Escape From LAX

Los Angeles International Airport, universally known as LAX, has been a travel nightmare for years. But there are tips and tricks you can use to escape the airport, even if, as the saying goes, “Friends don’t make friends pick them up at LAX.”

A major worldwide gateway and an attractive destination in its own right, LAX was the second-busiest airport in the U.S. before the pandemic. A record 88.1 million passengers used LAX in 2019.

If you do the math, that works out to 241,000 people per day. And post-pandemic, all those people are coming back. It can seem like all of them are coursing through the terminals, stuck in baggage claim, jamming the lounges or waiting at immigration at the same time. Even when travelers get outside, the white curb can be jammed with passengers waiting for a limo, a bus, a shuttle (to parking, rental cars, or hotels), or pickup by an unfortunate relative. Unlike many cities, LAX lacks a “train to the plane” to get out of the airport and into town.

The roadway connecting the terminals at LAX is often called the Horseshoe, because it is an oval open at one end. The ever-packed LAX roadway has been described as “Nine terminals connected by a traffic jam.”

Or as Sergio Avedian, senior contributor for TheRideShareGuy, puts it, “LAX is like the roach motel—you can get in but can’t get out.” Avedian, also a driver with no less than nine rideshare apps on his phone, says he’s often spent 45 minutes just trying to get around the Horseshoe.

Indeed, the traffic from vehicles entering the airport, maneuvering to drop off or pick up passengers, or just trying to escape to the freeways, is unbearable.

In an effort to reduce congestion, the airport banned curbside pickups by rideshare vehicles and taxis in 2019. The airport opened LAX-it (pronounced LA-exit), a special area for taxi and rideshare pickups in October 2019.

Located in a giant parking lot just east of Terminal One, the system, which included dedicated buses circling the airport in the curb lane, was for a while a confusing disaster. Although working better, exhausted passengers still do not like waiting for a bus, finally finding one with room, dragging luggage on board, then spending half an hour circling before pulling into LAX-it.

But arriving passengers have alternatives. The LAX-it rideshare lot was designed to be accessible via a short walk from many terminals. Terminal One, the Southwest Airlines terminal, is literally across the street from LAX-it. A short stroll with your roller bag will take you right into the Lyft, Uber or taxi queue.

Terminal Two and Three (Delta) are a slightly longer walk of ten to fifteen minutes. And the next terminal, Bradley, has a special bonus to make the fifteen minute walk even easier—free baggage carts.

Bradley Terminal is where international flights arrive. International passengers loaded with luggage must go through customs and passport control. A cart can be a necessity.

The good news is that carts, about $7 at other terminals, are free at baggage claim at Bradley. The bad news is that carts are a hot commodity at Bradley. You may need to wage low-level warfare to get one in the chaotic baggage claim area. I was one of dozens of rival arrivals searching for, and occasionally fighting for, a luggage cart or six.

But that cart can be precious. Rather than just take it out of baggage claim, through customs and immigration, only to abandon it at the curb, that cart can be one’s escape vehicle from LAX.

When my wife and I arrived from Costa Rica in mid-March, we whizzed through Bradley with our precious cart. We walked outside, surveyed the mob scene on the curb and in the roadway, and started following the big green arrows on foot. The LAX sidewalk took us past Terminal Three, Two, and One, where we crossed Skyway into LAX-it. We were in our Uber 20 minutes after leaving the terminal.

But if you’re not up for stretching your legs after a long flight or waiting for the LAX-it bus, you have other options.

Unlike taxis and rideshare vehicles, limousine or “black car “companies with commercial plates can pick up at LAX. Alto, for example, can pick you up right outside your terminal if summoned by app. And according to @TheRideshareGuy, passengers can now legally drink on board!

If you do decide to go to LAX-it by bus or on foot, Avedian suggests you check all three options—Uber, Lyft, and cabs—rather than automatically default to one choice.

“Uber used to be half as expensive as cabs, now cabs are half as expensive as Uber,” he says. Avedian, who as a driver has been through six rate cuts since 2015, says “Uber is trying to make money. They charge as much as they can, pay as little as they can get away with.”

Another option is the FlyAway Bus, which picks up at every terminal. It travels to two key destinations in Los Angeles. One is Union Station, in the heart of downtown LA. It is also a terminus for the LA Red Line subway, Amtrak, and other rail transport. The other FlyAway destination is Van Nuys, in the center of the San Fernando Valley an excellent place for friends and relatives to pick you up. FlyAway fare is just 9.75 one-way to either destination.

Another tactic that can result in saving money is taking one of the hotel shuttles circling LAX out of the airport. Avedian, who does a rideshare podcast called “Show Me The Money,” says the waiting lot at LAX for rideshare drivers is geofenced, so drivers need to be actually in the lot to accept a ride.

Rather than wait in the airport lot (which Sergio dubbed the “pig pen”) to “catch that one unicorn ride” many drivers prefer to work the streets.

So if passengers instead find a way out of the airport via shuttle, the savings can be significant. On a typical weekday, Avedian found a ride from LAX-it to Granda Hills via Uber X for $108, out of LAX-it. But an Uber X from the Hilton at 5711 Century near the airport to the same destination was $64.

Of course, hotels have caught on and now make shuttle passengers show a reservation. So to use this tactic, Avedian says you may need to slip the shuttle driver a few dollars.

A little creativity never hurts when trying to escape from LAX.

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