Column: This is not a defense of LAX. It’s a love letter

Illustration of an LAX sign in front of a backdrop of the L.A. skyline with a plane overhead.
How much does Mary McNamara love LAX? Let her count the ways
(Los Angeles Times illustration; Times photos, Getty Images)

Due to an ill-timed high school basketball event (who came up with the idea of a tournament beginning Dec. 26?), our family had to nix our plans to travel this Christmas.

In attempts to console me, several friends offered what they considered a silver lining: “At least you won’t have to deal with LAX,” they said. Which only sunk me deeper into gloom.

Unlike many other citizens of the world, I do not hate LAX. I — yes, I’ll risk public censure and say it — actually love LAX.


I will admit that some of this is psychological: I like to travel and LAX is my local airport. So even with the traffic, the site of those illuminated pylons instantly evokes a sense of adventure and excitement.

But beyond that, I love the airport for itself.

Much of what people say they hate about LAX seems to boil down to aesthetics and the fact that it is an airport. In Los Angeles. Yes, there will be traffic. Where in Los Angeles is there not traffic? It is also a very big city — L.A. County has more people than most states — so there will also be lines and crowds.

But LAX does a remarkably good job at getting people on planes. Which is all I ask of an airport.

The main objection to LAX centers on the horseshoe shape of its layout. But I love the horseshoe. Love. It.

For a brief moment, let’s step into the multiverse of California air travel.

July 14, 2022

Granted, the second busiest airport in the nation, built in a sprawling, car-dependent city and perpetually under construction, often feels like a steel trap for traffic, especially during the holidays.

I have been trapped in the molten lava of a thousand brake lights, quarter-inching along the arrivals level while somewhere, from a not-too-distant curb, my home-for-the-holidays child texts “MOM. WHERE ARE YOU?” at three-minute intervals. I have sat, virtually parked, on the overpass leading into departures secure in the bile-churning knowledge that I will miss my flight if I don’t get out of this car as soon as it is safe and run.


Which I have done.

Because the very best, most amazing, truly wonderful thing about LAX is that unlike most major airports, its terminals are all within walking (or running) distance of each other.

That’s what a horseshoe will get you: In the land where no one ever walks, you can leg it from the ends — Terminal 1 or 2 — to its apex — the Tom Bradley International Terminal — or cut across the middle in 20 minutes or less.

This is, obviously, more difficult to do if you have mobility issues or a bunch of toddlers and/or luggage in tow. But how reassuring to know that if you mistakenly get out at the wrong terminal, you need not burst into tears while searching wildly for an airport shuttle bus to get to the correct one. You can simply walk.

The horseshoe also means that if you are picking up an able-bodied adult or teen at, say, Terminal 5, you do not have to round the horn to park in the corresponding lot. You can park pretty much anywhere and walk. Or make them walk. I mean, you are picking them up from the airport.

I cannot tell you how much time and grief this has saved me and my family.

There are also many times when the LAX traffic is not terrible; the morning of the Monday after Thanksgiving, for example, it was almost nonexistent. Many of the airport parking lots offer pre-booking (with discounts!) so you don’t have to waste time finding a space. Many international airports have better public transportation options, but after years of delays, the 2028 Olympics is forcing L.A. to finally get serious about it.

California political leaders hope to leverage the 2028 Olympics to infuse billions of federal dollars into Los Angeles transit projects.

June 15, 2022

We do need one of those car-rental terminals, though — renting a car at LAX is not fun.

It’s easy to complain about the long lines, but it’s not LAX’s fault if airlines leave whole swaths of their counters unmanned. (For those who may not have used them before, the ticketing and baggage kiosks really will save you time.)


If you really hate lines, you can fly out of Burbank, or Ontario, or Long Beach, but depending on where you’re going, there’s a pretty good chance you will pay more for the ticket and/or have a connecting flight. (That said, I am a huge fan of the Hollywood Burbank airport.)

But what about those sparkling amenities at other airports, you ask? Why can’t we have a major shopping plaza, five-star restaurants, two-story waterfalls or an indoor garden in L.A.?

Because you do not go to an airport to shop, dine or wander through a sylvan landscape, that’s why. You go to an airport to get on a plane.

With the exception of Tom Bradley, the interior of LAX is remarkably utilitarian. Unlike other American cities that have spent millions adding trees, fountains, rocking chairs, play centers — and in the case of Portland, an actual Main Street — LAX leans heavily on Hudson News, uncomfortable seating and fast food. Oh, there are bright spots — Lemonade, a mini farmers market, taco “trucks” and some high-end stores (include Spanx, which always makes me laugh — welcome to L.A.; don’t forget your Spanx). But it’s far from the travel wonderland of, say, Dallas/Fort Worth (fourth busiest airport in U.S.), Charlotte (10th busiest), or JFK (sixth busiest).

On the other hand, Dallas/Fort Worth, with its Skylink trains and 7-Elevens, feels more like an indoor city than an airport, and it recently took me so long to get from my gate to the taxi stand at JFK that I called the friend I was visiting to ask how the hell you get out of this airport. “Just keep walking,” she advised.

The popularity of private jets among the 1% has made Van Nuys Airport a critical hub. It’s bathing the surrounding communities in noise and fumes.

Oct. 20, 2022

I don’t want a slew of shops and restaurants and spa experiences taking up a ton of space at an airport. Those things say to me: “Relax, you’re going to be here a while.” I want to spend as little time as possible in any airport.

Also who relaxes when they’re flying anyway?

As someone who has traveled with small children and adults with limited mobility, I agree that airports should be comfortable for all ages and abilities. (For the sake of transparency, I do have an American Airlines credit card that allows me use of its lounge when flying American, which is lovely.) But I prefer an airport to be manageable, an airport in which the terminals are not miles apart and I am not required to take four moving sidewalks, a tram and four more moving sidewalks just to get to my gate.


I’m not saying I would object to a few sofas at LAX, and if it were up to me, there would be a Pret a Manger in every terminal. But even with the nonstop construction, LAX is comfortable enough. For an airport. Which it is.

The lines for food may be long but you can pre-order from many places — including the Coffee Bean in Terminal 1! There may not be enough seats at your gate, but there are bound to be some at another one nearby; the new self-service customs kiosks in Tom Bradley usually keep the lines manageable; and See’s candy is available pretty much every five feet.

How bad can anything be when See’s candy is available every five feet?

The first cars for Los Angeles International Airport’s electric people mover arrived this week, heralding a milestone for the $2-billion project that’s expected to be completed by 2023.

Aug. 2, 2022

Also, there are so many rehauls in the works, including that long-awaited People Mover, that by the time the Olympics come to town, we probably won’t recognize the place.

But LAX, I promise to love you still.