L.A. Mayor says LAX will lift ban on UberX and Lyft pickups

 Ready to take an UberX from LAX? It should soon be allowed. Photo: Uber. 

Ready to take an UberX from LAX? It should soon be allowed. Photo: Uber. 

Passengers arriving at Los Angeles International Airport will be able to hail ride-sharing cars operated by UberX and Lyft as soon as this summer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday in his state of the city address. 

This is big news for travelers, who have not been able to use ride-sharing apps from LAX since January 2014. The popular services stopped allowing LAX pickups when airport police stepped up enforcement of rules governing what services may access the terminal roadway. LAX is allowed to make its own guidelines for its roadways, and for now, those rules essentially keep rideshare drivers from picking up passengers. Those rules protect taxis and private car services, which pay big money to LAX for the right to operate there.

In January 2014, before rides were halted, a police source told me that airport police had issued 200 citations and arrested two UberX drivers over a roughly month-long period. 

There are different rules for dropoffs, so UberX and Lyft drivers still may bring passengers to LAX. 

I don't think Garcetti has said exactly how the new LAX system pickup will work. But my guess is that it will be similar to what has happened in San Francisco. There, the airport is using geofence technology to monitor movements of ride-share drivers. The technology ensures the the ride-sharing companies pay a fee of $3.85 to the airport for each pickup. 

I take a lot of taxis home from LAX, so for me, this can't happen soon enough. For now, UberX rides are considerably cheaper than taxis, though I am not sure this will always be the case. But I also usually find UberX is a more pleasant experience. 

What do you think? Are you excited to take UberX from LAX?

LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal Wins LEED Gold Certification

 The new international terminal at LAX has won LEED Green certification. Photos: Fentress.

The new international terminal at LAX has won LEED Green certification. Photos: Fentress.

The new Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport may have been behind schedule and over budget, but at least it is environmentally friendly. 

We learned today that the new nearly $2 billion building, which opened in late 2013, received LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. 

According to the architects, Denver-based Fentress, the building, at 1.25 million square feet, is the largest LEED certified airport terminal the country. Granted, there are a lot of huge airport terminals being built in the United States these days, but I suppose we can congratulate Fentress. 

Here are some of the things that make the building Green, according to Fentress:

  • The new terminal is bright and airy, with abundant natural daylight and natural ventilation to minimize energy use.
  • Low-E glass was used along the airside concourse to minimize heat gain, and lighting controls reduce energy use.
  • Low-flow water fixtures have reduced water usage 47.8 percent over baseline predictions.
  • The building structure and finishes employed regional and recycled materials.
  • Sustainable techniques used during construction included designating specific routes to and from the site for construction vehicles, and recycling construction materials and demolition debris.
  • Concrete mixers and other equipment were placed onsite in order to reduce the number of trips made, and construction equipment was retrofitted with emission- and noise-reduction devices.

I've written some stories on construction issues at the terminal, but I admit it is gorgeous. You should check it out if you fly through L.A. It's not yet connected inside security with any other terminal, but I have heard you can get through security if you have a same-day boarding pass on any airline. 

Think airport bottled water is too pricey? You're not alone.

 Kitson is upset with the way its LAX store is being managed. Photo: Westfield.

Kitson is upset with the way its LAX store is being managed. Photo: Westfield.

Is bottled water at airports too expensive?

A quirky Los Angeles-based retain chain called Kitson thinks so. A couple of years ago, Kitson thought it would be a good idea to open a store in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. But due to arcane airport rules, Kitson doesn't actually get to operate its own store at the terminal. That job goes to Hudson Group, a giant company that operates lots of airport concessions for various brands. 

Executives at Kitson hate the way their store is being run, and the two sides have traded lots of accusations in court and in the media, as this Los Angeles Times story makes clear.  (There's also this Times story from January.)

This week we have a new accusation from Kitson. From the Kitson press release:

Kitson alleges that Hudson Group, in an attempt to retain its monopoly on retail prices at the airport, has unfairly retaliated against Kitson for exposing price gouging on bottled water at LAX stores. A one-liter bottle of water, one of the most essential items for air travelers, is priced at $5.09 in LAX retail stores.

Hudson Group’s inflated prices violate the airport’s “street value” price policy as set by the Los Angeles World Airports, the department of the City of Los Angeles that owns and operates local airports. When Kitson attempted to sell the same water bottles at LAX for $2.55, Hudson Group blocked the local company.

What do you think of this new allegation? Have you ever wondered why airport water is so expensive?

One Pro-Tip for LAX. Find the bottled water vending machines in the terminals. Prices are reasonable - under $2 for a small bottle. 

Are you a plane spotter? There's nothing wrong with that.

 Plane Spotters take the craft seriously. Photo:  Bernal Saborio  via Flickr/Creative Commons

Plane Spotters take the craft seriously. Photo: Bernal Saborio via Flickr/Creative Commons

Have others poked fun at you because you like to take photographs of airplanes?

Do not be ashamed. Your hobby -- "Plane Spotting" is the official term - has been recognized by Buzzfeed, American's newest go-to news source. This is a good thing. Buzzfeed has become so important that President Barack Obama recently gave the news outlet an interview.

Buzzfeed freelancer Andrew McMillen has written an astonishingly long piece about plane spotters, meeting up with a group last summer at Brisbane's airport. One of the men he meets is Luke Amundsen, founder of something called the Brisbane Airport Movements blog. 

Amundsen knows these routes and schedules particularly well, as he lives nearby. “If I could live closer, I would,” he says. “I can be lying in bed at midnight and hear the Emirates 777 come over, and know exactly what it is, straightaway. I don’t even have to look up.”

McMillen met up with the the spotters before the November G20 summit in Brisbane, when Amundsen and a friend were planning to look for President Obama's plane. 

These two will be among the crowd attempting to gather somewhere near this airport, cameras in hand, searching the skies for Air Force One in the hope of capturing a once-in-a-lifetime event: the president of the United States of America landing at their home airport. An intense Australian Federal Police presence surrounding the miles of wire fences day and night for the duration of the summit mean that shooting Air Force One is an unlikely event indeed. But still, the possibility is there.

And possibility is what drives planespotters — otherwise known as “jetrosexuals,” “aerosexuals,” and “cloud bunnies” — a niche group of obsessives whose intense interest in flight paths, travel schedules, and colorful jet livery occasionally overlaps with the concerns of the general population.

McMillen notes - with some surprise - that a single four minute YouTube video of airplanes at Skiathos Island National Airport in Greece has received more than 7.5 million views. 

I confess I am not an airplane spotter. I leave that to the Wall Street Journal's Jon Ostrower, who somehow finds time between scoops to update his Flickr page.  I do sometimes write about spotters, though. Two years ago, I wrote a story about the best place to watch airplanes near Los Angeles International Airport.

I'm guessing many of you are spotters. Or perhaps you call yourselves "jetrosexuals" or "aerosexuals" or "cloud bunnies," as the BuzzFeed story suggests.

I'm curious. Where is your favorite place to watch planes? 

Remember when LAX wanted passengers to reach it via helicopter?

Is a helicopter the best way to reach Los Angeles International Airport from downtown L.A.?

According to my Aviation Week colleague Madhu Unnikrishnan (a great journalist you should follow on Twitter) LAX considered implementing a bizarre SkyLounge idea during the mid-1960s.

Helicopters would go from downtown to the airport carrying "pods" - sort of like passenger busses. They would land at LAX and deposit the pods filled with filled with travelers. The pods would then be towed to the terminals via tractor. 

Here's how Unnikrishnan describes it on AviationWeek.com 

Sky Lounges were envisioned as passenger pods carried by Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopters, operated by Los Angeles Airways. Passengers would board a Sky Lounge in downtown Los Angeles, pay a $2.50 fare, and be flown to LAX. At the airport, the helicopter would deposit the Sky Lounge, which would then be towed around to the terminals by a tractor.

You can see a picture of the contraption on the Aviation Week site. 

Incidentally, when Los Angeles was apparently considering this idea, the airport processed about 12 million passengers per year. Last year, the airport handled 70.7 million passengers, an all-time record.  

You could still reach LAX via helicopter until 2010 when the airport's heliport abruptly closed. It is not likely it will ever reopen. 

Is LAX the top airport in North America? Not likely, despite what Business Traveller says

 Yes, the international terminal at  Los Angeles International Airport (  above) is great. But what about the rest of the place? Photo: Westfield. 

Yes, the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (above) is great. But what about the rest of the place? Photo: Westfield. 

Los Angeles International Airport - your blogger's home airport -- has been named the top airline in North America by readers of Business Traveler magazine. 

Has there a horrible mistake? Or a typo? Perhaps Business Traveler meant Las Vegas? Or maybe Charlotte? Or Vancouver? Or, before United starting having major trouble delivering bags there, possibly it was Denver?

I like LAX. I used to cover it full-time, so I know how to have a seamless travel experience there. I know where to park, which doors to enter and exit, and which security lines are best. Because the airport has such a small footprint -- with about 3,500 acres, it is a fraction of the size of Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth airports -- it's relatively easy to navigate. It's also a lot closer to L.A.'s population centers than most similar sized airports, so for locals it's easy to reach, even in traffic.

But that doesn't make it the best airport in North America. Not even close. I'm sure you all have horror stories. The basic problem is that the airport has nine different terminals, and many of them are not connected inside security. There's also no automated train. If you fly in from Taipei and arrive in the international terminal, you must walk outside and lug your bags almost a half mile to reach your connecting flight at United's Terminal 7. Or you can wait for the bus, which I don't recommend unless you absolutely need to. 

Yes, this is all slated to change. More terminals will soon be connected inside security, and the airport will have an automated train in about a decade. But that has not happened yet. So LAX is still a poor place to make an international to domestic connection. It also remains a crummy experience in terminals that have not been renovated, such as Terminal 3, home to JetBlue and Virgin America. 

The good news is that things are improving. The international terminal is state-of-the-art, and most of the other terminals have either been recently renovated or will be soon. Southwest Airlines and United Airlines customers will see especially nice changes in a few years. The food in most of the terminals is already a lot better than it was five years ago. 

But this isn't an award for 'most improved' airport. It's for 'best airport' overall in North America. And I just don't see how Los Angeles can be number one. 

What do you think? Am I wrong?

TSA catches Long Beach Airport passenger with fake ID

Drivers License.jpg

A JetBlue passenger at Long Beach Airport was busted this week for giving TSA officers a fake drivers license before he tried to board a flight to Las Vegas, according to a law enforcement source. 

The TSA screener put the ID under an ultraviolet light and noticed that the identification lacked any security features, the source said. The screener also noticed that the man pictured on the identification did not look like the man who was flying to Las Vegas, according to the source.

Asked his birthdate, the man responded with his real birthday, not the one listed on the drivers license, the law enforcement official said. My source told me the man told authorities he did not have a drivers license, but still wanted to fly to Las Vegas. 

I found a record of the arrest on the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department website. But I don't think it serves much propose to name the man here. I'll just say he was arrested on Dec. 9  at 1 p.m. by the Long Beach Police Department. He was charged with a felony and held on $20,000 bail. 

The 'Kogi Truck' is opening at LAX. And you should go.

If you're flying American Airlines from LAX, or if you have a long layover, I have a recommendation. Please eat at Kogi. 

Yes, it's not 2009 anymore. That's when Kogi essentially started the modern food truck craze by serving Korean-flavored tacos from a truck roaming Los Angeles. Now Kogi is a brand, and food trucks are everywhere. But Kogi still makes a darn good taco. 

Apparently, the company also has a sense of humor because, rather than open a typical food stall at LAX Terminal 4, it built a taco truck. You can see some pictures in chef/owner Roy Choi's tweets.

Incidentally, LAX has made some progress in recent weeks. You can now walk, inside security, from Terminal 8 all the way to Terminal 4. That means that if you're flying United, Delta, Alaska, American or US Airways, you can access the Kogi truck. 

Man arrested at LAX for "theft of a farm animal"

Your TSA was hard at work on Tuesday morning at Los Angeles International Airport. 

At 11:49 a.m., screeners at Terminal 6 found ammunition in the carry-on bag of a passenger, according to an internal airport email that went out after the incident. As is standard protocol, screeners called Los Angeles World Airports police, who performed a background check on the man. 

Police discovered the man was wanted on a warrant for "theft of a farm animal," according to my law enforcement source. The source did not know what kind of animal it was. 

Airport police then arrested the man for grand theft. 


Video: LAX Terminal 2 parking garage floods, and it's not pretty

Is Los Angeles International Airport the world's most dysfunctional major airport?

Having covered the facility for two years at my last job, I always suspected this was the case. Things were constantly breaking there, often in grand fashion. 

Today we have a completely flooded parking structure near Terminal 2.  My former Los Angeles News Group colleague Brad Graverson took an excellent video of today's excitement. I hope your car isn't stuck in there. It'll probably a pain to have to go get it. 

City News Service says this was a water main break and notes there were 60 affected cars. 

Why you shouldn't fly in the late afternoon or early evening

Don't take a flight that leaves between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Or if you do, you might want to prepare for a delay. 

I was looking at the U.S. Department of Transportation's on-time statistics for September, and the data is jarring. Fly first thing in the morning, and you're nearly guaranteed to be on time. Your aircraft likely spent the night at the airport, and so it's ready for the first departure. But by later in the day? The picture is not so rosy.

Let's use at Atlanta as an example. Flight that departed between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. in September were on-time 93.3% of the time. But flights departing between 4 and 5 p.m. were on-time only 69.9% of the time. 

There are bunch of reasons for this, but the most common one is pretty simple. Short delays creep through the system during the course of the day, and eventually they start to add up. These delays might have been worse in September -- it was thunderstorm season in parts of the country -- but the same patterns are generally seen each month. 

Let's take a look at the data. 

Video: A swan on the loose at London Heathrow

What happens when a swan goes onto an airport ramp?

At London Heathrow last week, someone had to chase it.  For this footage, we can thank Dantorp Aviation, which shot the video on Nov. 3. Amusing, right?

Incidentally, you're probably familiar with the story of the dog that went missing last week at Los Angeles International Airport. According to the owner, who has been featured on just about every television news program in the U.S, Delta lost his dog before a flight to Tampa. The owner blames the airline. 

What seems most likely is that the dog chewed through the crate and escaped. If that's true, it's at least possible the dog is still roaming LAX.  I spoke this week with LAX airport police Sgt. Karla Ortiz, who explained that LAX has a group of roving operations experts just like London Heathrow.

"We have an operations department," Ortiz said.  "Their job is to look at the whole airfield multiple times per day looking for things like a dog or debris or anything that shouldn't be on that airfield."

LAX: Police catch man they say took laptop at TSA Terminal 7 screening

A French national was arrested Monday morning at LAX for stealing a woman's laptop from the TSA security checkpoint at United's Terminal 7, Los Angeles airport police Sgt. Karla Ortiz said. 

The woman realized that her MacBook was gone and alerted authorities. Police then looked at closed circuit television footage and quickly realized what had happened, Ortiz said. 

According to a law enforcement source, the man was arrested at Gate 71B at around 9:30 a.m. Soon after, police returned the laptop to the woman. 

Ortiz acknowledged that passengers steal from security checkpoints more often than we might like to think. And sometimes it is not always easy for police to piece together what happened.

"The good thing about this one was that we were able to capture the thief," Ortiz said. "We had the video footage."

How do you keep your stuff safe when you go through security screening?

Also, here's a tweet to me from Washington, D.C.-based TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein regarding the incident:

Did you know airlines are driving customers to airplanes in luxury cars?

Did you know the three major U.S. airlines are all driving  some of their most profitable customers to connecting flights in luxury cars?

If you travel often or follow this stuff, you almost certainly do. Delta rolled out its Porsche service for the first time in 2011 at its Atlanta hub and now offers it at eight U.S. airports. United came slightly later, but it now offers Mercedes transfers at several key airports, including Newark, Chicago and Los Angeles. American, latest to the game, recently said it will be use Cadillacs at its U.S. hubs. 

I'm not sure there's much else to say about this perk. But at the end of the summer a CBS News reporter asked if I would comment for her story about the new trend.  It looks like the story ran in August, but I was just sent a link this week.

Can you spot your favorite aviation blogger in the piece?