How to deal with LAX if you absolutely must

Illustration of suitcase with Christmas lights
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

This story is part of a package on holiday travel.

Not every trip can be a road trip. For Americans determined to travel long distances in the weeks ahead, braving the airport is part of the package. To minimize the COVID-19 risks, there’s a lot to keep track of.

  • Get dropped off or pay extra to park within walking distance of your terminal. That way you don’t have to board a shuttle bus or use a rideshare vehicle or taxi. Many airports are doing extra work to cleanse their shuttles. LAX says its shuttles are disinfected three times a day. But your life is simpler with no shuttle buses in it.
  • Arrive early to avoid congestion at flight check-in and the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint.
  • Go nuts with hand sanitizer. At LAX, hundreds of hand-sanitizer stations have been installed.
  • Also at LAX, kiosk touchscreens and other high-touch areas are sanitized with disinfectant.
  • You can expect TSA agents to wear a mask and gloves and to mostly keep their hands off your stuff to reduce transmission risks. But they still have to be sure of your identification. Before you reach the X-ray machine, a TSA agent will ask you to lower your mask for a moment to compare your face to the picture on your ID.
  • After you clear security, stop to sanitize your carry-on items. No matter how many precautions TSA agents take, there’s no telling what’s on those trays and conveyor belts.
  • On Nov. 17, LAX launched a pilot program of COVID-19 testing sites at three terminals as a precursor to opening an on-site rapid-testing lab in the first week of December. The PCR-type tests, priced at $150, come with promises of results within 24 hours. The testing is at Terminals 2 and 6 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
  • Don’t expect all shops and restaurants to be open. When I flew from LAX to Honolulu in mid-October, most restaurants at both terminals were closed, as was the ATM at LAX Terminal 5.
  • LAX travelers can use to order food and drink they can pick up without waiting in line or physical contact. The program includes more than 25 restaurants and snack spots. In Terminal 1, it includes California Pizza Kitchen, Urth Caffé & Bar and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
  • It won’t be easy to find seating in terminal waiting areas. Even though the number of people flying is way down from last year, social distancing means seating areas fill fast. In many cases it’s not a matter of airports taping off seats; it’s travelers using their possessions to mark territory.
  • It’s mostly business as usual at LAX bathrooms. The airport’s protocols call for hourly cleaning of every bathroom, using virus and bacteria-killing disinfectants. Travelers should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • TSA agents have a more dangerous job these days. As of Nov. 3, 2,425 TSA employees nationwide had tested positive for COVID-19. Of that number, eight have died.