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‘Suspicious Vehicle’ Left at LAX Last Week Is a Reminder to Always Arrive Earlier If Possible

12:38 PM PDT on June 27, 2022

Photo via @YangGang2020_/IG.

Photo via @YangGang2020_/IG.

A suspicious U-Haul left unattended at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last Wednesday shut down a portion of the upper level during rush hour, causing some travelers to miss flights, while others struggled to figure out what was even going on. The event went largely unreported by local news outlets but shows how an unexpected emergency can make catching a flight at LAX even more challenging than it already is.

Tony Pierce, host of the podcast Hear in LA and former L.A. Times senior editor happened to be dropping off his friends at the airport right when police responded to the scene. Pierce was stuck in moderate traffic near terminal 1 when suddenly a police vehicle with its sirens on appeared in his rearview.

After being aggressively diverted to the ramp that cuts across the airport by police officers, Pierce’s friends wisely decided to get out and walk the rest of the way. But they asked him to stay nearby just in case things took a turn for the worse.

Headed to his favorite Japanese restaurant on Sepulveda Blvd to post up and wait, Pierce’s journalistic instincts kicked in just before he left LAX, when he hopped on Twitter hoping to learn more about what was happening.

He didn’t find any updates after doing a quick search though. Instead, he sent a tweet out to his more than 5,600 followers. “Not sure what - but serious police activity at terminal 2 of LAX.” Pierce didn’t get a clear picture of what was going on until another Twitter user directed him to a thread from LAX.

Pierce thought the cops did a good job keeping cars out of the area but blamed the airport for not doing a better job of letting people know what was going on as things unfolded. “Nobody knew what was happening. Nobody was there to tell us what was happening,” Pierce said during an interview (his friends ended up missing their flight back to Europe.)

Inside the airport, travelers rushing to deboard planes, catch connecting flights, or claim their baggage were caught in a similar situation. In one video posted to Twitter, travelers can be seen scattering in all directions of an airport terminal while someone off-camera asks, “why are they running?” 

“Absolutely no info given to the thousands of people standing outside waiting to catch flights. Very poor communication effort,” someone tweeted.

“This is also affecting passengers who just landed,” an international traveler who just endured a long flight commented on Twitter. “We just arrived from Barcelona and have been stuck for 30 minutes not able to deplane.”

“Zero information inside the terminal. Massive crowds,” another irritated traveler tweeted.

Heath Montgomery, Director of Public Relations for LAX, pushed back against criticism from people that said the airport didn’t do enough to communicate what was going on to travelers. Montgomery said that the police are primarily responsible for keeping people clear from areas and making announcements on the curb and in the terminals during these situations. “Especially in those first 20 minutes of an incident when things are really evolving,” Montgomery said.

“In the immediate area of concern there were police officers, there is a publicly accessible way of finding the information, even if you don’t have a Twitter account. We’re talking to the media and providing them with updates. Mustering the resources on the ground to go have people yell at crowds outside within 60 minutes of an active unfolding situation…that is not realistic.”

Montgomery added that yesterday’s incident did not rise to a level that would have allowed them to push out notifications to wireless phones, citing federal laws. “If it had been an actual device and had been confirmed and there’s actual safety issues, then we get into the federal abilities to use that tool…but just checking out a suspicious vehicle does not rise to that level.”

During airport-related emergencies, Montgomery says that following Twitter is your best bet when it comes to getting updates on a situation. The LAX spokesperson calls the platform an “industry standard at this point.” For people flying out of LAX, @FlyLAXAirport is the account you want to follow. 

“I understand why they would be like, you know, ‘look at our Twitter for the latest updates,’ but it's an international airport. It's like one of the busiest airports in the country,” Chez Stok, a resident of Los Angeles who flew back home from Austin yesterday, said during an interview with L.A. TACO. “I guess there's that expectation that everybody just has access, but not everybody has the capacity or the knowledge or the need to be on Twitter or know how to navigate Twitter to find out what's happening in an emergency situation.”

Stok said that the police were unhelpful when she approached them with questions during the lockdown. “They immediately took my questioning of what was going on and asking if they were going to tell us more information as like confrontational, and were rude.”

She also said a news report incorrectly indicated that the incident occurred around 2 PM (rather than 4 PM as LAPD reported). So ultimately, she relied on information being disseminated on Twitter by other travelers, to get a clearer picture of what was happening. It took her about two hours from deboarding her plane to leave the airport. 

Stok says she understands the complexities of providing information to people during emergencies in a setting like LAX, where there are thousands of people, and officials have to be mindful of creating even more hysteria. But she still thinks that at some point, officials could have made an announcement letting folks know there was a suspicious vehicle that had been inspected, and cleared, and that they would be on their way soon. “There was never anything like that.”

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