Airports in L.A. can’t just be airports. They have to be insanely busy, have famous names attached, or be far away.
Nothing strikes dread in -- and draws groaning out of -- Angelenos like being asked to drive someone to the airport. The dread happens instantly because people fear the requested airport might be Los Angeles International Airport, aka LAX -- which we always articulate not by saying “lacks,” but by spelling out as if to a listener in denial. The groaning happens when we find out it is LAX. Getting there and getting back is a pain in the ass. Like everything else here, the airport is conveniently located only to people who happen to live near it.
People in Los Angeles have strong feelings about taking someone to LAX, and about asking someone to take them to LAX, yet you can’t tell much about these people by their attitudes on these subjects. Such people run the spectrum. I know one person, a very nice guy, who has proclaimed that he has a standing refusal to take anyone to any airport, ever. Then there’s me, also a purportedly nice fellow, who seems to be schlepping to LAX every few months or so, because I have a number of good friend who think nothing of asking me for a ride, because, I guess, they think it’s nothing. Yet I have a number of friends who never ask me to take them to LAX. They must think it’s akin to asking someone for a kidney.
The airport itself is actually a remarkable achievement considering what a perceived mess it is. Driving through it for passenger pick-up and drop-off, while not enjoyable, is actually pretty painless. Getting through security is relatively easy unless one flies during a holiday weekend. LAX’s percentage of on-time flights is among the highest in the country. And its Jetsons-inspired Theme Building is an elegant example of city architecture, except for the fact that it will be closed indefinitely for structural repairs.
Los Angeles has to be the international air travel capital of the world. LAX is the busiest, or fourth-busiest, or fifth-busiest airport in the world, depending on which measure you’re looking at. We have four outlying airports that are ranked in the top 20% in the nation in terms of volume. And Van Nuys Airport is the busiest general aviation airport in the world, by every measure, apparently. (The lengths people go to in order to avoid driving in this city, really.)
As our outlying areas keep growing in population, our outlying airports keep gaining in popularity. Of course, we can’t leave things well enough alone in L.A. without the celebrity factor. There’s a busy airport in Burbank that the locals call Burbank Airport because it seems logical, even though that’s never been its official name. Then a few years ago it became Bob Hope Airport, because Bob Hope died that year and having a street named after him, having a public square named after him, and having deeds to who knows how many acres of the San Fernando Valley wasn’t enough justice, apparently. The airport in Santa Ana was renamed after John Wayne in 1979 because he lived nearby -- and died that year. That airport was in danger of going down a dark alley of shame when a thoughtful, hardworking member of the County Board of Supervisors wanted to rename the airport after The O.C., the TV show, but he withdrew his suggestion after too many complaints.
Then there are the airports not named after famous people. The one in Long Beach is named Daugherty Airport, after the “famous” barnstorming pilot, Earl S. Daugherty. I guess there haven’t been any major movie stars living in the area, ever. Oxnard Airport is just called Oxnard Airport. I guess their County Board of Supervisors has better things to do than go around asking local celebrities if they’d like the airport renamed in their honor. Ontario Airport, in the Inland Empire east of L.A., has actually been renamed LA/Ontario International Airport, so as to entice more people to fly there. I don’t know how much of an enticement that could possibly be, but then again, if I were in charge of anything in the Inland Empire, I’d try anything I could think of. Frankly, they’d probably have more luck naming it after one of their own regional celebrities. Wouldn’t you fly to Jessica Alba Airport once just so you could say you landed on her?
The square mileage of greater L.A. is so absurd and traffic so congested that outlying airports offer flights to LAX. United Express offers daily flights, none more than 50 miles, between Santa Ana, Ontario, and Oxnard Airports and LAX. The idea of an L.A. resident flying to LAX is so appealing that more of us would be inclined to do it if traffic to Santa Ana, Ontario, and Oxnard weren’t so god-awful. Still, I’d like to fly in from one of those airports to LAX someday -- to pick someone up at the airport. That way, when they ask me where I parked, I could say, “Oxnard. We have to get to Terminal 8 quick so we can make the 8:20 flight.” I’d do it just to see the look on their face.
And then, there’s Palmdale Airport, in the desert about an hour north of L.A. If our airports were a litter of dogs, Palmdale Airport would surely be the runt. In 2005, its last full year with commercial service, it ranked 549th in the nation -- out of 554 commercial airports. Three airlines have attempted commercial service out of Palmdale Airport. All failed. United Express is attempting to become the fourth. This month, it began commercial service to San Francisco. It’s going balls to the wall with the enterprise, launching with not one, but two daily nonstops.
Furthermore, the airport is overshadowed by Edwards Air Force Base, where people drive from hundreds of miles away just to watch the space shuttle land. Such is the irony of air travel in Antelope Valley. It’s either short commercial flights that few people want, or trips into outer space that few people can take.
But none of these airports is my favorite. My favorite airport is so far away from L.A. that it couldn’t be considered an outlying airport, even if it offered commercial air service. About a half hour north of Palmdale Airport is Mojave Airport, where there is no commercial air service, yet dozens of commercial jets. Mojave Airport is known for its storage capacity. On any given day, one can drive out to this quiet patch of desert and see any number of planes from a variety of airlines all lined up, getting dusty. Pictures don’t do it justice; they can’t help but look Photoshopped. It is one of the most delightfully strange things I have ever seen.
Now that’s an airport I’d be happy to drive someone to.
L.A. Nuts is a weekly look at the cast of characters that make up this city.