As a Los Angeles native, I grew up experiencing the nightmare of traveling through LAX for family trips. From dealing with traffic on the way to the airport to balancing bags through mobs of angry people to lining up for endless queues, my typical experience at LAX was usually not a fun one.
No wonder I preferred driving or busing down from the Bay Area since college. But with recent credit card point promos, I’ve started booking discount flights for my LA trips. This has given me the chance to sample SoCal’s other airports, some of which have been surprisingly impressive and stress free.
A couple of weekends ago, I flew down to SoCal to visit my mom during the Lunar New Year. I booked my return flight to depart from Hollywood Burbank Airport, also known as Bob Hope Airport. It was one of the most pleasant airport experiences I’ve ever had.
After spending the day exploring San Diego, my mom and I drove back to LA Sunday night so that I could catch my flight back to San Francisco. Getting dropped off was a breeze – no traffic or pushy airport security. I walked into the airport and was greeted by a Bob Hope wall statue next to a beautiful Spanish-tiled arch.
With TSA Pre, it took me less than a minute to get through security. It wouldn’t have taken longer than 5 minutes otherwise. As I entered my terminal, one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was a modified movie quote: “What is this? An airport for ants??”
I’ve been to small airports. This was like a mini-version of an airport. The entire terminal probably wouldn’t have taken up a wing at LAX. The place had a very retro vibe, almost like it was still in the 50s or 60s. Vegas adverts dotted the walls. Even the intercom had an old-school ring to alert people of an incoming announcement.
I had some time to kill so I went hunting for a power outlet. Pretty quickly I found myself at one of the outlet areas, located above a row of seats. Another lady was there charging her phone but left soon after. I had the entire row to myself as I watched The Truman Show on my tablet.
Before long, it was time to board the plane. We lined up in the usual Southwest fashion, but instead of walking through a jet bridge, we stepped onto the tarmac and climbed up some steps into the plane. I boarded from the rear entrance of the plane and strapped into my seat within a couple of minutes.
As a frequent traveler, I’ve always prioritized aisle seats. But this time around, I chose a window seat so I could finish my movie in peace. It would be a clutch choice. As the plane took off, I glanced out the window and was amazed by what I saw.
The entirety of nighttime Los Angeles glowed brightly below, lights shimmering and traffic crawling along like bioluminescent insects. With Philip Glass’s beautiful movie soundtrack still playing over my headphones, I was struck by the immensity of such a seemingly trivial moment.
I lived in LA for nearly twenty years and have sat through hundreds of airplane takeoffs, yet this was the first time I remember experiencing this feeling of absolute wonder in the air. Seeing those lights stretched out for miles on end reminded me of just how small we are in the vastness of the universe.
I continued to stare out the window as the buildings grew smaller and the lights grew dimmer. I smiled to myself, finished up my movie, and looked forward to returning to San Francisco.