At least once a year I will travel back to the United States to visit my family on the East Coast. Until Air NZ’s recent reveal of direct flight from Auckland to New York, this has always meant a stop somewhere on either the West Coast or the middle of the USA in order to reach my final destination. LAX has been my airport of choice 90% of the time…not because it’s so wonderful, but because there are more options and therefore better prices to be had.
My experiences through LAX have ranged from tragic to breezy and everything in between. This time was one of those "in between" moments where things went smoothly, but slowly. While some things are changing, a lot has remained the same. They’ve upgraded their declaration system from arrivals cards handed out on your aircraft to computer kiosks with touch screens that take your photo and fingerprints. This definitely speeds things up from a security perspective, but one is still required to take their printed ticket to a customs officer and it seemed like there was a dreadful lack of staff working to service the multiple planes that just arrived at 6am. This slowed the process significantly, which otherwise would have been massively expedited by these machines.
To be fair though, waiting in line at security and customs meant that as I entered the baggage claim hall, I was able to walk to the carousel to find my luggage conveniently drifting up the conveyor belt to meet me. Previous occasions where I sped through customs meant standing around waiting that same length of time for my bags to arrive. It really is a case of six of one, half dozen of the other. You’re going to wait about the same amount of time regardless of where you are.
The final push to exit the airport (or transit as is often the case) is the massive, jumbled and completely disorganised queue to leave the baggage hall. Without any sense of order, people line up randomly behind one another in a queue that stretches from one end of the baggage claim area to the other. It’s a mish-mash of luggage-laden, sleep-deprived zombies shuffling along one behind the other because it seems the right thing to do. Best advice, just get in this line and shuffle along with everyone. Be patient and courteous—I saw a fight nearly break out when one passenger thought another was trying to jump the queue when he was really just trying to reach his wife and kid. Everyone is tired and fuses are short, but we’re all moving in the same direction (quite literally) and this too will pass! If you’ve nothing to declare, they wave you through without a second look and you can either hang a left to head out into daylight or a right to transit. The transit area is well-sign posted so it’s easy to know where you need to go and it’s accompanied by a staff member who can direct you if you’re confused.
If you’re staying in LA, the Uber/Lyft/Other Rideshare companies have been moved away from the main terminals in order to help with traffic congestion. I honestly couldn’t see a difference but they say it’s an improvement. In order to access this area there is a free shuttle, impossible to miss, that will take you there. It’s about a 5-10 minute bus ride. Once arrived you can hail your Uber (or other preferred rideshare company) and wait under the covered tents. It’s a little bizarre and almost feels like a weird, deserted farmers market, but it works and I got an Uber within a few minutes.
The minimum connection time for transit passengers is 2 hours and I would strongly recommend giving yourself a little more time than this if possible, but of course we can help you navigate that!