyft drivers are required to both drop off and pick up passengers from the Departures level, it tends to be much more congested than the lower Arrivals level. If you’re not taking a rideshare service, ask your driver to drop you off down on Arrivals and just take the stairs, elevators, or escalators up one level for check-in and security.
2. Nobody Walks in LA (Except for This)
It can take as long to get from the entrance of the airport to a terminal as it does to get from West Hollywood, where I live, all the way down to the airport. We are talking 45 minutes in some cases. If traffic is hairy when you get there and you don’t mind walking, consider hopping out of your car or shuttle as soon as you reach the terminals.
The airport is U-shaped, so Terminal 1 is located across the airport from Terminals 7 and 8, Terminal 2 is across from Terminals 5 and 6, Terminal 3 is located across from Terminal 4, and Tom Bradley International Terminal is down at the very far end.
It only takes about 10-15 minutes to walk from either Terminal 1 or 8 to Tom Bradley International Terminal, and only about 5-10 minutes to walk across the short-term lots that are in the middle of the U. So if your flight is departing out of Terminal 6 and traffic is at a standstill, you can get out at Terminal 2 and walk across from there.
3. Terminal Turn-Off
Likewise, there are actually turn-offs on the Departures level that skip the bottom of the U and go straight from Terminal 1 to 7 and from Terminal 2 to 5 so you can avoid the bottleneck that usually forms around Tom Bradley and Terminal 4.
4. Proximity Parking
The cheapest LAX parking is $12 per day at the public Lot C, which is connected to the airport via shuttle bus service. However, the lot fills up quicker than ever these days, so I’ve been using SpotHero to reserve parking places at other lots in advance. That way, I don’t have the anxiety of not knowing whether I’ll find a space before my departure time. Other travelers have suggested Pavemint, which is like a parking share where you pay someone for their parking spot at rates that are usually much cheaper than airport parking.
My other main tip is to park at the Park ‘N Fly lot, from which you can easily walk to several terminals. You can also score a 15% discount by showing your Southwest Rapid Rewards membership card at checkout, and there’s usually a discount for AAA members as well (it’s currently 15%).
5. Connection Convenience
Though LAX has nine separate terminal buildings, many are connected airside, so you can clear security at one then either walk or shuttle to another. Apart from connecting between different airlines, this is mainly if you want to take advantage of quicker security lines at any of the terminals, which you can check using an app like MiFlight. Now that Tom Bradley has TSA PreCheck, though, wait times there should improve a lot.
Here’s the short version of terminal connection map: Delta’s two terminals, Terminals 2 and 3, are connected airside via shuttles. Tom Bradley International Terminal and Terminals 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 are all connected airside via walkways. TBIT is connected to Terminal 4 (American Airlines) via an above-ground passage. Terminals 4, 5 and 6 are connected via an underground tunnel, and Terminals 6-8 are connected above ground. Terminal 1 (Southwest) is not connected to the others.
6. Bus Hopping
Alternatively, the airport runs transfer buses down on the Arrivals level that take passengers between the terminals. However, the Lot C Parking bus also makes stops at every terminal, so if you’re transiting from Terminal 2 to Terminal 7, for instance, you can just hop on that one instead if it comes faster.
7. Tom Bradley International Terminal…Adjacent
Some international airlines that operate out of TBIT actually have check-in desks at Terminal 3, so don’t waste time heading to TBIT first only to have to retrace your steps later. They include Avianca, Copa, Interjet and Virgin Australia.
8. Get TSA PreCheck
No, this is not an LAX-specific hack, but it pays off in spades specifically at this airport because security lines can wind their way the entire length of a terminal and along the outdoor walkways that link them to the short-term parking lots. TSA PreCheck lines, on the other hand, are usually extremely fast. The most I can recall ever waiting was 10 minutes and that was a single time over the busy holiday travel season. For the most part, TSA PreCheck lines take about two-three minutes and the agents working there are competent and helpful. If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry, which includes PreCheck, you can get the application fee for either refunded if you pay it with credit cards including the Capital One Venture, Bank of America Premium Rewards card, the Platinum Card from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve and many more.
9. …Or CLEAR
There are now CLEAR lanes at Terminals 1 – 7, where you can breeze right past TSA agents to expedited security lines. Though annual membership usually costs $179, Delta SkyMiles members can get it for $99 per year; Silver, Gold and Platinum Medallions get it for $79 per year; and Diamond Medallions get it for free. Not a Delta Medallion elite? You can still score annual membership for $79 just by having a co-branded Delta Amex card like the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, or the Delta Reserve.
10. Layover Luggage
Have a long layover and don’t want to wheel your luggage around with you? You can reserve storage at LAX Luggage Storage for relatively reasonable rates that range between $10-$15 per day. You can drop off and pick up your bags at the facility yourself, though if you opt for the more convenient terminal curbside pick up and drop off, it’s $5 per item each way.
11. Pop In to In-N-Out
In-N-Out Burger is a SoCal institution. The one near LAX also has picture-perfect views of the flight path into the airport for the real AvGeeks out there. If you have a few hours between flights, you can enjoy your planespotting with a burger and feel like you got a real LA experience. But skip taking a taxi or Uber. Instead, you can hop on the shuttle for the Parking Spot garage on Sepulveda, then walk the 100 or so feet from there.
12. Eastside Expense
A taxi or rideshare to the Eastside can cost well over $60. If you’re not in a rush, though, catch the FlyAway Bus from your terminal to Union Station in Downtown LA for just $9.75 and then take an Uber or Lyft to your final destination from there.
13. That’s a Relief
14. Lounging Around
Unfortunately, the Priority Pass access you get with cards like the Platinum Card from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige won’t get you into too many lounges at LAX. Even the ones you can access, like the Alaska Lounge in Terminal 6, often fill up and turn away Priority Pass members. However, Priority Pass will score you free food at Rock & Brews at Terminal 1 and P.F. Chang’s at TBIT.
Other than that, I’d suggest getting creative with lounge access policies. For instance, the American Airlines Flagship Lounge at Terminal 4 lets you in if you’re flying first or business on American’s transcontinental and international flights. But you can also enter if you’re an AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro, or Platinum member on a qualifying international flight on American or Oneworld airlines; or if you have Oneworld Emerald or Sapphire status (excluding if you earned it through AAdvantage) and are traveling in any cabin on any flight marketed and operated by American or a Oneworld partner. Likewise, you can access the Qantas First Class Lounge at TBIT if you’re flying first class on a flight with a Qantas flight number or on an international Oneworld flight; if you have Oneworld Emerald status (AAdvantage Executive Platinum) and are flying on a Oneworld-operated and marketed flight.
Although your Star Alliance Gold membership won’t get you into the United Club if you earned that status with United, it will get you into the Star Alliance Lounge at TBIT if you’re flying a Star Alliance carrier that day, so you can head there first, then take the airside connectors to United’s terminals (7 & 8) from there.
15. Pay For The Private Suite
The Private Suite at LAX is a small remote terminal south of the main airport. It has a shared lounge area and 13 individual suites with their own living rooms, pantries, dining spaces and restrooms. Amenities and services include private security screening, pre-ordered meal service, chauffeur service to your plane and even in-suite salon and spa services. Pricing is exorbitant, at $3,500-$4,000 per group for non-members. However, United now offers all passengers the opportunity to purchase access starting at $375 one-way and $700 round-trip for up to four guests on domestic flights, and $500/$900 one-way/round-trip for international travelers. At under $100 per person, this experience can’t be beat.
Like many airports, LAX has been busy installing water-bottle filling stations in its terminals. So skip the expensive bottled water at airport stores and bring your own refillable travel bottle instead. That way, you’re cutting down on single-use plastic as well.
17. Grab ‘N Go
Service at the restaurants and stores at LAX is, shall we say, less than expedient. Luckily, the Grab app lets you preorder and pay for items at 18 participating restaurants so far, including locations of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Wolfgang Puck Express, Loteria Grill and Ford’s Filling Station so you can just pick up your items on your way to your gate without waiting.
18. Rideshare Response Time
Given the traffic conditions around LAX, it’s not unusual for Ubers and Lyfts to take 20 minutes to get to certain terminals for arrival pick ups. Assuming you’re not waiting for checked luggage, I’d suggest ordering your rideshare as soon as you’re off the airplane. You will have more than enough time to walk through the terminal and out to the Departures level to catch your car. In fact, I’ve never missed a ride doing so, and often still end up waiting several minutes. Surge pricing varies dramatically between the two apps, too, so if the cost of one is sky high, try ordering a car from the other.
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Featured photo by Getty Images, FG/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor.
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