Air Travelers Advised to Expect Delays

Flying this summer will be no picnic, given that area airports predict higher fares on some flights and fuller airplanes.

Los Angeles International Airport expects its busiest summer season since 2001, and facilities in Burbank, Ontario, Long Beach and Santa Ana are also forecasting big crowds. With fewer seats available in the event of flight cancellations due to bad weather or mechanical problems, officials are encouraging travelers to plan ahead.

"There's going to be a regular drumbeat of problems all summer," said Robert Mann, an aviation analyst at R.W. Mann & Co. "Any little hiccup is going to become a big headache quickly."

Delays, which hit record levels last year, are expected to mount this summer as carriers add flights. Even though there will be more aircraft in the air, much of the new service will be on smaller jets, leaving fewer seats for travelers. Labor woes at airlines and discontent among the nation's air traffic controllers could add to delays, experts said.

LAX officials expect 19.6 million people to pass through the facility's nine terminals this summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day, up 2.8% from the same period a year ago, according to figures given to The Times in advance of a news conference today. LAX served 20.5 million travelers during its record summer travel period in 2001.

About 2.2 million passengers will use LA/Ontario International Airport during the summer period, up 1.9% over 2006, statistics show. The summer travel season kicks off Friday, and the airport agency predicts LAX will handle 820,000 travelers over the four-day Memorial Day holiday, about the same number as last year. About 92,000 are expected to pass through LA/Ontario airport, similar to 2006.

At LAX, major construction in the Tom Bradley International Terminal is likely to test travelers' patience. Renovation efforts at the 23-year-old facility have required officials to shut down several baggage carousels and parking spots for aircraft. Longer waits for luggage could result. Fewer gates means carriers will have to use remote parking spots more often, and passengers will have to be brought to customs facilities by bus. Lines in the customs halls at LAX are also expected to be long; the wait has exceeded several hours in recent weeks, airport officials said.

"Arriving passengers at LAX are at times being held on the airplane, without unloading, in some cases over one-half hour, due to crowding in the international terminal's arrival facilities," Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that operates LAX and airports in Van Nuys, Ontario and Palmdale, said in a statement.

Customs officials said these situations were "extremely rare," averaging fewer than five per month, with the delays lasting 10 to 15 minutes. When passengers were required to wait on board a flight at LAX recently, it was due to "safety concerns related to crowding" in the Bradley terminal as a result of construction, wrote Kevin K. McAleenan, area port director at LAX for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in an e-mail in response to questions from The Times.

McAleenan added that customs staffing at LAX has increased over the last year, and that the agency's average processing time there is between 30 and 40 minutes, consistent with waits in previous years and at other major U.S. airports.

With regard to other lines at LAX, airport officials expect queues at checkpoints to be manageable, citing new lanes and more screening personnel.

The federal Transportation Security Administration also plans to test a hand-held device this summer that can screen containers of liquids in carry-on luggage for explosives.

To avoid problems at LAX, officials urged travelers to research flights offered at regional airports, where service is being expanded. At LA/Ontario, ExpressJet Airlines Inc. started offering 29 daily nonstop flights to 14 cities earlier this year. On June 7, the L.A. airport agency will also reopen LA/Palmdale Regional Airport, which hasn't had any airline service for more than a year, with two daily nonstop flights offered by United Express to San Francisco.

"This is the summer to do comparison shopping -- not just for fares and schedules, but for airports," said Paul Haney, deputy executive director of airports and security at Los Angeles' airport agency. "Regional airports are developed to the point that travelers have more choices of airports, and more choices of airline service from those airports, than at any time in history."

Low-fare carrier Skybus Airlines will bring its inaugural flight this morning from Columbus, Ohio, to Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, where passengers will be treated to a water cannon salute.

"We expect a typical holiday weekend, where lots of passengers are flying, and planes are looking pretty full," said Lucy Burghdorf, Burbank airport's community relations manager.

At Orange County's John Wayne Airport, officials have seen a slight uptick in passengers this year, but they don't expect this summer to break any records.

"We are seeing more people than we did last year at this time," said Jenny Wedge, an airport spokeswoman. "But it's fairly minimal, although steady."



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