How to hack LAX airport travel like a pro

The Los Angeles International Airport is known for the iconic Theme Building, a distinctive structure that resembles a flying saucer on four legs and that was part of the futuristic design movement known as “Googie.” A less-fun fact about LAX: It also has a reputation among some locals and visitors as a “necessary evil.”

LAX is one of the busiest airports in the world. But don’t fret — with this practical guide, you will be well versed on how to ease your journey to ONA22 if your plans include flying.

These tips were compiled by Caitlin Hernández, LAist reporter and 2022 MJ Bear Fellow, with input from LAist readers, and originally published as part of LAX Explained: Your Guide To Navigating The West Coast’s Most Infuriating Airport.

Planning your commute for pickup and drop-off

Give yourself plenty of time before your flight when you’re going to LAX. For international flights, get there at least three hours early. Two hours is recommended for domestic travel.

Consider using the LAX FlyAway, says Kyle Becerra, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. “[It’s] definitely the move. It’s just so much easier and you even get to view the pretty L.A./California scenery on the way!”

The bus line makes round-trips to the airport from Van Nuys and Union Station every day of the week. It will save you money: One-way FlyAway tickets cost $9.75, and TAP cards can be used for a lower cost. Metrolink monthly pass holders ride for free from Union Station. (See FlyLAX for more information about shuttles and taxis. Check out the live FlyAway tracker, too.)

If you’re driving, get your parking in advance. Donna Schwartz Mills, who’s also from the San Fernando Valley, has learned from experience to use an offsite parking space. She reserves weeks or months ahead of time. Construction can knock out common parking locations, so never assume. (Pro-tip: LAX lets you pre-book online for cheaper (!) rates.)

“We actually missed a flight a few years ago because we did not realize the construction had taken so many economy lot spaces out. We drove around the airport for over an hour before we found a lot that wasn’t full,” Schwartz Mills said.

Traveling with a disability? Access Paratransit can get you to LAX. For anyone eligible to use this service, Access will take you to the airport for 21 days out of a 12-month period. If you’re outside of L.A. County, you can get complimentary service. (See FlyLAX for more ADA services — including courtesy shuttles inside.)

If traffic is unbearable, consider using another floor. LAX has two levels: The top for departures and the bottom for arrivals. Rideshare drivers have to drop off on the top level, so it can get congested very fast. If you go below, you’ll have to go upstairs using the escalators.

Stay flexible about dropping off at less crowded terminals. In most cases, where you need to go is also where hundreds of Angelenos are headed. If you have to stay topside, remember you can always be dropped off at a less congested terminal and walk the rest of the way. (LAX posts live traffic times.)

Try alternate routes. Saeed Jaffer of Pasadena said if you’re “approaching via 105, sometimes using alternate off-ramps is necessary. If the Sepulveda tunnel is backed up: [Try] Nash Street or sometimes even La Cienega Boulevard. [The] 96th Street/Vicksburg Street entrance to the horseshoe can often be a better entrance.”

When in doubt, ditch the car. If your load is light, you can bike into LAX and lock it up in one of the central terminal area’s parking garages for free. That’s a real insider’s tip — it comes from Ian Dutton, an airline pilot from Santa Monica, who uses this mode of transport himself. He recommends parking it “out of the way” of traffic. In his experience, bike theft isn’t common because it’s in a security-monitored garage.

If you’re taking rideshare, know how the process works. As a former Uber driver myself, I can tell you how I spent hours looking for passengers. The process evolves often, so do your driver a favor and get familiar with the pickup and drop-off rules — LAX police won’t hesitate to issue a ticket!

Ways to get through TSA quickly

TSA PreCheck will save you time. This is a program for participating airlines. The screening lines for travelers with TSA PreCheck are considerably shorter, so it can help you avoid stress. The application costs $85 for five years.

Try LAX Fast LaneThis airport pilot program has limited hours for passengers flying out of Terminals 7 and 8. It’s free for everyone. Reservations and walk-in appointments are available daily from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the TSA checkpoint for Terminal 7. Ideally, you should sign up three days in advance.

Consider using CLEAR. This technology, which fully expanded to LAX in 2021, uses your eyes or fingerprints to confirm who you are. The cost starts at $15 a month that’s billed annually. Once confirmed, an employee escorts you to the front for a physical screening.

Parents, TSA-prep your children’s food. Stefanie Ritoper, our early childhood engagement producer, said “If you have tiny kids, bring many, many snacks for the line and the plane. It is the only way. Pack all baby food in a clear bag … you’re allowed to bring it through TSA, but they usually have to screen it separately.”

Screening prep! Make sure you can remove items quickly. Keep things like electronics accessible and be ready to slide those shoes and belts off. The TSA has a detailed list of what you can pack in a carry-on or checked luggage.

Read more

We encourage you to dive deeper into Caitlin Hernández’s full guide to LAX:

Share your own Los Angeles travel tips with the ONA community on social media using #ONA22.