Sunday, June 26, 2005

It may seem strange

but I think my favourite airport is Los Angeles International (LAX). It's not the most luxurious of airports though it sure beats Manila Airport. If you want luxury, smoking areas and free internet try Changi International, Singapore. If you want to smoke almost everywhere try Frankfort. But for sheer excitement and bustle LA wins hands down.

I think it's because it's full of Americans. Loud, brash, taking no crap from anyone but, in the main, dishing out no crap either.

My first experience of America was, naturally, at an airport, San Francisco International before they rebuilt it. My memories of that first time in an American airport are of a dizzying busyness in comparison with Tullamarine Airport Melbourne. Everyone seemed to know where they were going; where they needed to be and how to get there. Quite confusing at first. That was the first time I saw a cop with a handgun. Once over that shock I found myself studying the signage and suddenly it all fell into place.

So when I hit LAX for the first time in December 1995 it was almost like I was in a familiar place even though I'd never been there before. Of course I got a few things wrong. My flight brought me into terminal 2 and I needed to get to terminal 7 with just one hour between flights. If you factor in the getting past immigration and customs (this is way before my greencard days) that was pulling it very tight indeed. So, having emerged into smoking territory I looked to the left and saw terminal 1, right and terminal 3. Not a large jump to imagining that terminal 4 was further to the right. I didn't know that terminal 7 was through the car park almost directly opposite terminal 2 - a matter of 200 metres away. Based on experience from SFO I waited for the terminal shuttle which took just enough time to ensure I missed the connecting flight!

Where I came from missing a flight was a disaster. With only two airlines they had you over a barrel, they knew it and they exploited it. Imagine my surprise then, fronting up at the desk, almost apologetically, when I was told that it was no big deal - they'd give me a seat on the next flight 50 minutes from now at no extra charge! This is how to run a commuter airline - like a bus service!

At LA last night I had plenty of time to kill. I'd checked in at United Airlines and had 3 and a half hours to wait. So I crossed the car park to terminal 2 where Starbucks lurks and enjoyed a Grande Hot Chocolate. The only place I've managed to break a one hundred dollar bill without being regarded by the clerk with deep suspicion. He didn't even blink at the bill! Hot choccy consumed it was back to terminal 7 with three hours to kill. Since you can't smoke inside I spent most of the time outside watching the sun set and the traffic swirl by. Hundreds of airport shuttles, hotel shuttles, limousines and cabs.

And there, at the end of the concourse, just past the last entrance to terminal 7 I found, perched on the ashtray, a lonely cigarette lighter, left by someone who'd obviously been there before and knew that TSA (the Transport Security Administration) would impound it. Left there for the next smoker. I used it twice and left it for the next smoker.

I'm not going to surrender ciggy lighters any more. I'm going to leave them just like I found that one, waiting for the next smoker, in the ashtray.

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