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American Airports : Culture Shock for International Travelers

You have just flown from Hong Kong. You are landing in Los Angeles. Maybe this is your first time to the United States. Get ready for culture shock. The America that you have heard about your whole life is simply not there.

You land at LAX in Tom Bradley International terminal. Congratulations this is as new and modern as it gets. Looking for restaurants? This terminal boasts a total of 7 of them in the main lobby. The food choices are fast food, fast food, or fast food. Shopping? Forget about it. You will only see snack food shops and convenience items. Services like massage, lounges, or even traveler assistance? No. All you will find is one small area to get a McDonalds burger or a sandwich in a plastic box.


You had seen maps like this one in Hong Kong while you surfed online via the free Wifi network. Believe me, this map photo is a typical Hollywood airbrush job. The airport is old, dingy, and dirty. So now you have left your plane and you either need to catch another plane or you have a while to stay. If you going to have to catch another plane, better hurry, LAX has no transportation between terminals. I always see foreigners walking around looking for the rail or tram that is in all the other global air terminals, or even the bus to take you to other terminals that can be found in all the 3rd world airports. No such luck. LAX is a “get there yourself” airport. You can always see the confused look on the international traveler as they cart their luggage to a terminal nearly a mile away.

International travelers are smart. They cannot find the train to get to the next terminal so they hop on their Ipad, Iphone, or laptop and look for the airport Wifi network. SORRY. LAX is too primitive to have a Wifi network for travelers. It is not even about wanting money. LAX does not even have a fee based network. The only network you can find is T-Mobile. Ironic how the only Internet connection available wirelessly in LAX is offered by a German phone company.

My second favorite story is about the International traveler who arrives in LAX at midnight and has a 6am connection to another part of the United States. SORRY the terminals close at 2am and open back up at 4am. Los Angeles has such a bad homeless problem that they decide to shut down the terminals for a few hours to discourage homeless from using the airport as a nightly shelter. The only area left open is the front lobby of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Each night you will see a virtual United Nations of international travelers who have not learned how antiquated LAX is as an airport. They are huddled in the two carpeted areas (apposed to the stone floor) trying to keep warm and wait for the terminals to re-open. As a final “unintentional” screw you, the city has put up giant air conditioning vents just above these carpeted areas so the travelers have to bundle up against a wind tunnel of refrigerated air.

So maybe your lucky and you do not have to wait at the airport. Maybe you are going to a friends house or to a hotel near Disney Land. Get ready for culture shock. The cab ride that took you from the furthest areas of Hong Kong to the Hong Kong airport cost you between $10 to $30. You rode in a clean new cab with a friendly driver. Welcome to LAX. You will spend $30 in cab fare before you even get to the highway outside the airport. To get to the Disneyland park you will spend over $100 USD, and yes, the cab will be dirty and the driver will be obnoxious.

So welcome to America. LAX is a good representation of what you will find here now. Antiquated buildings, lack of services, 1970’s technologies as “the best we have to offer”, and of course many areas under construction that never seem to be completed. As an American I was always sure we had the best infrastructure, services, and amenities that the world had to offer. Now that I have traveled to points in Europe and Asia, I find that we are behind the times. Terribly behind the times. When I returned to visit, LAX was a culture shock for me, an American, as to just how old and broken America has become. I know how many people get their first glimpse of America as they land at LAX. I am embarrassed every time I think of it.

Time to rebuild. LAX is a junk pile from before the American age of excess. It is an American eyesore that needs to be fixed.

Itia (Abroad)

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