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Guide to Los Angeles Airport (LAX)

Often simply referred to as LAX, Los Angeles Airport is not only the main means of access to the city of Los Angeles but also the whole state of California. The airport is situated in the Westchester neighbourhood to the south west of Los Angeles and is approximately 18 miles (30 km) from the downtown area of the city. Covering over 3,500 acres of land and operating four runways, LAX is the biggest international airport on the American west coast and the country's second busiest behind Atlanta International Airport.

LAX History

With the rapid expansion of the aviation industry, the Los Angeles City Council and Chamber of Commerce realised in 1926 that the city needed its own airport and considered a number of nearby locations. It was finally decided that a 640 acre plot of land south of Westchester was the ideal location and as the location had been nominated by a real estate agent named William W. Mines it was known as Mines Field.

In August of 1928, the land was officially leased by the city and the Department of Airports began the task of converting farmland into the first dirt landing strip. Just a few short months later the airport was open for use although the first airport structure, Hangar No. 1, was not built until the following year. Progress on the airfield was swift with the construction of a control tower, more hangars and a restaurant, as well as the replacement of the dirt runway with a durable all-weather surface, all completed in just over a year. In June, 1930 the fledgling airport was up and running and renamed Los Angeles Municipal Airport in a dedication ceremony.

City Council Vision

The future envisioned by the Los Angeles City Council for the new airport was slow to materialise as the established airports at Burbank and Glendale continued to cater for all the main airlines. For the first few years Los Angeles Municipal Airport survived on the fees paid by private aircraft owners and flying schools. Because of limited incoming funding plans for the further development of the airport were put on hold and the airport's financial situation further worsened due to a decrease in passenger numbers with the onset of World War II.

The war in Europe, however, turned out to be good news for the new airport as aircraft manufacturers in the surrounding area were producing aircraft for the allies and local flying schools were in high demand for pilot training. In early 1942, the U.S. Military took control of the municipal airport and was used to station fighter planes. At the same time, a master plan for the airport and surrounding land was published and, with financial backing of $12.5 million secured, many of the major airlines decided to avail of the newly-improved airport and its facilities.

Commercial Development

With financial backing secured and a master plan in place the future was looking bright for Los Angeles Municipal Airport if it could attract the major airlines. Immediately after the end of World War II four temporary terminals were built to accommodate the anticipated growth and, in late 1946, the hard work was rewarded when five of the major players began operations at the airfield.

The big five were:

  1. Trans World Airlines (TWA)
  2. American Airlines
  3. United Airlines
  4. Southwest Airways
  5. Western Airlines

Shortly afterwards, these five were joined by another of the biggest airline companies of the time, as Pan American Airways (Pan Am) also began passenger operations at the airport.

Major Growth

With major airline companies now using the airport, and passenger numbers increasing steadily, the master plan was on track and the airport was renamed in 1949 as Los Angeles International Airport. In the early days of aviation, U.S. Airports were given a two-letter identifier and Los Angeles was originally designated as “LA”. However, a third code letter was added in 1947 and Los Angeles International Airport's identifier became “LAX”.
The four temporary terminals were soon found to be inadequate and not up to the standards required to attract and keep customers and business. More funding was required and airport management once again managed to secure significant investment when a $59 million bond was secured in mid-1956. Over the following years LAX built and upgraded its:

  • Terminal buildings
  • Passenger facilities
  • Parking areas

These resulted in a change to the layout of the airport to what it is today.

Further major expansion took place in the early eighties with the construction of a second-level road, the openings of Terminal 1 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal while existing terminals were also expanded and updated. As recently as 2008, LAX expanded yet again when the Tom Bradley International Terminal was totally rebuilt, a concourse for the West Gates added, a 4,300 capacity parking structure and a Los Angeles Metro Rail station built while two additional terminals are also planned for the future.

LAX Airlines and Assigned Terminals

There are now over a hundred American and global airline companies using LAX for domestic and international flights. Most of these use a designated terminal, although some larger companies use more than one, for incoming and outgoing flights. LAX has nine terminals which are numbered 1 through 8 as well as the Tom Bradley International Terminal (Terminal B). Current terminal assignations are:

Terminal 1

Terminal 1 caters for Allegiant Air, Air Transat, Norse, Southwest (domestic flights and international check-in), Sun Country, Viva Aerobus.

Terminal 2

Reserved for WestJet check-in with security checks and flight departures at Terminal 3.

Terminal 3

Delta Airlines. Check-in and security checks for Aerolitoral and Aeromexico with a bus connection to Terminal B for flights. WestJet flight departures (check-in and security control at Terminal 2).

Terminal 4

One of the biggest airline companies, American Airlines, is based in terminals 4, 5 and Terminal B with check-in at Terminal 4 and 5 and flight departures at all three. International arrivals are catered for at Terminal B.

Terminal 5

Air Canada, JetBlue, Spirit and American Airlines. Terminal 4 also caters for American Airlines check-in but all flights leave from Terminal 5. This terminal only handles arriving flights from Spirit with outgoing flights departing from Terminal 6.

Terminal 6

Advanced Air, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Horizon, Southern Air. Terminal 6 is for Air Canada departures only and all Alaska Airlines international flights after 7.00pm use Terminal B

Terminal 7

United Airlines, United Express.

Terminal 8

United Airlines, United Express.

Terminal B (Tom Bradley International Terminal)

As an international terminal, Terminal B handles the vast majority of arriving and departing flights for many of the world's biggest (and less well known) airline companies including:

Aer Lingus, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Air China, Air France, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Alitalia, All Nippon Airways, Allegiant, American Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Avianca, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Condor, Copa, Delta Airlines, El Al Israel Airlines, Emirates Airlines, EVA Airlines, Fiji Airways, Finnair, French Bee, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia Airlines, ITA Airways, Japan Airlines, JetBlue, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Korean Air, LATAM, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Norse, Norwegian Air, Philippine Airlines, QANTAS, Qatar Airways, SAUDIA, Scandinavian Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Singapore, Sun Country, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, Viva Aerobus, Virgin Atlantic, Volaris, Xiamen Airlines, ZIPAIR.

There are also a large number of airlines that have no defined terminal for arriving or departing flights.

Movement Between Terminals

LAX is a well-designed and modern airport with plenty of space for passengers and transport options between terminals include:
Walkways. A series of tunnels and overground connections link terminals 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal while construction is under way on connections between terminals B, 1, 2 and 3.

Shuttle Bus - In operation 24/7, Route A is a frequent courtesy shuttle bus service that connects to each terminal in a counter-clockwise circuit.
Customs and Immigration

Visas and Visa Waivers

As with all airports and other ports of entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) is responsible for checking people and goods arriving in the United States. The potential risk of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is taken very seriously and CBP agents carry out their inspection duties thoroughly and diligently. For returning U.S. citizens a valid passport, photo ID and a boarding pass are sufficient but foreign visitors require more.

Even before landing in the U.S., passengers will be subject to screening by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who run background checks on individuals as well as check baggage for prohibited or dangerous items. Once through the TSA screening arriving passengers must then undergo inspection by a CBP agent who will check the passenger's documentation which may be either:

A valid ESTA approved passport. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization and is digital approval for entry into the U.S.A. which is electronically linked to a passport.

If a visitor does not have an ESTA, then they will need valid immigrant or non-immigrant visa issued by the holder's country of residence or citizenship and approved by the relevant U.S. embassy.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

LAX is located just 18 miles from central Los Angeles and there are several options available for travelers going to or coming from the airport.
Rail. There is currently no direct rail service between Los Angeles and LAX. However, LAX Shuttle Route G provides a free bus service from the Aviation/LAX station on the Los Angeles Metro C line to the airport.

Bus & Shuttles

Arriving passengers have a number of buses to chose from and which suits best depends on the final destination.
LAX Flyaway runs from the airport to Van Nuys via Union Station.

Antelope Valley Airport Express serves Newhall and Palmdale with Lancaster being the final destination.

Central Coast Shuttle covers the coastal towns of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Buellton and Santa Maria.

Mickey's Space Ship Shuttle runs out to Huntington Beach and San Clemente with stops at popular places like Universal Studios and all the Disneyland Anaheim hotels.

Shuttle One is another bus route servicing Disneyland and hotels in the Anaheim area.

Santa Barbara Airbus terminates in Santa Barbara with stops at Goleta and Carpinteria.

Shuttle 2000 is the most suitable option for Disneyland and John Wayne Airport near Santa Ana.

Ventura County Airporter takes travelers to the coast northwest of LAX and the towns of Ventura and Oxnard.

A number of hotels in and around Los Angeles also offer their own shuttle services to and from LAX and information regarding timetables and pick-up points can be obtained from the relevant hotel.

Taxi and Ride-share

Only authorised taxis and ride-share operators are allowed to operate at LAX. Taxis can be accessed at three different ranks:

  • At the LAX-it area beside Terminal 1
  • In parking area 3 situated between Terminal B and Terminal 3
  • At the end of Terminal 7

Ride-share companies such as Lyft, Uber and Opoli can also be found at LAX but passengers must ensure the appropriate app is downloaded on a smartphone before using any of these services.