Monday, November 4, 2013

What LAX Lacks: My Terminal 1 Departure Story

My wife flew to LA via LAX on October 27th to attend a conference. I flew out on Thursday so we could have a long weekend get-away in Laguna Beach at Casa Laguna Inn and Spa. I flew into LAX Terminal 1 on Southwest Airlines on Halloween. Since I decided not to check any luggage, I quickly and easily made my way to my wife who was waiting for me with a rental car. My impression of LAX at this point was, "Wow, what is it about this airport that people complain about?"

Fortunately, I didn't fly in on Friday when some lunatic decided to take a rifle to LAX and start shooting TSA employees.

After dropping the rental car off on Sunday, my wife and I rode the shuttle to Terminal 1. There was an obvious increased police presence at the main road entrance to the airport.

We each did have luggage to check for the return flight to Houston, so we entered Terminal 1 where we came face-to-face with a huge mass of humanity. We finally found what we were pretty sure was the line to get to the check-in agents. To their credit, a Southwest Airlines employee did walk by telling us to go to a different line since we already had boarding passes. When we got to the new line to enter check-in, we had to convince a different employee that someone told us to move to this line.  Fortunately, this employee allowed us to pass. The line for baggage check-in was not too long, perhaps a 10-minute wait.

When we got our luggage tags, instead of the agent taking our bags, we were instructed to carry our bags back out of the check-in area and deliver them to the TSA Baggage X-Ray Screening area. When we got to this area, there were no TSA employees to tell anyone what to do, so we just slid our luggage under a velvet rope and hoped that we would one day be reunited with our bags, clothing, and personal hygiene products.

So far, not too bad. Next stop, security screening.

We were instructed to go back outside the terminal building and join a very long line of people waiting on the sidewalk to re-enter the terminal for security check-in. This line moved fairly quickly, adding about 10 more minutes to our experience.

Once we re-entered the terminal, we went through one of those rat-mazes of velvet ropes just to get to the stairs.  Small groups were being allowed to walk up the stairs toward what we assumed to be the security screening area.

Once it was our turn to ascend the stairs, we encountered a second set of velvet rope rat-mazes.  However, we were instructed to climb a different set of stairs to go to a different security screening area. At the top of these stairs, we then walked down a long corridor until we reached a small room with four chutes. At last, we see two TSA agents actually doing security screening!

After passing the ID and boarding pass check, we entered an area with the metal detectors and whole-body scanners. As luck would have it, these TSA agents were in good spirits and we passed back into the area from which we had detoured earlier at the top of the stairs.

This whole process, from being dropped off by the car rental shuttle to actually entering the departure area of the terminal, took almost one hour. We (wisely) had decided to arrive at the airport three hours before our flight. So far, we were in good shape. We relaxed with an adult beverage and watched part of the Dallas Cowboys vs Minnesota Vikings game.

About an hour before our departure time, we picked up some deli sandwiches and made our way to the gate area. This was a sight to behold. There were so many people in this small terminal area you could barely walk through.  We found our departure gate at last, and began our wait for departure.

A different departing flight was scheduled for our gate at 1:40 pm.  Our departure time from the same gate was 2:00 pm.  It was going to be interesting to see how this was going to work.  At the same time, at a gate entrance about 10 feet away from our gate entrance, another flight was boarding. People were packed into every space available so that arriving passengers had to push their way through.  At last, these flights boarded and left, and our plane, which was waiting on the tarmac all this time, pulled up to the gate.

Our boarding process was surprisingly quick and efficient. By now, the terminal area had quite a bit fewer people in it.  We left only about 20 minutes behind schedule. Amazing!

We arrived at Houston Hobby about 20 minutes behind schedule.  

The final insult:  It took our luggage almost an hour to appear so we could go home.

It's good to be home!

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