Helen and Kai are about to head home, and they’re connecting through LAX. Helen was kind of nervous about the whole process and asked me to write down instructions for her. Thought you guys might be interested; so here’s what I sent her…
First of all, you won’t be able to bring any fresh food into the U.S. with you. No fruits or veggies or anything like that. They get mad if you try so please don’t.
When you get off the plane, you’ll be at one of the gates in blue in the picture below, in the Tom Bradley International Terminal. You’ll just follow the herd with everybody else until you wind up in the immigration hall. There will be a line for legal residents; get in that line. This puts you at the top of the yellow picture, standing in the area marked “Immigration.”
Once you get past the immigration officers, you’ll be in the part of the room that’s marked “Baggage Claim” in the yellow picture. All your bags will be on one of the baggage carousels. This works just like any other baggage claim area; there will be signs telling you which carousel has the baggage from your flight. You get a cart, find your luggage, and put your luggage on the cart. Then you go get in one of the lines (which will probably be very long) to go through customs. The big rectangles between the words “Baggage Claim” and “Customs” on the yellow diagram are the baggage carousels; the small rectangles that the arrow is pointing to are where the customs officers sit; the small rectangles on either side are X-ray machines that they will sometimes ask you to put your baggage through (usually not, though). There will be two queues that you can get into; they will start at the customs officers and then extend back towards the side walls of the room, queuing up in between the X-ray machines and the baggage carousels. Sometimes the lines are so long they get all the way to the side walls and then turn and extend back up the side walls toward the immigration booths. Once I saw them go all the way to the immigration booths themselves, but that was only once; it shouldn’t be THAT long for you.
There may be a line in the middle of the room, but you can’t get into that one; that’s the Global Entry line, and we haven’t signed you up for Global Entry yet.
Once you’re past customs, you can see on the picture that there’s a wall in front of you and you have to either turn right or left. TURN RIGHT. You will push your baggage cart up a long ramp until you get all the way to the side of the building, then (you can see in the picture) the hall will turn to the left and you’ll keep going up, and at the top of that ramp you’ll come out into a room with a lot of conveyor belts. There will be helpful workers standing there. Just tell them you are connecting on United and ask them where to put your bags. If memory serves the United person is usually on your right-hand side just as you’re about to walk out of the building.
Once you’ve dropped off your bags, you now have to go to the United terminal. United flies out of Terminal 6 and Terminal 7; your flight is currently scheduled to go out of Terminal 7. It’s a bit of a long walk – five or ten minutes, probably – but if you look at the airport map above you can see that you will turn right when you come out of the international terminal, and then just walk along that sidewalk (which will make a left-hand turn, as you can see). The sidewalk is covered and in the shade, and there will be signs telling you what airlines are served by which entrances. Just go into Terminal 7, find the United ticket counters, and check in with them – this isn’t strictly speaking necessary but it can’t hurt, and it gives you a chance to make sure everything is all right and the flight hasn’t been delayed or anything like that. In particular they will tell you which gate you’ll be taking off from –Asiana Airlines will have given you a boarding pass for United flight the previous day when you boarded in Shanghai, but they might have had to change the gate or something while you were in flight over the Pacific.
Now you are ready to go through airport security. They will point you in the direction you should go. There will be two lines; you are in the slow one I’m afraid. This is ordinary U.S. airport security; so you won’t be able to take liquids or fingernail clippers or anything like that on board, and you’ll have to take off your shoes…just do whatever they tell you to do and eventually you’ll get through security. You’ll then take the escalator up to the second floor and follow the signs to your gate.
And after THAT…well, after that it’s easy. :-P