Photographers have free rein in the main terminal and parking lot areas of LAX, and weary celebrities are increasingly running the gantlet when they are at their least glamorous: dressed down and lugging luggage, usually after a long flight.
Airport officials said they had noticed a significant increase in the number of paparazzi at the terminals in the last two years, sometimes as many as 60 when word gets around about a big name landing. Gossip website TMZ has a videographer stationed at LAX seven days a week.
So it was only a matter of time until something went wrong -- and that was Thursday, when Kanye West got into a fight with two photographers.
West and his road manager were arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism after they confronted two paparazzi and smashed the men's cameras, authorities said. The incident took place about 7:50 a.m. outside the passenger security screening area in Terminal 4.
Airport police said the confrontation started when a videographer from TMZ and a still photographer from a paparazzi agency approached West and his road manager, Don Crawley, outside the terminal. West and Crawley were arriving for a commercial flight to Honolulu, officials said.
At least part of the incident was captured by the TMZ videographer at the airport. In the video, West and Crawley are shown yelling at the paparazzi and struggling with the still photographer for his camera and its flash before slamming them to the ground.
At that point, as the TMZ videographer continues to shoot, Crawley appears to grab at the video camera.
The incident was the latest of numerous clashes between stars and aggressive photographers -- a situation that prompted both the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles Police Department to announce crackdowns on bad paparazzi behavior this year. The market for star photos has increased significantly in recent years as Internet gossip sites such as TMZ, Jossip and Perez Hilton have come on the scene, competing for images with the traditional tabloids and celebrity magazines.
LAX officials said many paparazzi hang out in the meet-and-greet areas waiting to snap photos when a celebrity enters or leaves the terminal.
On Wednesday night, Jamie Lynn Spears, who recently gave birth, showed up at the airport and was met by a large contingent of paparazzi. The photographers were left scrambling when a woman who looked like Spears, holding what they thought was a baby, took some of them in another direction while Spears made a clean getaway through a restricted area, LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles said.
The throng of photographers was so large that six airport police officers were brought in, according to sources familiar with the incident. But Thursday, airport officials launched an investigation into whether officers acted improperly by being part of Spears' ruse -- and escorting the decoy out of the airport.
"It is not the policy or practice for airport police to provide a celebrity decoy," Castles said.
Two months ago, Britney Spears arrived from Atlanta and got into a waiting car, which was quickly surrounded by 60 photographers who were pushing, shoving and knocking each other down to get a clear shot of the pop star. While in the airport, the photographers blocked her on both sides of a down escalator, causing some people on the escalator to fall, according to the sources.
Castle said one photographer with a red eye complained to airport police that he had a camera shoved into his face by one of Spears' bodyguards. In turn, a Spears bodyguard said he wanted to press charges against the photographer for shoving and knocking him to the ground, she said. Ultimately, neither continued to press their case.
Photographers say airport photos are being increasingly used both on celebrity TV shows such as TMZ and in traditional tabloids and magazines. LAX shots are popular in some circles because they capture celebs in a casual setting.
"You're often getting people with their guard down," said Frank Griffin, a veteran paparazzo and head of the Bauer Griffin agency. "People want to see celebrities looking like they do."
Other photographers said LAX is an easy place to grab the rich and famous at a time when paparazzo backlash is making it harder to get shots at more exotic or trendy locales.
"They are boring pictures of people walking out [of the terminal] with their head down," said Francois Navarre, co-owner of the X-17 Online agency. "It's not like on the beach in Malibu. Most of the time they are not even well dressed."
So why LAX? "Because it's easy," he said.
At least until Thursday morning, when West entered the airport terminal.
West, 31, was arrested by airport police at 8:45 a.m. and taken to the LAPD's Pacific Division station, where he was booked shortly after 11 a.m., according to jail records. Crawley, 32, was booked about 15 minutes earlier. Bail for each man was listed as $20,000.
West and Crawley were released on bail shortly before 1 p.m. West's attorney, Blair Berk, declined to comment on her client's arrest.
The incident caused delays of about 15 to 20 minutes for passengers waiting to get through security.
Celebrities receive no special security arrangements, and there is no specific policy governing photographers at the airport.
"They are entitled to be here and treated like any other member of the general public," Castles said. "The issue becomes when they start spontaneously moving through the terminal in a large group. That creates a public safety problem."
Paparazzo Griffin said it would be wrong to restrict photographer access at LAX.
"This is Los Angeles, this is La-La Land. This is still the territory where people come to be photographed and seen."
Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Meredith Artley, Geoff Boucher, Chris Lee and Richard Winton.