Yes, Los Angeles International Airport will be jammed Monday for the final day of a record holiday weekend, but things may be even a bit more tense after another chaotic day of scared passengers stampeding onto the tarmac and a terminal being closed and evacuated.
Right in the middle of the three-day holiday weekend that officials predicted would bring record crowds to LAX, armed police swarmed around a stolen car in front of Terminal 3 where the driver was dropping off some passengers.
As police, some with guns drawn, tried to clear the area for their investigation, they moved travelers off the sidewalk and into the baggage claim area. That may have triggered the panic Sunday that resulted in some passengers ignoring security warnings and pushing through doors that led onto the tarmac next to aircraft.
That in turn led authorities to round up all passengers from prohibited areas, close the terminal and evacuate everyone, according to LAPD Officer Rob Pedregon. They all had to go through security screening to reenter the terminal once it was reopened.
This was all during the three-day holiday weekend that officials said would bring a record 817,000 passengers to LAX, a 7.2 percent increase over the same period last year. Monday was expected to be one of the busiest days, as travelers returned from their holiday. Officials urged passengers to arrive at LAX far earlier than usual to be sure they don’t miss their flights.
Sunday’s events came a week after another panic shut down parts of LAX when false reports of shooting sent scared passengers into prohibited areas.
In this holiday weekend incident, the driver of the stolen car that apparently started all of Sunday’s chaos was taken into custody, while his passengers were questioned and released.
When police stopped the suspected stolen vehicle — a 2013 Chevrolet Sonic — four people were inside, and a fifth had already emerged to enter the terminal, Pedregon said. All five were detained for questioning, and the driver was arrested without incident, he said.
He was identified as Larry McKenney, 35, of Humble, Texas, according to airport police.
People either ran or were escorted out of the terminal onto a tarmac at Terminal 3, said airport spokeswoman Mary Grady.
“Some people got over-concerned and went onto the tarmac,” Grady told City News Service.
A total of 18 flights — nine inbound and nine outbound — were delayed, and passengers said they were being kept on arriving flights in holding areas. The terminal is used by Allegiant Air and Boutique Air, as well as Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit and Virgin American airlines.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tried to reassure travelers, saying he understands “events around the world have caused travelers everywhere to have a heightened level of concern for their safety.” But he said LAX has the “finest, most prepared airport police force and federal security personnel in the nation.”
Safety and protection “will always be our number-one priority.”
— Staff and wire reports