In and out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX

I frequently find myself dropping off or picking up passengers at the International terminal at LAX. Picking people up can be kind of a crap shoot due to the serial immigration + baggage claim + customs lines. I typically park in the lot closest to the terminal so that I don’t have to play the game of avoiding LAX police and security while endlessly circling and hovering in the white zone, which they tell me is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. So here are a couple tips for making parking at this lot the most pleasant experience possible:

LAX maps at

Take the Departures ramp into the airport.

It seems counter-intuitive since you’re there to pick someone up, but trust me, it’s better. Departures is full of people who are going to a terminal, pulling up to a curb, dropping off a passenger, and then getting the hell out of LAX. Arrivals is full of people who are going to a terminal, slowing down to 5 mph while scanning for their passenger, pulling over, getting moved on, circling the airport, re-entering the pickup area, making phone calls to see if the passenger is outside yet, etc. Not to mention the fact that three of the lanes on the arrivals level become left-turn only lanes where the cars almost invariably merge right because they have no intention of going left.

The departures level is also the superior way of entering the parking structure. Since the parking structure is used more often by people picking up arriving passengers, they tend to queue up on the arrivals level, usually causing a backup into the flow of traffic. The entrance on the departures level is also slightly closer, which means that you’re already on your way in while some schmo on the arrivals level is trying to merge right to avoid being forced into another circuit of LAX.

Note (July 2017): With Uber and Lyft dropping off and picking up passengers on the Departures level, the Departures level is now worse than Arrivals. There’s a fleet of pink moustaches endlessly circling up there. Just go in via Arrivals and duck into parking structure 3 as quickly as possible.

Park on Level 2.

Level 2 is always less crowded than Level 1 (arrivals) and 3 (departures) because you’ll have to go up or down one floor in order to cross to the terminal. It’s usually not too hard to find a good parking spot close to the elevators. Even if you were to find a parking space on Level 3 on your way to the down-ramp, you’re probably better off continuing on to Level 2. Keep in mind that when you’re reunited with your party, dozens of other reunions are happening at the same time. Most of the throng that joins you in crossing the street will likely get caught in the exit queue on Level 1 (which ingeniously merges with the Level 1 entrance queue for one aisle length), but sometimes traffic backs up from Level 3 on down. Fortunately, the down-ramp from Level 2 spills immediately into 3-4 exit booths, which minimizes the amount of time you need to spend idling in line. Don’t forget to have your $3 handy.

Bring something to amuse yourself.

No matter how good you may feel about having gotten into the parking structure quickly and parking in a great space, the euphoria wears off quickly and you’ll find yourself bored while waiting for the poor bastards that have had to deal with the Department of Homeland Security. Bring a magazine, a DS, or compose an email to yourself on your iPhone that will eventually become a new blog post about how to park at LAX and why your methodology is superior.

35 thoughts on “In and out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX”

  1. Thanks for the tips! One quick question, which parking structure should I park if picking up passengers from TB terminal?

    1. P-3 and P-4 are the structures directly across from Tom Bradley International, but I usually park at P-4.

  2. we have to make an international flight from LAX in Feb 2010. I would like to park my car for 4 weeks before we return. Where would you recommend me to park my vehicle for 4 weeks with less hassel and expenses. Thanks

    1. Everybody should seriously consider the shuttles. When parking for more than a few days, the Flyaway or parking lot C are very viable. I have parked at the Van Nuys flyaway, picked people up, and had a no hassle ride back to the Valley while catching up.

  3. This advice is EXACTLY what I was searching for! I haven’t had to deal with the Bradley Terminal in over 10 years, but now I will have to pick someone up from there in a couple months. And, not only is this post informative, but it’s entertaining, too – made me LOL in spots!

    Do you think you’ll have to modify your tips now that they’re going to start renovations at the terminal?

  4. Thanks, KDee. It’s hard to track the renovations in a useful way on a blog post, but they haven’t really had an impact on how I get in or park.

  5. Can someone give me an estimate on time – picking up someone arriving at Tom Bradley Int’l Terminal at 6:35 am – how long will it take her to get through all the lines and out of the terminal? One hour? Two? Three?

  6. For US citizens, I would guess 30-45 minutes. 15-30 minutes longer for non-citizens. However, I’ve sometimes experienced 2 hour waits.

  7. Thank you for the info, have not been in LAX since last century, I will be picking up someone at 1305hrs in two days. This just saved my day.

  8. Great to hear it. By the way, there’s now a bar/cafe right next to the exit. If you tell your passengers to meet you there, you can enjoy a little something while sitting comfortably instead of standing around peering over other people’s heads.

  9. This is great. Sitting in the lobby at the Sheraton Gateway killing time until I drive over to pick up an international arrival in a few hours, and was wondering how to go about parking negotiations.
    You have made my day. Thanks!

  10. i will pick up my brother family on march 6 @ tom bradley international terminal. which parking lot i have to park my car .

  11. Sweet. Going to pick up parents from their vacation and now I can get in stress free and have a beer while I wait!

  12. Where is the entrance to Tom Bradley and how do I board Singapore flights to Tokyo? (I’m getting on Flight 11 or 12, i think.

  13. I am supposed to go to the Global Entry Office located beside the Information Center on the Departures Level (I guess that’s Level 3) of Tom Bradley International.
    Following your instructions(wonderful, thanks!) do I just take the elevator up from parking level 2 and is there a bridge then from the parking structure into the terminal itself? Thanks.

    1. On level 3 there is a crosswalk near the vehicle entrance to the parking lot.

      On level 4 there is a pedestrian bridge near the elevator, but once you cross over, you have to take another elevator or stairs to get down to level 3 again.

  14. PIcking up hubby on Emirates tomorow. How do I get from I guess Century Blvd to P4. I’m visiting from Nevada. So reallhy unfamliar with the airport.
    Also – does the economy Lot C shuttle go to the Tom Bradley Terminal – because I have to get there so early – is it smarter for me to use the Lot C?Thank you so much!

  15. I’m picking up high school students at Tom Bradley and don’t want them wandering around while I try to find them. Where is the best place I can arrange to meet them after they go through customs and where I can go that isn’t in the security zone? I”m assuming they’ll have their luggage with them already. Thanks.

    1. Tom Bradley’s ground floor actually has lots of seating to the left as you exit the security area. Your high school students can probably park themselves there after coming out and just wait for you. The farther they walk away from the security area, the more seating there will be.

  16. I did not know this – thank you so much for writing up this info! Great feeling getting in and out of LAX so smoothly 🙂

  17. Thanks for your awesome post. All you share sounds logical and should help make picking up my passenger a more pleasurable experience.

  18. Once I go inside of the terminal where do I go to wait for my arriving party. I’m not telling them I’m showing up, trying to surprise them. So where would I wait for them to make sure I can spot them. Baggage claim area? Please let me know how and where to go thanks!