Thursday, April 26, 2012

Flying to LA: Which airport to choose?

Everyone knows about LAX. It's the main international airport in the Los Angeles area and the safe bet for getting to LA. However, LAX isn't the only airport in LA and making smart choices about which airport you fly to can make your trip to Los Angeles easier.

What other airports are there?
In the Los Angeles area, there are five airports. Burbank (BUR), Long Beach (LGB), Ontario (ONT), and Orange County (SNA). Each of these has regular service on major carriers and in many cases can put you closer to where you need to be at about the same cost. Sometimes other airports like Long Beach are actually less expensive than LAX.

Where are they?
All of the airports are spaced through the area. Burbank is in the San Fernando valley (in the valley), just north of downtown LA. Long Beach to the south of downtown LA and is one of the closest airports to Disneyland. Orange County is closer still to Disneyland (the airport of choice for this destination) and farther still from downtown LA. Ontario to the east of downtown LA. You can see a map with all of them here.

Which one do I choose?
Where to go depends on where you need to go, the price of tickets, and how you plan to get around.  The LA/Ontario airport has a great little tool to help make that decision if you are driving. Just type in your address, and you can see driving time to all of the airports side-by-side. Metro also has a simplified map that shows what buses run to and from the airports to different destinations in LA. After the break, we'll have a quick overview of my take on the pros and cons of each of the airports.

Los Angeles (LAX): LAX International Airport
The default airport for Los Angeles. It's big. It's busy. It's everything that you've come to expect about air travel today. LAX isn't a bad choice, but it does come with all the draw backs of being the main hub in LA.

Pros: Most flights from any place in the country and easiest connections to international destinations. Great for getting to Santa Monica and the FlyAway Bus has made it much easier to get to and from the airport without a car. $7 will get you from the airport to downtown Los Angeles in comfort and about an hour.
Cons: Busiest airport in LA, which also means the longest lines and most hassle. Named one of the worst airports in America.
Transit Options: There are lots of buses that run from LAX. Santa Monica, Hollywood, and Downtown are all only one bus ride away.

Burbank (BUR): Bob Hope International Airport
List of non-stop destinations from Burbank Bob Hope Airport.
Burbank is my airport of choice when flying to LA. It's a small airport set inside of a suburban community where you still walk outside on the tarmac to get to your plane. It's about as low stress as you can get.

Pros: Barely any lines to wait in anywhere, coming or going. Very small and friendly scale. Transit is a short walk away and there is a free shuttle to the downtown Burbank metrolink station. Driving to downtown LA or Hollywood is easier here than from LAX.
Cons: Reserve a rental car ahead of time. Rental agencies here run low on cars early in the week due to high demand.
Transit Options: The suburban rail stops about a block away from the airport and goes directly to Union Station, but do not run all the time to the actual Burbank Airport stop. Buses connect the airport to the Red Line subway which goes to Hollywood and a free shuttle runs to downtown Burbank which has more transit options. If you are renting a car, BUR has easy access to northern LA.

Long Beach (LGB): Long Beach Airport
List of non-stop destinations from Long Beach Airport
Long Beach Airport is south of Los Angeles along the ocean. It's also a suburban airport, but more isolated than Burbank airport. If you are going to that area or south east LA, this is a good choice, especially if you plan to rent a car.

Pros: Cheap and few lines to deal with. 10 miles closer to Disneyland than LAX (which can make a big difference when traffic hits).
Cons: Older. Currently being remodeled.
Transit Options: There are three buses that provide frequent service and will allow you to connect with the LA metro. If you are going to the tourist sights, LGB is pretty far from places like Hollywood or Santa Monica.

Orange County (SNA): John Wayne Airport 
List of non-stop destinations from John Wayne Airport
You might as well call this the Disneyland Airport. It's the closest to the resort and the Disneyland Express bus runs there every hour for $15 per adult (or $80 for a family up to 5). The airport isn't convenient at all for any of the major sights in Los Angeles, but for Disneyland this is the easiest airport to fly into.

Pros: Disneyland is close by and there are inexpensive shuttles to get you there. If you're coming for that, it's much cheaper to use the shuttles than rent a car that you won't use.
Cons: Not close to other sights in Los Angeles.
Transit Options: There are several buses that run from the airport, but getting to Los Angeles proper is time consuming. One of the more interesting destinations that you can get to by bus from here is Laguna Beach and that area of the coast.

Ontario (ONT): LA/Ontario International Airport
List of non-stop destinations from LA/Ontario International Airport
LA/Ontario International Airport (which earns the "International" from Guadalajara being on the list) is a modern airport about 40 miles east of downtown LA. Compared with LAX, the airport is easier to drive to and is very car friendly. If you are headed to the eastern side of LA and renting a car, this can be a good option.

Pros: New terminals and hassle free travel. Located easily off of the highway.
Cons: Difficult public transit options and far from most destinations.
Transit Options: There are buses that can get you to the metrolink station, but it's about 2.5 hours to LA by transit from this airport. That's the longest of any of the other airports.

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