Ask A Native Angeleno: When Do I Have To Pick Someone Up At LAX?
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Dear Native Angeleno,
When do I actually have to pick someone up at LAX? People are always asking me and I feel like there must be some unwritten rules, or something. Please explain.
Confused in Koreatown
A Native Los Angeleno responds:
Dear Confused in Koreatown,
Good question, and you are very right—there are unwritten rules. All native Angelenos have their own LAX* pickup criteria, but here are some generally acceptable guidelines.
Ultimately, every airport pickup comes down to a complicated calculus determined by three distinct but overlapping spheres: geography, finances, and relationship.
Or, as a very wise Los Angeles rabbi once explained, the equation is, in essence, "proximity plus need plus closeness of relationship minus personal cost in time and money and effort minus if any one else can do it at lower cost plus repercussions to the relationship plus how fun the other person is minus if this will lead to further obligation that you don't want."
First, we have to acknowledge that the advent of ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft (free rein at the airport, then briefly prohibited, now allowed again; you can use this Uber fare calculator to estimate your damage) have fundamentally altered the Los Angeles International Airport pickup experience. It used to be that someone who wasn't picked up could either take the FlyAway to one of a few designated areas, or a cab that cost roughly $65. Now (e.g. literally yesterday, for this writer) one can get from LAX to Silver Lake in a Lyft for a mere $20.
Map of FlyAway bus locations
The FlyAway bus makes regularly scheduled departures (every half-hour or hour, depending on time of day and location) from every LAX terminal to Westwood, Santa Monica, Van Nuys, Union Station, Long Beach and Hollywood. It's totally easy to use, especially if the arriving friend/family member/lover happens to be headed to one of the aforementioned destinations. It's an excellent option to have in your arsenal, but there are a great many situations that still require you to schlep to LAX. So who, how, and when?
Unlike a regular city where most people have regular jobs, slightly different rules apply in Los Angeles, land of the multi-hyphenate striving creative, where—as evidenced by the sheer number of young, capable people strolling down Abbot Kinney or Sunset Junction on any given weekday afternoon—an ungodly amount of individuals remain unbeholden to the time card, or regular working hours.
For locals, the most important thing to understand is reciprocity. If my friend Amy asks me to pick her up from the airport, Amy pretty much has to pick me up from the airport at some date in the future. When we were both 22 and broke this was a good, mutually beneficial system. Now, Amy has a boring corporate job that not only makes her super boring to listen to at dinner but also means she can afford a goddamned Uber home from the airport, and a small part of our friendship dies every time she circuitously asks if maybe I can pick her up from the airport this Tuesday.
No, I will not pick Amy up from the airport. Not this week at 2 p.m. because I will be at work, but also not two months from now on a Saturday because even If I am technically available she still shouldn't be asking me. You feel? Get it together, Amy. Hard pass.
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Also, anyone who can expense/have their work pay for their airport ride home and still puts out pickup feelers should be seriously reconsidered as a friend. That shit is offensive.
What about out-of-town visitors? First, the obvious question is whether you are even able to pick them up. For the sake of this explanation, we will presume that either they are arriving outside of normal business hours, or you are a flexible-houred creative professional of the kind described above. A friend of your approximate age and means who is staying with you but not coming to the city for the express purpose of seeing you falls into the category of someone that would be nice to pick up if you can swing it, but not absolutely required. You should, however, pick up any friend who is traveling from across or out of the country (especially out of the country) to visit you.
Picking up someone you just started going out with is fun and romantic and a wonderful reminder that you don't hate each other, yet. Experts differ on the expiration date on the romantic airport pickup, but we would place it somewhere between one and three months of shtupping. Basically, once you give up on pretending to be the far-better-than-real version of yourself around them, you can also probably give up on airport pickup anytime your significant other has been gone less than two weeks.
Of course, exceptions apply, and as Tolstoy would tell you, all airport pickup fights between otherwise happy couples are terrible in their own unique ways. It's best to at least be consistent in whatever the agreed upon airport pickup decorum is in your relationship, so you can save the inevitable blows of crushing disappointment and abandonment for other areas of your relationship, like birthdays and holidays. I personally recommend that the agreed upon decorum include picking each other up from the nearest FlyAway location, but again, up to you.
If at all possible, you should pick up non-native family members who are unfamiliar with the city, or are a generation younger or older than you. Local family members who have been gone for any substantial amount of time should also be picked up. And pick up your mom, always.
Don't be a monster and pick up any loved one who is coming home from a funeral, bad breakup, or other gnarly life event. Sometimes it means something to see a friendly face when you come down that escalator, even when you can afford the Uber.
Glad we got all that squared away. Now, let's talk logistics for when you are actually at LAX making that pickup. The airport is a mess, as is the airline industry, which means that arriving at the appointed time and circling until your precious cargo arrives at street level is also usually a mess. I am a strong proponent of just parking and walking in. If you are bothering to make the effort of going there, you might as well get as much credit as possible, and have it be nice instead of stressful for both of you. Heck, go all the way and make a sign. Plus, after years of unscientific and wholly anecdotal study, I've found that parking/walking back to the car rarely takes more than an extra ten minutes, and saves you the aggravation of circling.
But if you insist on not or truly (think) you don't have the time, many natives will pull over in the nearby Burger King or In-N-Out parking lots just outside the airport to wait for an I'm-walking-off-the-plane text message before making their way into the arrivals shuffle.
*The rules are totally out the window for the Burbank Airport, which is like the Sisterhood of Traveling Pants of Destinations and somehow roughly twenty minutes away from half the city (downtown, Hollywood, most of the valley, etc.), at least without traffic. Native Angelenos, burnt out by LAX, have a fondness for the Burbank airport that goes beyond reason, and honestly if you ask me nicely enough in the comments and I happen not to be doing anything that night, I'd probably even pick you up from there.
Note: FlyAway service to Santa Monica was discontinued in September 2016.