Relax On Your Way To LAX (1966)

Some things don’t change. In the 48 years since this article on road congestion at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was published, traffic around the airport remains a concern, and anxious travelers still fret about how to get from downtown L.A. to LAX.  

In 1966, city planners worried about where the projected 15 million annual passengers at LAX would park and how they would get from the airport to downtown. Those concerns remain, except that now that L.A. has overtaken Chicago to become the second-largest city in the country and the scale of the problem is beyond what anyone then could have predicted.

City government, the airport authority and the federal government – which coughed up half a million dollars to study the idea—actually considered ferrying passengers between the city and the airport via “Sky Lounges,” an idea that could only have seemed sane when “The Jetsons” was on prime time television.  Sky Lounges were envisioned as passenger pods carried by Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopters, operated by Los Angeles Airways. Passengers would board a Sky Lounge in downtown Los Angeles, pay a $2.50 fare, and be flown to LAX. At the airport, the helicopter would deposit the Sky Lounge, which would then be towed around to the terminals by a tractor.

It is a sign of those times, perhaps, that a high-speed rail connection was considered more impractical than the Sky Lounge idea.

The Sky Lounge system may have seemed more plausible—maybe—when LAX handled 12 million passengers a year, as it did in 1966. Since then and thanks to the exponential growth in air travel since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, the airport has grown a bit, handling 67 million passengers in 2013, the last full year for which data are available.  LAX is now the second-busiest airport in the country, and the busiest is one no one could have predicted in 1966, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. In 1966, just a few years after domestic transcontinental flights became possible, no one would have foreseen that some of Tinseltown’s airport’s busiest markets in 2014 would be Seoul, South Korea, Taipei, Taiwan and Tokyo.

LAX has changed since 1966, but the traffic in Los Angeles remains a constant and airport parking remains a headache—would that we could enjoy a Martini on that Sky Lounge as it whisked us to our flights from downtown.

► The LAX congestion story was was published in the November 14, 1966 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology

Los Angeles Working to Ease Road Jams

► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

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