My opinion of LA International Airport


LAX is a fucking pit.

They don’t make information about flights and gates readily available and clearly understandable, they don’t have helpful people readily available, the terminal is dirty and smelly, the facilities suck, the Wifi sucks, all the people who work at LAX suck – everything about it sucks.

The indicator board for flights and gates was far away from the arrival gate. When I found it it said the gate for my flight was “T3” – which doesn’t even sound like a gate, and there was no indication where it was. The airport cop I spotted didn’t know. All the lines were too long to hang around waiting to ask. (Further annoying details omitted for brevity.) Someone who seemed to know told me T3 is Terminal 3 (then why have it under “gate” on the board?) and to go to gate 44 and go down the escalator and take a shuttle bus – but when I got there there was no mention of T3 or Terminal 3 on the signs so I went back up, and after much struggle and repeatedly nearly falling over people’s fucking wheely bags when the people were struck by a thought and abruptly stopped moving along with their wheely bags, I found someone else to ask and he said yes, take the shuttle bus at gate 44, ask the people there – so I went back and the person there told me I had just missed the bus for T3 and it would be 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes of listening to her scream at everyone who came along (further annoying details omitted for brevity), I was enabled to leave that portion of hell in order to step into another, to wit, the shuttle bus, which drove all over the airport, crossing runways and taxiways with gay abandon, past myriad signs chirpily suggesting “watch for aircraft.” We arrived at the back of a vile warehouse or garage sort of place and sat still for several minutes breathing the refreshing jet fumes while the driver sat motionless and silent – then she opened the door and said we’d arrived, pointing at some stairs and saying the terminal was at the top. So we climbed about 3 stories worth of dirty metal stairs with our baggage. One rather large woman stopped after about ten steps, looking warm.

This sounds like a joke or parody but it fucking isn’t. I’m not kidding. The bus comes only once in 20 minutes; it traverses the whole airport in among the moving airplanes; passengers are dumped out and told to climb 3 flights of nasty stairs with their luggage; no one offers to help or says “sorry for the inconvenience” or “thank you for taking the shuttle bus with us today” or “was that a vision of hell or what” or “have you ever been in a worse piece of shit airport in your life?”

This is apparently something to do with the fact that Alaska has taken over some of American’s business. I surmise that the arrangement is recent and they haven’t quite figured out how to make it go smoothly yet. I could give them some advice.

[I’m writing this on the plane now. I wrote the first part in the inferno where I waited for the flight to Seattle, and I’m continuing it on the inferno that is the plane.]

I could give them some advice. They could put big signs up at the arrival gates telling hapless passengers that their connecting flights may be with Alaska AND THAT THEY HAVE TO GO TO A WHOLE NEW TERMINAL AND THAT IT’S A FUCKING NIGHTMARE. They could also give the essential details of how to begin the life-cheapening process. They could hire someone for The Shuttle Bus Waiting Room From Hell who wouldn’t see her job as screaming at everyone who makes the mistake of turning up. They could hire someone to drive the bus who would act like a human being. THEY COULD APOLOGIZE ABJECTLY FOR THE STAIRS and explain what they are planning to do about them. They could warn people about having to carry their luggage up – honestly, it was ok for me, though I made a great show of struggling up because I was so furious, but it was not ok for the large woman – it was not ok physically and it was totally humiliating. Jesus. I’m getting pissed off all over again. I think someone did go down to help her, but not before standing at the top of the stairs gazing down on us. Yes really: they did. Two employees of that (this) stinking airline – the one that used to hand out prayers, you know – stood at the top of those 30 or 40 stairs watching us climb. When I got to the top they were just getting around to deciding that one of them should do something about the large woman, at least I think they were – who knows, maybe they were just pointing out that she seemed to be finding it all somewhat tiring.

They could do all this, and they could apologize often and in detail for the whole thing. That would be a start. They haven’t done any of it. I would like to line them all up and kick them on the shins.

Now, to continue the joke, I’m on the flight from hell to boot. I’m in the very last row, row 30. I couldn’t get a window seat (even though that’s what I asked for a month or two ago – I’ve got to learn that when other people book a flight for me they ignore my window seats request), so I’m in the aisle. We are having the worst turbulence evarrr – so I can’t get up and stroll around, but other people feel that they can, and they keep pitching into me on their way to the toilet which is about 6 inches from my left elbow. There are eleventy seven children and babies. There are two children in the row in front of me – being “good” but making steady, relentless, busy noise. In front of them is a baby who roared and screamed for the first hour. I think it’s now dead.

I mean, could it be any worse? I suppose there could be a talkative missionary next to me who also smelled bad, but short of that…what’s missing? Ah the toilet just flushed. What fun this is.

Oh hooray! The two children and their mummy are now treating their seats as a trampoline – the mummy just leaped out of her aisle seat and slammed herself down in the window seat, shaking all three seat-backs and nearly catapulting the remains of my orange juice onto this blameless little notebook. The guy next to me has his elbow resting comfortably on my arm, despite the fact that I am holding it well over on my side of the armrest. The flight attendants, a few inches behind my head, are partying away as colleagues should – I can hardly hear myself think. Whee – bumpity bumpity! More turbulence.

Ah well. It’s so awful it’s funny, at least it is once I start turning it into a blog post.

The baby is alive. It’s roaring again.


  1. Peter Farrell says

    This is most Australians’ first experience of the United States of America.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Think calm thoughts. After all, you could be flying Delta into JFK’s Terminal 3.

    Terminal 3 is known for endless immigration lines in a dank basement, an utter lack of food and shopping options, three crowded and confusing entry points, and hallways that could have been designed by M.C Escher for vomiting international travelers out onto an underground sidewalk with no cabs available,” said. “There’s also a sense that the cleaning crew gave up in despair a while ago.”

  3. says

    This is most Australians’ first experience of the United States of America.

    Agreed. This must the that “American Exceptionalism” I keep hearing about.

  4. Godless Heathen says

    Wow, this gives me a greater appreciation for O’Hare…

    Also, having stairs and no escalator/elevator on the other totally violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. At least, I’d think it would because, yeah, only able-bodied people can get up those stairs.

    It would also be a gigantic pain if your were a parent with kids who needed to be carried or weren’t strong enough to carry their own luggage.

  5. says

    I fly fairly frequently between Australia and Canada. I strive might and main to get on the direct flights and to avoid the USA at all costs. All of those who work for American airlines and airports are honours graduates of Nasty School and they do their alma mater proud!

    David Amies

  6. Nentuaby says

    Ah, but you have had only a preview of Hell-A-X. For, you see, you were neither beginning nor ending your journey there, and thus were spared the Eldritch horror of its road access! (There is only road access, of course; So Cal knows not this”transit” of which you speak.)

  7. redwood says

    I had a meal once at LAX and the chicken was half-frozen. When I pointed this out to the waiter, she grudgingly took it back to zap it some more but still not enough. I said that was unacceptable and told the manager that I wouldn’t be paying for that and left.

    Rather than trying my luck somewhere else, I decided skipping a meal wouldn’t hurt me. What a crappy place that airport is.

  8. Tamsin says

    Urgh, I hate LAX. I’ve been through it a few times travelling between the US and New Zealand. Peter’s observation applies to us Kiwis too.
    On my first visit to the US, when I was 14, my family and I arrived tired after a long flight from Auckland and had no idea where to go; there were no signs and when we eventually found an information desk the only map they had was in Spanish. I think we spent a couple of hours trying to find our gate. We were all very hungry but couldn’t find anywhere to eat for the longest time.
    Then going through security was pretty scary. In NZ the don’t make you take off your shoes or belts or anything, and having to do so felt humiliating; it didn’t help that the security people were all rude and shouty. And then my mum, my 12-year-old sister and I were singled out for explosives testing. That was even more scary and humiliating, even though the officer doing the search was quite apologetic about it. They fired air jets at us which they tested for traces of explosive chemicals, then searched our carry-on bags and took swabs from everything. As a hideously shy teenager I did not take kindly to security officials flicking through my journal and pulling the sanitary pads out of my bag for all to see (at least at this point the security guy seemed almost as embarassed as I was!)
    Subsequent trips through LAX have been better, if only because I now know where to find food. But I still heartily dislike the place.

  9. F says

    It’s a one-way ride to the end of the universe
    Please say goodbye to the back of the plane
    There’ll be screams like you can’t imagine

  10. BigRed says

    While I understand your anger, there’s a pretty good chance that a) the airport personnel is underpaid and b) no sensible infrastructure investments have been made to LAX in forever. I always try and direct my anger at those who deserve it, i.e. not the poor fools working in LAX but they corporate and political elites making the funding decisions – gives me more of an “us-vs-them” feel 🙂

  11. Dave says

    Being ‘underpaid’ does not give anyone the right to act like a shithead. In fact, acting like a shithead because you’re ‘underpaid’ demonstrates to the people who ‘underpay’ you why you aren’t worth paying more. Doing your job badly won’t improve your situation, participating in collective activity as a worker and a citizen will [well, it might, but certainly nothing else will].

    “I’m not paid enough to act like a decent human being” is not an argument I’m prepared to accept, and I’d really like to know how you justify it conceptually.

  12. Dunc says

    I haven’t been through LAX in 15 years or so… It was shit then, and it doesn’t sound like it’s got any better. In fact, LAX is probably a significant part of the reason why I swore I would never visit the USA again.

  13. Pen says

    A friend of mine flew Paris – Tahiti with a 5 hour stopover in LAX. They were put in a room with fewer seats than people, no refreshments, no bathrooms, and screamed at if they tried to leave. Needless to say, when I had to fly London – Auckland, I just paid the extra to go via Tokyo.

  14. Dave says

    Given that it is LA, it may well be shitheads all the way down. I for one have no intention of visiting to find out. In solidarity with Sean Penn’s recent pronouncements on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, I am boycotting the USA until it returns all lands stolen from their peoples by vicious Western colonialism since, oh, let’s say 1607.

    I am also awaiting the restoration of Patagonia to the Mapuche; I have a feeling that this will be an even longer wait than a layover at LAX.

  15. Dave The Sandman says

    small beans – try this one for size:

    2002…paranoia about 9/11 running rampant. I get an 18 hour flight to LA. Land…get to Immigration. Dogs arse faced woman behind the desk is rude and aggressive. Tells me that my passport is wrong and according to her computer I lived in washington for 3 years. I correct her politely, and suggest her computer records are wrong. Next thing I know Im hauled off by two gimps and sat in an interview room for a hour and a half. Officer sittng with me asks why I am there…when I point out the woman concerned he shrugs and says “Oh her.” Eventually I get sick of this and insist on seeing the supervivisor. I show him my badge and explain Im here on Brit govt business, tell him that Ive never been treated so rudely, and tell him to call the Embassy. He looks shamefaced and admits that the officer concerned has a real attitude issue. I fill in a complaint, during which he admits Im the THIRD TOURIST THAT DAY to complain about her. WTF????

    Of course I go to collect my bag and now find that Customs have removed it. I go to fnd it and some bull necked twat gves me a lecture for not collecting it. Takes me to a room where my bag is wide open and all my gear is pled up like dirty washing in a student dorm.

    In steps the senior bloke, and kudos to him here. He apologises and explains the policy, which I say is fine…so why are my belongings strewn about in a room? He orders the bull neck to repack my bag immediately, and gives him a telling off for being rude and unhelpful, and for leaving my gear strewn about. I complete complaint form no 2 and go on my way.

    I just guess in the US you are conditioned to take more crap off airport dogsbodies than us Brits.

  16. says

    Ah, LAX….
    I have fond memories of being in an airplane that had to taxi around there for 45 min. after landing. We’d only had an 11 hour flight from Europe, so no-one was anxious to get out. Our captain, dutch and very polite, apologiced on behalf of LAX, for a while…. Then, after we had to back out of the gate that we’d finally pulled into (without anyone getting out), he got back on the PA-system, apologised again and told us exactly what he thought about the people running LAX.

  17. says

    I’m not conditioned to it!

    One of the poignant sets of details of life in The Waiting Room From Hell omitted-for-brevity –

    The core point of the woman in charge of controlling people in The Waiting Room From Hell was that THIS bus (and THIS one and THIS one and THIS one) was not the bus to T3 but the bus to American Eagle for places like San Diego and San Jose. Then as another bus approached she abruptly shouted “T3?!” – and we poor wanderers in the desert who were waiting for the bus to T3 all (only 4 or 5 of us, in fact) leaped to our feet and picked up our bags – only for The Woman In The Waiting Room From Hell to shout triumphantly, “No no this is not the bus for T3, I’m just cleaning out the room. It’s getting too full in here. Everybody who’s not waiting for T3 has to get out.” Then she started grilling everyone – “Where are you going?!” Everyone was going to either T3 or American Eagle. What the fuck else would anyone be doing? Who the fuck would go there because it’s a nice place to sit? (Citation: it’s not a nice place to sit. Furthermore, it’s down an escalator and hedged with confusing signage. It’s not a place people just wander into while cruising the terminal.)

    While she was doing the pseudo-ATF-offical interrogation, her colleague, a nicer and quieter fella who stood behind a desk (and spoke Spanish – the one bright spot in The Waiting Room From Hell was the arrival of a very broad – not fat, just broad – woman in I’m guessing Guatemalan [or perhaps Ecuadorian] dress with a long braid down her back and a gold tooth. seeking information; she and the man had a long cheerful conversation and she departed all smiles; she was on her way to Shanghai) – her colleague, I say, announced that the bus outside was the bus for T3. We T3ers, feeling abused, said no it isn’t. He said yes it is. I said – shouting rather – “then why did she just tell us it wasn’t?!” So he asked her and she shouted that it wasn’t, and then went back to trying to “clean out the room” of people who were there because they were waiting for the bus and that room was their only point of entry for that bus. (Needless to say, no one left because of her attempts at ablution.)

    Meanwhile, to update the plane portion of our narrative –

    The baby roared louder and louder. Then he cheered up once we landed (one of the bumpiest tippiest landings I’ve ever experienced) but a toddler took over from him and screamed unremittingly until the whole thing came to an end. I was in the last row and she was in the last but two, so…

  18. says

    You should try Miami airport. They don’t leave anything to chance there, the personnel have special intensive training courses to teach them how to be obnoxious, and to take so long about it that you miss your connecting flight.

  19. peterh says

    There’s a pretty neat bookstore at LAX. With a bookstore at hand, I can suffer many evils. And did that time through LAX.

  20. Ze says

    I went through LAX once on a trip to Asia. NEVER AGAIN! Subsequent trips have always been with careful assurance that I do not go through LAX.I agree with all the observations from the post.

    It almost feels like LAX is a showcase for a declining America.

  21. says

    Well, Richard, the staff at LAX must have had one of those employer-aided deals where they get a grant to attend the Miami Skool of Obnoxious Service.

  22. says

    Actually I should note one honorable exception: a couple of working stiffs in safety vests, one woman and one man, whom I asked about the mysterious T3 after I asked the cop who didn’t know – they were deep in colleague-chat when I accosted them and I thought they’d be surly, but they were both actively nice about giving me information. The professionals in clean uniforms were horrible, the two workers were really nice. I was already so browbeaten that I felt like throwing my arms around them. It was because I was thanking them that I imperfectly heard the instructions that someone else (who overheard us and stopped to elucidate) was giving me about infamous Gate 44.

    I noticed some ludicrous instruction about people flying Qantas in the basement of Gate 44, too – something about being available only 20 minutes per day and if you miss it you’re fucked so haha. I think it was then that I began to feel afraid.

  23. robindch says

    Sounds familiar.

    One wonders what people from Los Angeles feel when they land in Singapore. Apart from the great food, and wide, open, warm spaces and good shops, there are free cinemas, free wifi, and forms where passengers can vote for the most friendly customs and immigration staff. The place is a complete pleasure to travel through.

    I avoid LAX and LHR for exactly the opposite reasons.

  24. says

    Having family in LA, a pass through LAX every couple of years for the past 30. I guess I’m lucky I’ve always been changing planes there, only originating or terminating, because I’ve never had an experience that bad. Mind you, I have low expectations for airport experiences in general — at best, I’m off circadian schedule, being made to walk too far carrying too much, waiting in line, suffering official-in-uniform anxiety, sitting around being bored waiting for something to happen, maybe trying to find edible food, then consume same in awkward conditions. I really don’t relax until the plane reaches cruising altitude.

  25. Desert Son, OM says

    I sympathize.

    Other U.S. problem airports: Boston’s Logan (though it’s been awhile since I went through, so maybe the structural/environmental conditions have improved) and the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport.

    Once in DFW during a rainstorm, a section of ceiling gave way and a column of water (not a trickle, or leak, but a U.S. sit-com-style waterfall) poured down on a few of us seated in the boarding area (to be fair, structural problems are sometimes unforeseen, but it seems to me there’s a bit of a difference between “Hmm . . . a few drips of water might indicate a leak” and “My second shower of the day, just in time for my flight. If only I’d been able to undress for this one.”)

    The customer service problems with contemporary flight travel in the United States seem increasing.

    The only advice in the vicinity of Los Angeles I can offer – sadly post hoc – is, whenever convenient, book tickets to John Wayne airport in Orange County. I’ve found it to be a lovely facility, and in general, my experiences with smaller airports is proving better than with larger ones (Albuquerque is another where I’ve had – for the contemporary flight circumstances, anyway – good experiences). Of course, doing so may not be convenient for other travel once on the ground, so that may not be as helpful.

    Sorry to hear about the grim travel situation.

    Still learning,


  26. Desert Son, OM says

    By way of contrast, one of the best airports I’ve ever been in for both environment and customer service experience was Copenhagen. Lovely.

    Still learning,


  27. millicent says

    Working at LAX also sucks. I spent 3 miserable weeks there in the early 90s as employee of a now-defunct regional carrier. (I had transferred from San Jose, since my husband was starting school in LA.) It was awful. The employee parking lot is SO far away from the terminal that I would tack on an extra 45 minutes before my shift started, just in case (and needed every minute of it, several times). The terminal itself (or at least good ol’ Terminal 3, which is where I worked) was yucky, with really crappy amenities. The passengers were usually in a horrible mood, which I can’t blame them for, because the entire experience of being there was so demoralizing. I saw it in my supervisors there; they were by far the most beaten-down, angry, depressed people I’ve ever had to work with. Just awful, the entire airport.

    I escaped to Burbank, which is another SoCal option that sometimes works, depending on your trip. And is millions of times better than LAX.

  28. says

    Alas, that shuttle is not a temporary fix to a new Alaska vs American issue. I fly Alaska Air pretty regularly have had to ride on that thing btw terminals multiple times over the past 5-10 yrs and the experience you describe is exactly what I have experienced. One time about 30 of us were waiting for the shuttle and it took over 40 mins to show up…I very nearly missed my flight. They should let you know that 1.5 hours is not a long enough layover at that airport when you are booking flights because their fucking shuttle system is ridiculous. And the food blows. Chilis and McDs is all you can find. Don’t even get me started on the bathrooms.

  29. says

    No but the shuttle to Terminal 3 is new, isn’t it? The one that drives all the way around the back of the airport? And makes everyone climb 30 or 40 stairs with their luggage? I know the shuttle to American Eagle isn’t new, I’ve taken that before too (and it was nasty enough, but not as nasty as the T3 one).

    But yes; they don’t worry themselves about whether you’ll miss your flight or not. Take it or leave it. Here’s where the bus arrives, it will get here sometime, if it’s too late well you should have started a couple of days earlier, shouldn’t you. And by the way you’re cluttering up what could be a nice airy waiting room if only you people weren’t waiting in it.

  30. says

    And yes, the restrooms – a great long line out the door, because there are about 5 stalls, for some ten thousand people waiting in the hot fetid loud ugly nasty plague-ridden waiting area.

    And they gave me a cold!! And I have to fly to Manchester tomorrow!!! And give a talk on Saturday!!!! And be on a panel on Sunday!!!!!

  31. says

    Aah, LAX. The assholes who LOST PART OF MY WHEELCHAIR!

    (Yeah, okay, it was “only” a foot-rest, but when positioning is important…)

  32. SundogA says

    I never go through LAX. Just remember, you don’t have to use it – San Francisco is an international, so even from Sydney you can avoid LAX entirely.

  33. Peter UK says

    Screaming babies are one thing. Having one vomit down the back of its seat and thence through the gap and into your wife’s handbag is entirely another. A great start to our honeymoon…

    That was on the way from LHR to Nairobi, and of course no-one’s fault.

    My first taste of the US (and happily well below par) was the immigration hall at Dallas Fort Worth – pre-9/11 – where my colleague and I stood in very long, slow-moving queues edging towards booths which the immigration staff would desert without warning, forcing us to join the back of other equally long queues. All the while we were being screamed at by a guard of some sort, who warned us “not to cross that line. You will not cross that line. I will see to it that you do not cross that line until I SAY SO.” etc.

    It took well over two hours just to get past immigration control.

    To be fair, once we emerged with our luggage, our American host was there with a huge smile, a “hi y’all” and a massive stetson (“wow, people actually wear them”). He took as much of our baggage as he could humanly carry, organised everything and in very short order had us installed outside Billy Bob’s with a beer , watching guys and gals doing the two-step to a country band in the warm evening.

    When I returned to Dallas a year later they were failing to cope with an ice-storm, and, having landed, we sat in our plane on the apron about a hundred yards away from the terminal building for four hours, because there was no gate for us.

  34. Claire Ramsey says

    What a horrible business. I avoid LAX too. I hate it. But I have never been treated as badly as you were. And I am so so sorry you got a cold, which you probably got from the baby on the plane. Baby-toddler-preschooler germs are a lot more virulent than adult germs. What a goddamn horses ass. I often just begin involuntarily crying when I get near security at an airpot, cry softly as I wait in line, cry as I get patted down, and then while I am looking for a spot I can sit to put my shoes back on. With that preparation I am ready to get on the plane and face the other hells.

  35. says

    Ah what I do is not cry but swear steadily. I find myself swearing relentlessly in airports. I remember doing it almost non-stop at Schiphol, both times. I did it at first at Arlanda but then I stopped – Arlanda is actually pretty decent. I did it more than I can convey at LAX. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck – just a constant stream of it.

    I may not have a cold after all – I think I don’t. It would be more of one by now if I did…unless it’s very idiosyncratic. I’m thinking it’s just dehydration. Joy!

    It was the same in Orlando. I woke up with a weird hard pain at the back of my throat and thought “oh no” – but it went away.

  36. James says

    Now I can’t wait for the follow-up. The self-loathing we-can’t-do-anything-right-in-this-damn-country part of me is hoping for “The Airport from Hell – Part II: Heathrow/Manchester”, but the irrationally patriotic (and reality denying) part is hoping for “See LAX? Airports don’t have to be places that inspire live-action recreations of Edvard Munch paintings!”

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