The New LAX

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“Got any Vegemite in there? Tim Tams?”

 It’s unlikely I’d be trying to smuggle Australia’s famous yeast spread and its favourite chocolate biscuits through Customs at Los Angeles International Airport, though who knows? There’s a big Aussie expat presence in LA, and a likely dearth of the salty black stuff.

But the Customs officer is smiling, just showing off his knowledge of Australian travellers as he waves me through the inspection point on my most recent visit to his city.

It’s fair to say that LAX has a poor reputation among travellers. For years its long queues, dingy terminal buildings and minimal facilities were an ordeal for those using the Californian airport as their gateway to the USA.

Upon disembarking, the lines can still be long and confusingly organised, but the immigration and customs officers seem more welcoming than a decade ago.

It’s while waiting for a flight out of LAX that you notice vast improvements in the passenger experience, courtesy of an $8.5 billion dollar modernisation program which has been underway over the past few years.

Beyond check-in at the Tom Bradley International Terminal is a much brighter interior, featuring a so-called ‘Great Hall’ with a vast array of shopping and dining outlets.

 

 

 

As a devotee of light packing, I’m not at all interested in shopping at airports. Still, if you enjoy a spot of retail therapy to kill time before departure, there’s now plenty of opportunity – among fashion icons with a shopfront here are Armani, Hugo Boss, Bulgari and local hero Fred Segal.

Dining is more my thing, and there’s now a broad selection of eating outlets at LAX: including Umami Burger, sushi bar Luckyfish, Mexican eatery Border Grill, and the Petrossian Caviar and Champagne Bar (in case you want to eat like a Russian oligarch).

If you are a Russian oligarch, or aspiring to their income levels and can afford to fly in Business or First Class, there are some excellent new lounges within the terminal.

One of the most impressive is the Los Angeles Business Lounge, operated by Qantas and serving passengers of Qantas, Cathay Pacific and British Airways. It’s a vast, mood-lit space with various areas for work or relaxation, and a focal circular lounge around a mock fireplace lifted straight from the 1960s.

If you’re transferring to or from a domestic flight you’ll note further improvements in the eight domestic terminals. A common factor is the addition of shopping and dining outlets, and an upcoming passenger walkway will link Terminal 4 to the international terminal.

Additional to the modernisation process has been the airport’s recent decision to allow app-driven transport services Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers from LAX, pending regulatory paperwork.

Other non-taxi means of getting to and from LAX include the FlyAway airport bus (www.lawa.org/FlyAway), and the $1 Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica (www.bigbluebus.com). Another cheap public transport option is free shuttle bus ‘G’ to/from Aviation/LAX station, on LA’s Metro rail network (www.metro.net).

The only sad note at LAX is the recent closure of the restaurant in the centrally-located Theme Building, a landmark 1961 Googie-style structure that resembles a spaceship from The Jetsons.

 

 

Apparently it fell foul of the increased security screening of recent years, as passengers were no longer willing to dine there and possibly miss their flight if they lingered over dessert.

However, the Theme Building’s observation deck is still open to the public, from 8am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. If you have the time, you can take to the deck and hear (to quote the lyrics of LA International Airport) “the big jet engines roar”.

For updates on the ongoing modernisation work at LAX, visit here.

Tim Richards paid for his own airfare, and was hosted by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board


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