Angelenos' Love For Hollywood Burbank Airport Runs Deep. Here's Why
The Los Angeles International Airport may be a portal to the world, but it can also be the Seven Terminals of Hell.
"Look, when we say it's Dante's Inferno, it's not literally the worst place in the entire world," said Fodor's Travel editor Jeremy Tarr, "but you get stuck in this awful, really vile horseshoe pattern, and then you just sit there and wait."
That congestion is one of the reasons why — even before the airport's rough rollout of it's new system for ride share pickups — Fodor's named LAX the worst airport in the world (but the people mover is on its way, people!).
Meanwhile, the travel guidebook's pick for the best airport in America is just a few freeways away in Burbank.
Hollywood Burbank Airport — or Bob Hope Airport, for the modern purists — is "like an old school way you used to travel," said Tarr. "Not a lot of hassle. Easy to get around, and you're on the plane and out."
We went behind the scenes to learn the secrets of success from the little airport that could.
IT'S NOT A RIVALRY WITH LAX
Burbank only does domestic flights, so right away, this isn't a competition.
"We had, last year, just over 5 million passengers come through," said Hollywood Burbank's marketing director Nerissa Sugars.
Meanwhile LAX, like the 405 of airports, handled almost 17 times that number of passengers in the same time period (87.5 million). LAX also flies international, which means bigger planes, longer lines, and extra checkpoints for immigration and customs.
So flying through Hollywood Burbank is about convenience.
"We tell passengers time and again, you can get dropped off at the curb and get to your gate in 12 minutes," said Sugars. "Well, that's my average."
IT'S OLD SCHOOL
The airport debuted in 1930 with Spanish-revival architecture as a competitor to Glendale's Grand Central Airport, and it was the region's main airport until 1946 when what's now LAX opened.
But not everything about the airport still functions today as it did in 1930.
For example, the control tower on top of the main building no longer controls anything.
"We don't operate out of it," said Sugars. "We actually have a different control tower on the other side of the runways."
The inside of the defunct tower is a ghost town with papers and computers, operational only in case there's an emergency.
HAVE SOME 'HOPE'
Rush through the main terminal and you might miss the sole piece of artwork dedicated to the airport's former namesake: a bas-relief of Bob Hope that's on the wall right before ticketing.
"It's seriously probably the only thing right now that tells us that this was once Bob Hope Airport," said Sugars.
The name changed three years ago for marketing purposes, she explained. Calling it "Hollywood Burbank" makes it easier for people who don't know the area to understand that they're landing near Hollywood.
And technically, it's not a new name. The airport has held seven different titles, including "Hollywood Burbank" from 1967 to 1978.
But fans of the previous name can take heart that it never went away officially.
"With the [Federal Aviation Authority], we're registered as 'Bob Hope Airport' still," said Sugars.
PERSONAL NOSTALGIA ON THE DIAL
Frequent flyers through Hollywood Burbank might have noticed the playlist pumping through the loudspeakers.
"We get a lot of people commenting frequently that it's '80s music. Either that or '70s rock," said Sugars.
But the people in charge of the playlists are not taking a scientific approach to selection. What you hear isn't based on visitor surveys or specially programmed to keep passengers relaxed in transit.
The soundtrack is selected by "our IT folks who have access to the satellite radio subscriptions," she said. "They just randomly pick whatever music we're going to hear for the day."
A ONE-OF-A-KIND RUNWAY
The airport's runways are special because they're the only ones in the country that are WAAAY too close to the terminal, according to FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor.
"This building is within 200 feet on the center-line of the runway," explained Frank Miller, the executive director of Hollywood Burbank Airport. "You'll see airplanes coming in, and how close they come as they pass the concourse."
Airport buildings need to be at least 750 feet away from the center of a runway, according to the FAA, but Hollywood Burbank has been grandfathered in.
That means planes boom right by the terminal windows, but also that it doesn't take too much time for them to park at a gate.
SOMETIMES THOSE RUNWAYS GO IN REVERSE
On a normal day, airplanes departing Hollywood Burbank will rush down the runway from north to south.
But there are a few occasions when that traffic reverses, and planes take off by going south to north.
One of them is when the Santa Ana winds blow, explained Sugars. Because those gusts come from the northeast, an airplane that takes off nose-first into the wind will have an easier time getting the lift it needs to get airborne.
YOU BOARD AND DEPLANE LIKE A RETRO CELEBRITY
Hollywood Burbank is one of the few airports left in the country where passengers primarily board and deplane by walking onto the apron. The "apron" is the correct term for the place where planes move around on the ground; a "tarmac" is technically just the name for the tar that's sometimes used to coat the surface.
Large airports (and even many small ones) load passengers onto planes via a jet bridge for a number of reasons, including that they protect passengers from the elements.
Not Burbank. At the one-story airport, passengers use ramps or steps to reach plane's doors — rain or shine.
Boarding via the apron can also save time when airlines, like Southwest, for example, load people onto aircraft using both the front and rear cabin doors.
And, anecdotally, passengers seem to really like it.
"There's something about stepping off the plane and being out in the open," said Sugars. "They're in L.A. where it's always warm and sunny, and there is that feeling that it's kind of glamorous."
Sugars said she regularly sees passengers holding up the boarding line because they've stopped to take a selfie on the ramp.
BUT NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY
While the airport, with the history and convenience it offers, is beloved by many, "tens of thousands of residents and businesses [are having] their lives disrupted day and night by departing planes," said Councilmember Paul Krekorian in a press release about a new lawsuit.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced last week that he's suing the FAA over a "southerly shift" in flight paths that he claims "has caused a significant increase in airplane noise and traffic."
MEANWHILE, THE CURRENT TERMINAL WILL BE DEMOLISHED
The airport is creating a new, modernized terminal on the northeastern side of the property. It's scheduled to open in 2024.
Once the new building is up, the current beige building will come down.
"It is part of the history, but it has to come down," said Sugars. Remember that by federal regulations, it's too close to the runways.
But airport officials heard from the community, who made the case to keep at least one thing about the old way: Boarding via the apron.
"Yes, that's the plan," said Frank Miller.