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Compare and Contrast: Which of Los Angeles' Five Airports Sucks the Least?

March 12, 2014 at 10:24 AM | by | ()

When it comes to Los Angeles travel, all airports are not created equal.

Although most travelers know of LAX, the area actually boasts five major airports, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, WiFi policies, and paparazzi specialties. And you can bet frequent flyers to the left coast feel loyalty for the airports nearly as much as the airlines.

For example, our Editor Cynthia loves Long Beach for its slick looks and tech friendliness. On the flip side, HotelChatter Editor and LA resident Juliana pledges allegiance to the flexibility and fancy upgrades of LAX. Contributor Andy swears by SNA, and Jaunted friend The Sterling Traveler seconds the Long Beach fascination.

What? No love for Burbank or Ontario International? Having sampled all five airports in our travels, it's time to compare and contrast:

LAX - Los Angeles International Airport

Free WiFi? It's not the best, but it's there. Ad-supported complimentary internet is available throughout LAX, but "premium access" starts at $4.95. Good luck finding a working power outlet.
Driving distance to Hollywood: 30-60 minutes (best for Downtown LA, Central LA, Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan Beach)
Airlines: There’s a ton, listed on the official website, but all the major US carriers fly to LAX.
Average economy transcon airfare: $330

· Lots of variety with airlines and routes.
· A healthy selection of airport hotels (our favorite is Custom Hotel), and rental car companies with competitive rates.
· A first choice for flights to Australia, Oceania, and much of Asia.
· The renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) is pure awesome. Inside are new shops, updated dining options, fresh technology, and the sprawling Star Alliance Lounge (with outdoor space!).
· Airlines are updating their fleets and putting some of their shiniest new planes on LAX routes. Examples are American Airlines and JetBlue’s new A321s to New York, LAN’s 787 to Santiago and Lima, British Airways’ A380 to London, and the eventual addition of United’s 787-9 flights to Melbourne.

· Traffic.
· The rental car company pick-up desks are often complete clusterf*cks. (hello, 3-hour line)
· Can be confusing for occasional or infrequent travelers who need to change flights which may require changing airlines and/or terminals.
· An abysmal power outlet situation.
· Terminals (except for TBIT) are in need of some updating and TLC.
· Occasionally lines for security and full-service check-in get very long.
· Paparazzi like to lurk outside of baggage claim (which may be a plus, if you’re a celeb-spotter).

LGB - Long Beach Airport

Free WiFi? Yes, unlimited, and it’s relatively fast too. Plenty outlets near the gates, with bar-height seating.
Driving distance to Hollywood: 40 - 75 minutes (best for Long Beach, Anaheim/Disneyland, Rancho Palos Verdes)
Airlines: Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, US Airways
Avg transcon airfare: $270

· It is crazy gorgeous. Like, who knew a US airport could be this nice? Dare we call it a “boutique” experience, but we'd be tempted to hang out here on a regular day if it wasn't, you know, an airport.
· Long Beach Airport’s good looks are thanks to a complete modernization of the terminal, completed just over a year ago. This introduced several restaurants and food vendors focusing on healthy, local cuisine.
· A palm-tree-lined outdoor space and fire pit provides sunshine and fresh air beyond security, and is open to all passengers.
· Rental car pick-up and drop-off are a snap.
· Since LGB is a hub for JetBlue, there are often excellent airfare deals here. Like, one time we flew here from Chicago for $45 one-way, but $145 is a more realistic price.
· Free WiFi and plentiful plugs, which is basically the most basic need of a modern traveler in an airport.
· There’s only 11 gates and limited flights per day, so lines are rarely long and the terminal hardly crowded.

· No international routes.
· It’s mostly a JetBlue playground, which is actually a plus if you're a JetBlue fan.

BUR - Bob Hope/Burbank Airport

Free WiFi? Yes, unlimited.
Driving distance to Hollywood: 20-35 minutes (best for Burbank, North Hollywood, Hollywood, Studio City, Van Nuys, Beverly Hills, Pasadena)
Airlines: Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, SeaPort, Southwest, United, US Airways
Avg transcon airfare: $320

· Proximity to North Hollywood, and the studios of Universal City and Studio City.
· Free WiFi—woo!
· It’s a small, but lively airport with robust rental car offerings and a surprisingly nice nearby Marriott (fire pits! two pools!).
· There’s both a new transportation center and mini aviation history museum in construction. The airport was home to Lockheed’s factory (which had to be camouflaged during World War II), Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra and, more recently, it’s where Angelina Jolie learned to fly her Cirrus SR22.

· Gate areas and check-in need updating.
· No international routes, and not convenient to LAX if you're attempting to connect from BUR to LAX (which is a horrible idea in the first place).
· It’s a long drive through LA traffic if your ultimate destination is Disneyland.

ONT - Ontario International Airport

Free WiFi? Yes, but only for two hours per device, per day.
Driving distance to Hollywood: 55-90 minutes. (best for Ontario, Chino, Rancho Cucamonga, Pomona, San Bernardino, and nearest major LA-area airport to Palm Springs)
Airlines: Aeromexico, Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United, US Airways
Avg transcon airfare: $370

· Proximity to LA’s eastern suburbs.
· A good, but not great, variety of airlines and routes.
· Affordable short- and medium-distance airfares with Southwest’s several routes.
· It starred in ‘Catch Me If You Can,' subbing for Miami Airport.

· Far from Central LA and the other LA-area airports.
· Domestic airfares that are generally slightly pricier than LAX.
· It’s not old, nor is it the newest thing. In fact, it’s a pretty meh airport in general.

SNA - John Wayne/Orange County Airport

Free WiFi? Yes, ad-supported.
Driving distance to Hollywood: 65-120 minutes (best for Huntington Beach, Anaheim/Disneyland, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo).
Airlines: Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Interjet, Southwest, United, US Airways, WestJet
Avg transcon airfare: $370

· Proximity to the moneyed communities south of LA, along the coast, if that's your destination.
· A secondary airport option aside from LGB, for easy driving to Disneyland.
· It's a spacious, updated airport with none of LAX's crowds or frenetic activity.
· A good variety of domestic routes on US airlines.
· A statue of John Wayne in the terminal makes for a good photo moment.
· [From SNA frequent flyer Andy: "It's a generally relaxed experience from drop off to takeoff. Rarely a line at security. Fun takeoff experience due to noise ordinance. Pilots take off at full power then, shortly reduce power to the engines causing a slight dip. Some pilots will even warn about this so people don't freak out. Of course, this could be considered a minus, but not for an #avgeek."]

· Far from LA proper, if Los Angeles is your focus.
· Very few nonstop flights from anywhere east of the Mississippi.
· Pricey area means pricier rental cars and, well, pricier everything.
· [From SNA frequent flyer Andy: "Because it's Orange County, the first class cabin is usually completely sold out, so chances of an upgrade are slim. Not many quick food options other than the standard McDonald's, Starbucks and Subway."]

Agree with our take? Share your LA airport of choice in the comments!

[Photos: brendangates, Jaunted, psimac, Jaunted, Jaunted, theglauber]

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