Thanksgiving is only just in the rearview mirror, but there’s still plenty of holiday hell left to go around. As many people gird their loins to fight on the freeways or wage battle with humanity at the airport, the question has to be asked: In our wondrous techno age, is there a way to experience the best of travel without removing your belt and shoes?
Firstly you can pretend to be in a last-minute panic prepping for your trip by browsing for adaptors at Flight 001 on West Third Street. The store is bright white and shaped like the fuselage of a jetliner — in a way reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey — and stows all kinds of boutique travel accessories, gadgets, maps and, of course, swish bags.
Make your way to LAX but forget about negotiating security checkpoints or paying out the nose for long-term parking. Instead have a relaxing early lunch at old-school favorite Proud Bird, the aviation-themed restaurant that narrowly avoided closure earlier this year. You can’t miss it; there’s a whole fleet of colorful old propeller planes parked outside and a great view of landing flights while you eat.
If you really can’t live without the smell of aviation fuel and getting within yards of a check-in desk, then settle for a no-ticket-needed experience at the iconic Theme Building. It’s the Googie structure that looks like a flying saucer or War of the Worlds tripod fighting machine, and once had a kitschy 1960s-alien-themed restaurant in the “cockpit” underneath. As long as you have ID you can take a trip up in the silver elevator and see a sky full of planes full of sucker passengers going home for family “fun.” Then get back in the car and drive far, far away from flight delays and TSA screenings.
If you’re a real fan of planes, visit the nearby nonprofit Flight Path Museum. A real hidden treasure — and free, too — it was established to celebrate the 75th anniversary of LAX and the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. It looks at the impact aviation and aerospace had on SoCal but also has a sidewalk-style “Hall of Fame” featuring winged pioneers, organizations and locations. There are also several hundred funky and classy stewardess uniforms, exhibits of airline souvenirs and photographs, and of course countless liveried planes, from toy size to a DC-3 on the tarmac outside, which you can walk through and even sit in the captain’s seat.
After leaving LAX way behind you, make for Santa Monica Boulevard and enjoy a calming nonflight pre-flight cocktail at Now Boarding, a vintage airline-themed bar that’s just like it used to be in the golden years of Mad Men. There are Croft Alley deli snacks served on powder-blue trays — much better than you’ll get aloft — and upgraded cocktails including the Mile High Mule (Russian Standard vodka served with house-made ginger beer over crushed ice).
Your final destination is out of town but still on the ground. Located in Pacoima, Air Hollywood is a huge studio specializing in airplane mock-ups, terminals, props and sets for movies and television. It's also home to the Pan Am Experience, a jet-age retro-styled “flight” that takes you back in time to the days of Catch Me If You Can.
From checking in, hanging out in the lounge and then “boarding” a fully replicated Boeing 747, you get the whole shebang. Wander round avec cocktail and explore, then take your seat and enjoy a gourmet four-course meal on original crockery and glassware — level of comfort to be decided, just like in real life, by the price you pay for your seat. Afterward you can take a tour of the studio, or just make your way home happy and jet-lag free.