Flying July 4? LAX insider says to mask up and get there 2 to 3 hours early

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Gone are the days of empty terminals and breezing through security at the airport. Officials at LAX say passenger volume has rebounded from the darkest days of the pandemic to about two-thirds of 2019 levels. Photo by Amy Ta.

The unofficial arrival of summer with Memorial Day also signaled the beginning of vacation season. People are itching for a change of scenery and looking to relax after being cooped up for more than a year during the pandemic.

The Independence Day holiday looks like it’s going to be a big get-out-of-town weekend. That means busy roads and packed airports. Officials with Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) say passenger volume is steadily making its way back to 2019 levels. The Fourth of July weekend could look like something straight out of the “before times.”

Charles Pannunzio of Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that owns and runs LAX, has some insights on what summer travelers can expect.

KCRW: How busy could LAX get over the Fourth of July weekend?

Charles Pannunzio: “For the month of June, we were looking at about 60% to 65% of days similar to those days in 2019. … We set a record on Sunday with 87,000 people going through the security screening. Of course, that’s a record … since March 2020. Again, looking at that being about 70% maybe of what would’ve happened in 2019.” 

What sort of pandemic safety measures can travelers expect?

“The mask requirement is kind of the big one. … If you are indoors at any of our facilities, or if you’re on a shuttle bus, and of course when you’re on the flight, you have got to wear your mask. We are allowing folks to go maskless if you’re out on the sidewalks [and] if you’re in a parking structure coming out of your car. But once you get inside the airport, you really need to be wearing that mask.”

Is social distancing still a thing?

“Some of the places are still marked from earlier in the pandemic, but it’s not being enforced at any kind of level like that. … In a lot of cases ... it’s kind of a responsibility of the traveler to say, ‘I need a little bit of space here.’”

Is the airport still serving as a vaccination site?

“Yes, passengers and non-passengers, anybody 18 and older can come down to the airport and get a Johnson & Johnson vaccine for no cost at three different locations throughout the airport.”

Besides the pandemic, people also need to be mindful of passengers behaving badly. We’ve heard stories of passengers yelling at flight attendants, jumping from a plane on the tarmac, and  knocking out somebody’s teeth. What gives?

“It’s been 15 months that people haven’t been able to get out, and it does look like now people are trying to reacclimate themselves to those closer surroundings. … It is a personal responsibility there to let people know, ‘Hey, I’m not cool with this, so let’s work together here to get where we’re going.’ Everybody at the end of the day has a thing in mind, which is to travel safely, to get out of here to enjoy their Fourth of July weekend.”

How much time should people set aside to get to the airport? 

“Two hours early for a domestic flight, three hours early for an international flight is our standard recommendation. … And that’s for the boarding time too. I think sometimes people get a little confused with that. When the flight says it’s going, that’s when the doors are shut and the plane is gone.”

Pannunzio suggests travelers check out @FlyLAXstats for regular, half-hour updates on drive times around the upper and lower levels of the airport, as well as the status of airport parking garages.



Matt Guilhem