Chaos at Los Angeles airport with terminal evacuation, flight cancellations due to power outage

Hundreds of passengers stood in a lengthy line that snaked outside the terminal as they waited to be checked by security.
Hundreds of passengers stood in a lengthy line that snaked outside the terminal as they waited to be checked by security. PHOTO: AMBITIOUSDDO/TWITTER

LOS ANGELES (DPA) - Travellers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) were met with additional flight cancellations and delays on Thursday (June 6) morning as a result of an hours-long power outage that brought the airport to a standstill hours earlier.

Travellers in Terminal 1, served by Southwest Airlines, were evacuated shortly after 6am (9pm Singapore time) and were being re-screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after officials determined that "prohibited items" had made their way into the airport during Wednesday night's power outage.

"An airline granted passengers whose flights were cancelled access to their checked bags, resulting in the unintentional introduction of prohibited items into the secure area at the airport," said Ms Lorie Dankers, a spokesman for the TSA.

"Out of an abundance of caution, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) leadership at LAX made the decision to re-screen the passengers." It is not clear what type of prohibited items were identified.

Once the terminal was cleared of passengers, airport police conducted a security sweep of the area. Officers used dogs to search for any prohibited items, said Mr Heath Montgomery, an airport spokesman.

"When TSA asks us to do something like this, we do it," Mr Montgomery said.

Hundreds of passengers stood in a lengthy line that snaked outside the terminal as they waited to be checked by security. Airport officials said shortly before 7am that the process would take about an hour; the line had cleared by 8.40am.

Southwest Airlines reported 10 flight cancellations and 15 delays associated with the re-screening.

"Passengers flying with Southwest should contact the airline for the latest on their flight," airport officials wrote on Twitter.

When Ms Carrie Barnett of Thousand Oaks arrived at LAX early on Thursday for her 9am flight to Nebraska, she encountered a massive crowd and a large police presence outside the Southwest terminal.

"Police were trying to usher people through the drop-off process outside," she said. "The line of people wrapped around the security area all the way through the terminal and outside."

Travellers whose flights had been cancelled on Wednesday night returned to the airport early on Thursday and breezed through security in less than 10 minutes. However, they were then ushered out of the terminal, she said.

Ms Barnett had been standing in line for about 45 minutes when the TSA began screening people and allowing them to return to the departure area.

The screening process was moving like "405 traffic", she said, referring to Interstate 405, one of the most trafficked freeways in the US.

"It's stop and go," she said. "I'm just riding this wave of people."

Some travellers, including 29-year-old Shaelyn Terrio, had spent the night on the airport floor after the power outage forced her flight to be cancelled.

Ms Terrio and her family had left for LAX early on Wednesday night, hoping for a smooth travel experience, but when she and her three young children arrived at the airport, the power was out. An hour later, their flight was cancelled.

She booked a flight for Thursday night and settled in for a lengthy airport stay. Staff handed out chips, cookies and emergency blankets to many people lying on the terminal floor, she said.

Staff woke up the family about 4.30am and they passed smoothly through security before grabbing some breakfast. Then they were told to leave the terminal.

After again making her way into the airport, Ms Terrio - visibly exhausted and with her hair disheveled - sat with her children near the baggage check area waiting for her flight. Her eight-year-old son, Phoenix, muttered quietly as she fed her infant in her arms.

"The sun was still rising. We ate on the run," she said. "This morning, they keep saying it was a security breach, but when they were evacuating, they didn't say anything."

Ms Dora Evans, 59, said she encountered a chaotic scene. Confusion prevailed as hundreds of people gathered in several lines to pass through security, only to learn later that their fights had been cancelled or delayed.

People were upset, she said. Most were glued to their phones, trying to get a new flight or reach family members to update them.

"What can you do?" she said. "It doesn't work to get all upset about it. I know in case of chaos to try to calm down and take a deep breath."

Wednesday's power outage, which began shortly before 6.30pm, was the result of a glitch at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power station, said Ms Olga Gallardo, an LAX spokesman.

Ms Gallardo said generators immediately kicked in following the outage, but it took about 1.5 hours for the TSA and other airport staff to reboot their systems.

Power was fully restored to Terminals 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal within the first hour, but power remained off at Terminals 1, 7 and 8. At 9.35pm, the airport announced that power was restored to Terminal 7. Power was back on at Terminal 8 roughly 10 minutes later. Terminal 1 had power at around 10pm.

A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spokesman said power was completely restored to the airport by 10.40pm. The outage forced the cancellation of 18 Southwest Airlines and three United Airlines flights on Wednesday. United also had nine aircraft divert from LAX to other airports.

It is not clear why portions of the airport remained without power for several hours.

"That's what we'll be looking into today," Mr Montgomery said.