In the five short months I've owned Hal - my all-electric Nissan Leaf - I've listed free parking and charging at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) as one of many up-sides to electric car ownership. And, in concept, this is a particularly appealing perk since I live just outside of the comfortable round trip range from Orange to LAX.

When reality hit and our vacation date neared, I made some inquiries with the airport to get the finer details. It turns out that only two of the ten plug-in stations at the airport are compatible with the Leaf. The polite spokesperson at the at the LAX Parking Management Department also mentioned that two employees at LAX who drive Chevrolet Volts were in the habit of parking there every day during the week. Upon further inquiry, he mentioned that the Volt-driving staffers are usually gone by around 3:00 p.m., which was around the time we planned to arrive.

He also had another idea. He told me that if I had a trickle charging unit, I could simply plug in to a wall outlet while I was traveling. This is always a tough one to justify, since the charging unit is worth several hundred dollars and has no lock. If it was stolen or vandalized, we'd still be out some cash, but we would probably get the charge completed before the vandals got away with it.

So, there was only one element needed for this risky venture - luck.

Being the pioneer of the electric lifestyle that I am, I told my dear spouse that we should 'go for it' notwithstanding his many 'what if' scenarios.

What if the spots were all taken? What if we were stranded coming back from the airport? What if we had to use our trickle charger and someone took off with it during the nine days we were gone? After devising a Plan B to stop at our daughters' home if we didn't get the charge, we launched off to the airport with our fingers firmly crossed.

Thirty-eight airports across the country have electric charging stations, but we know of no other facility that offers free parking for up to 30 days for electric vehicles. And since the charging stations at most of those airports are located in the short-term parking areas, the typical cost is $30-$40 per day (not good for a long trip).

In the end we lucked out. One of the two spots was free and we were able to get the charging unit to work. As we looked around the various charging spots, we never did find a regular plug available anywhere - so much for that plan.

As we returned from our vacation, the final moment of anxiety was the unsettling feeling that perhaps the charge didn't work. Thankfully, it did, and all was well with the car. We did have a sneaking suspicion that the presence of Hal connected to the charging unit for over a week ticked off a few airport employees used to parking there, however.

The true payoff was when the toll operator ran our ticket through the machine and a whopping $330.00 came up on the screen. After explaining that we were in an electric car, her manager came by, asked us for identification and the gate lifted magically.

Will we try to do it again? Perhaps, but only if we're feeling lucky.

Want to learn more? Follow our long-term test of the Nissan Leaf.

author photo

Joni Gray is a long-standing member of the automotive industry and has worked on both the corporate and publishing sides of the business. Over the past 20 years, she has managed advertising and marketing programs at Mazda, Hyundai and Honda and has been an editor at both Kelley Blue Book and the Los Angeles Times.

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