For Some Pilots, Home Is An LAX Parking Lot

Dave Hunt i i

Dave Hunt is a pilot for a major commercial airliner. He sleeps in his RV at the airport several times a week, between flights. Hunt says economic woes in the airline industry have forced him to relocate from Minnesota. "I, for one, never thought I'd end up at a parking lot at LAX," he says. "I'd rather be home." Mandalit del Barco/ NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mandalit del Barco/ NPR
Dave Hunt

Dave Hunt is a pilot for a major commercial airliner. He sleeps in his RV at the airport several times a week, between flights. Hunt says economic woes in the airline industry have forced him to relocate from Minnesota. "I, for one, never though I'd end up at a parking lot at LAX," he says. "I'd rather be home."

Mandalit del Barco/ NPR
LAX parking lot i i

LAX parking lot B is home to airline pilots, flight attendants and crew workers who live in RVs, campers and mobile homes next to one of the busiest runways in the country. Mandalit del Barco/ NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mandalit del Barco/ NPR
LAX parking lot

LAX parking lot B is home to airline pilots, flight attendants and crew workers who live in RVs, campers and mobile homes next to one of the busiest runways in the country.

Mandalit del Barco/ NPR

Lot B at LAX: Not exactly Los Angeles' toniest address.

Every few minutes, another plane lands or takes off on the runway just a few yards away. The noise is deafening.

But this is the place a few dozen commercial pilots, flight attendants and ground crew members call home.

The Tremor Of Planes

"Oh, the airplanes? I guess there's airplanes around here," jokes Dave Hunt, a pilot for one of the big airlines.

He doesn't seem to mind the constant noise.

Neither does his neighbor, Pete Hopkins, who handles air freight for one of the big air fleets. They live in RVs outfitted with kitchens, bathrooms and small bedrooms, powered by generators and solar batteries.

When the planes touch down, you can feel the ground shaking, like an earthquake. Hunt and Hopkins are unfazed.

"I'm an airplane fanatic," explains Hopkins, who's originally from Australia. "I love to see what's coming in. It doesn't worry me — I love it. I get a thrill."

Hunt says most flights stop overnight, and start up again at 6:30 a.m. "Skywest, they wake us up," he says. "You don't need an alarm clock."

Hopkins lives in his RV full-time, but Hunt has another home and a wife back in Minnesota. Instead of getting hotel rooms or sharing space at nearby crash pads, it's much cheaper for them to rent space at the parking lot. It costs $60 a month.

"It's a very, very good deal for people in our situations," says Bob Kendell, who relocated from San Diego to take a job as a plane mechanic. "To be able to be here for $60 a month to go to work, to walk to work or ride my bike, that's great."

Paying $60 a month gets the cheapest real estate in Los Angeles, and the RVs aren't much smaller than a studio apartment. Kendell says his other friends get a kick out of where he lives.

"They think I'm crazy, but they know me and are not surprised," says the tan, divorced grandfather, who says he and his neighbors get together as often as they can.

In fact, parking lot B has become a little community, complete with its own "mayor" and a few rose bushes to brighten up the asphalt. It's not far from the beach, and when he's home, Kendell surfs the wireless internet, watches TV and listens to music.

It's mostly a boy's club here on parking lot B, but Sue Young is one of the few women. She shares an RV with her husband, an airline mechanic, and their two cats, Waldo and Tallulah.

"They look out the window, watch the buses and watch the people go by," she says. "They like it here better than they do our house."

A History Of Pay Cuts

Everyone living here has passed background checks and have valid airport I.D.s. There are some regulations, like no outdoor barbecues. Some folks take showers at nearby gyms, and they fill up their water tanks at the beach a few miles away.

Pete Hopkins and Dave Hunt say it's like camping. But it is necessary since salaries for airline workers have taken a nosedive.

"I personally haven't had a pay raise in 20 years," says Hopkins. "It's always 'you need to take a pay cut,' 'you need to take a pay cut,' 'you need to take a pay cut.'"

Hunt says some of the pilots are getting paid the same as they were in 1992. "It's been a devastated industry. Things are not what we thought they were going to be. Things are probably going to get worse."

Far From The Glory Days

Given the state of the airline business, LAX officials are more than happy to let the pilots and others continue to live in parking lot B. Hunt says he's glad to have this option, and he's really happy to still have a job.

"It's an industry in the throes of stagnation and maybe the early throes of death," he says. "Maybe in 10 years, the airlines won't even be here any more. It's that bad."

Hunt says his living situation is far from the glory days when pilots were treated almost as rock stars.

"Pretty glamorous, isn't it?" he jokes. "I, for one, never thought I'd end up at a parking lot at LAX."

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