Ugly Airports: LAX's 1,000-Foot Walk of Shame

LOS ANGELES ( TheStreet) -- At Los Angeles International Airport, the world's sixth busiest airport and the third busiest international gateway in the United States, you would expect terminals and passageways that are stately yet functional.

Instead, if you are walking between terminals five and six, you get a long, narrow corridor bathed in fluorescent light, without windows or clear signage, filled with echoes of conversations and seemingly leading from one dead end to another. The corridor provides first-time users with the sense of being in the wrong place with no option but to continue, as the threat of a missed connection hovers.
LAX corridor to hell

In short, you feel lost in a horror movie or, at best, trapped into undergoing a clinical test for elevated stress levels.

Recently Preston Czigans, an Atlanta-area guitarist on his way to a session to record background tracks for commercials, was changing planes when he came upon this seeming passageway to hell. Czigans was flying on Delta ( DAL) from Atlanta to San Francisco via Los Angeles.

"I got off the plane at LAX and followed signs," Czigans recalled. "I went down an escalator. It dead-ended at a wall, and you could only turn left into this long, empty hallway. I thought 'I'm not supposed to be here, I'm in the wrong place," but I noticed a few stragglers making the trip down the hallway so I took off walking.

"It was probably about 1,000 feet, a sterile environment with a white floor and white walls with a few pictures that made it look like somebody had started to decorate it, then forgot about it. There was no signage.

"When I got to the end, it was another dead end, with an escalator to go up one story to the terminal," Czigans said. "Sadly, this is a passageway used by countless thousands of travelers every day."

After his trip, Czigans emailed TheStreet because he recalled the story about the five ugliest airports in America, published in December 2010. For that story, the readers we polled selected LAX as the country's fifth ugliest airport.

By the way, if you have any ugly airport photos of your own, don't hesitate to send them to us:

LAX received 14% of the votes. In the words of one frequent user, it was "built for a different time" and no doubt was attractive in that time. But the number of passengers kept growing. The space required for security kept growing. The airport did not keep growing, although it is now trying to catch up.

LAX has nine terminals including an international terminal that is undergoing a $1.5 billion expansion. Some terminals appear old and decrepit. Commented one reader: "Most of LAX is like a Turkish prison."

Another reader claims to have "noticed mushrooms growing out of the ceiling" in an underground airport passageway. We don't know whether that was the terminal five to terminal six passageway; a similar passageway connects terminals four and five.

Why would one of the world's most important airports, in one of the world's wealthiest countries, have ugly passageways?

The answer relates to the timing of airport improvement projects as well as to enhanced airport security standards that took effect following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

The passageway connects terminal five used by Delta to terminal six, used by Alaska ( ALK) as well as other carriers. Alaska completed a $271 million terminal renovation in March, and Delta plans a $229 million renovation. "When both airlines finish their terminal renovations, attention will be paid to the tunnel that connects the two terminals," Castles said.

Looking at the history of LAX, this passageway as well as the one connecting terminals four and five "are vestiges of the pre-1984 LAX, when the terminals were stand-alone satellites," Castles said. "In 1984, LAX completed major construction in time for the summer Olympics that resulted in its current design of a two-level, horseshoe-shaped roadway and terminals with concourses that connect the terminals to the satellite boarding gates."

At that point, she said, the ugly connector passageways were closed. But then, after the terrorist attacks, the Transportation Security Administration was created, the time required for passenger screening increased and the benefit increased for keeping passengers who connect at different terminals from having to be screened twice.

So the airport cleaned and reopened the ugly connector passageways, which connect sterile areas where passengers have already been screened. "Before we re-opened the connecting tunnels, arriving passengers connecting to flights at other airline terminals used to exit their arrival terminal, walk on the sidewalk or take the free airport shuttle bus to their connecting terminal, and then go through passenger security screening again at their connecting terminal," Castles said.

Unfortunately, when one problem was solved, another one was created.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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