Los Angeles International Airport is the second-busiest airport in the United States, with more than 700 flights departing daily to more than 100 destinations across the United States and abroad.
To accommodate its more than 42 million passengers per year, LAX has nine different terminals in its Central Terminal Area, including the Tom Bradley International Terminal – which can make a trip to this airport all the more intimidating, even for frequent flyers.
Given this, we recommend arriving at LAX airport at least 3 hours before a domestic flight and at least 4 hours before an international flight.
However, you’ll also want to consider personal circumstances that may influence you to arrive at the airport even earlier. These include; travelling with young children, how you’re getting to the airport, what time you’re flying etc.
What Time Should You Arrive At LAX?
We typically recommend arriving at LAX at least three hours before departure for domestic flights (flights within the US) and at least four hours before departure for international flights (flights outside of the US).
This should provide you with enough time to;
- Arrive at the airport
- Check-in for your flight
- Drop your bags
- Go through security
- Make it to your gate – prior to / in time for boarding
In our opinion, it’s always better to arrive at the airport a little early and have some extra time browsing the stores or grabbing a bite to eat rather than arriving late, feeling rushed and running the risk of missing your flight.
If you’ve got an early morning flight then we highly recommend staying in a hotel close to LAX either that’s within walking distance or offers a 24-hour complimentary shuttle to all terminals.
Why Do You Need Longer For International Flights?
It’s often recommended that when travelling to international destinations (outside the US) you arrive at LAX at least 4 hours before the flight departs. This is often recommended to allow for extra time for checking visas, entry requirements, immigration control and clear customs.
Some of these things will only apply to international passengers leaving the US, while others will only apply to US citizens.
International flights also often have larger aircraft with more passengers which subsequently have a longer boarding period (starting earlier) to allow for all passengers to board the aircraft with enough time prior to the scheduled departure time.
How Are You Getting To LAX?
One of the first things to consider when deciding how early to arrive at LAX is how you are getting to the airport. The traffic conditions not just around LAX but across Los Angeles are notoriously bad.
We recommend using Google Maps in advance to check the distance and estimated travel time to the airport based on your mode of transport.
Keep in mind that if you check Google Maps on a Sunday at 1pm, then the travel time may be very different to the reality you face if you’re actually trying to complete the journey at 7am on a Monday.
Getting An Uber / Lyft To LAX
When you arrive at LAX you’ll need to get the free shuttle from the airport terminal to LAX-IT to pick up your Uber or Lyft (unless you pay for a premium service at roughly a 3x additional cost).
However, when being dropped off at the airport by an Uber or Lyft you’ll be dropped off directly in front of your terminal.
While this reduces the number of transfers you’ll need to make and subsequently, the amount of time it takes to travel to the airport, you’ll still want to ensure you allow for traffic and how long it may take your driver to come and pick you up.
Parking At LAX
If you’re driving and parking at LAX then it’s a good idea to allow at least an additional 30 minutes for parking and transferring to the terminal.
The Central Terminal Area Parking is the closest to the airport, just a short walk from the entrance to the terminals. However, it’s also the most expensive parking at $60 per day. Meanwhile, economy parking at LAX is located 15 minutes from the airport and costs $35 per day. Free shuttles run from Economy Parking to the terminals every 7 to 10 minutes.
Returning A Rental Car
If you’re driving to LAX and returning your rental car at the airport then we recommend allowing at least an additional hour.
Depending on the rental car provider you have used, you may be required to wait in line and complete some paperwork before returning your vehicle.
In addition to this you’ll also then need to take a shuttle from the rental car drop-off location over to the terminal – all of which increases the amount of time you’ll need for getting to the airport.
The Time Of Year
The time of year in which you’re travelling can have a significant impact on how busy LAX is and subsequently how long you may have to wait to park your car, check-in, drop your bags and get through security.
National holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Spring Break can lead to some of the busiest travel days of the year, especially on weekends.
If you are travelling during one of these peak times, then you may want to look at arriving at the airport at least one hour earlier.
Checking In For Your Flight
The majority of airlines now allow you to check in for your flight using either the mobile application or web application up to 24 hours before departure.
Checking in using this service should provide you with a digital boarding pass and therefore only require you to use the bag drop service (if applicable). However, if you’re unable to check in for your flight before arriving at the airport then you’ll want to make sure you arrive at the airport with enough time to do so.
The majority of airlines provide both self-service check-in kiosks and check-in counters at LAX which allow you to complete the check-in process quickly and easily.
However, keep in mind that airlines will close the check-in gates before the flight departs (exact times vary, however, it’s usually around 45 minutes – check with your airline). If you have not checked in before the designated time then you will be denied boarding – even if you’re at the departure gate on time for the flight itself.
Dropping Checked Bags
Much like checking in for your flight, another factor you’ll want to consider when determining what time you should arrive at LAX is whether or not you’ll need to check your luggage.
The bag drop will close roughly one hour prior to the flight’s departure (exact times vary depending on the airline and destination so be sure to check your flight information) so you’ll want to make sure you arrive at LAX early enough to accommodate for this where applicable.
If you do not have any checked bags then once you have your boarding pass (either digital from checking in online or physical from checking in at the airport) you’ll be able to head straight through to security.
TSA Precheck / CLEAR?
If you have TSA Precheck or CLEAR then moving through security should be a significantly quicker and easier process.
As such you should not need to allow for additional time at the airport when compared to infrequent travellers moving through the regular security checkpoints.
Which LAX Terminal Do You Need?
Los Angeles International Airport has nine terminals: Terminals 1 through 8, and the Tom Bradley International Terminal, also known as Terminal B. While airlines do occasionally change the terminal from which they fly the following typically applies;
- Southwest Airlines
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air France
- Air New Zealand
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Sun Country
- Virgin Atlantic
- Alaska Airlines
- V Australia
- Virgin America
- American Airlines
- American Eagle
- Delta Airlines
- Allegiant Air
- Copa Airlines
- United Airlines (Premier, First & Business Class)
- United Airlines (e-tickets)
- United Express (e-tickets)
- United Airlines (paper tickets, non-ticketed)
- United Express (paper tickets, non-ticketed)
Tom Bradley International Terminal:
- Air Berlin
- Air Pacific
- Air Tahiti Nui
- All Nippon Airlines (ANA)
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- El Al
- EVA Air
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- LAN Airlines
- LAN Peru
- Philippine Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Thai Airways
- Turkish Airlines
There is a complimentary LAX shuttle that runs between all terminals at the airport.
Los Angeles Travel Planning Guide
🏥 Should I Buy Travel Insurance for a Trip to Los Angeles?
Yes, you should definitely buy travel insurance for any vacation to Los Angeles. Basic travel insurance coverage with Safety Wing averages between $5 – $10 per day and offers peace of mind.
🚘 Do I Need to Rent a Car for a Trip to Los Angeles?
Whether you’ll want a rental car in Los Angeles will really depend on how long you’re visiting for and where you plan to go during your trip. The traffic in Los Angeles is notoriously crazy, yet, public transport is still somewhat limited.
If you do decide to hire a car in Los Angeles, then I’d recommend using Discover Cars to find the best car rental deals.
🏨 Where to Stay in Los Angeles?
The best place to stay in Los Angeles will really depend on what you plan to do most during your trip. If you’re planning to visit Disneyland, for example, then staying in a hotel in Anaheim is likely going to be best.
Alternatively, if you’re planning on exploring the city and visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, then I’d recommend Loews Hollywood.
If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury during your trip to LA, then a hotel in Beverly Hills is a great choice. However, if you’re looking for more of a beach vacation, then consider a hotel at Newport Beach.