Security at L.A. Airport: It’s Increased, ‘Invisible’
When Russell Lloyd disembarked from a London flight at 1 o’clock the other morning at Los Angeles International Airport, he mislaid his coat while collecting his baggage.
In the course of his search through the Tom Bradley International Terminal, he said, he was “shocked” to find--at a time when the Beirut hostage crisis was dominating the news--that “I had the place to myself.”
Because of the recent eruption of terrorist incidents involving air travel, Federal Aviation Administration officials say there is “increased surveillance” at domestic airports. And a L.A. International spokesman said there is, and always has been, 24-hour-a-day security in its terminals.
In fact, airport spokesman Lee Nichols maintained that in terms of security procedures, L.A. International may be “ahead of the game” compared to other airports due to an “extensive review” and upgrading done before the 1984 Olympic Games. All fences, gates and locks, he said, were upgraded at the time. “Those improvements are still in place,” he said.
But Lloyd, a Gardena manufacturer, did not have that impression while looking for his coat. Noting that he had just come from a London airport where “you don’t walk anyplace without guards around,” Lloyd said he was surprised to have such free access. He added that he was unable to even find an official to talk to when he could not find the coat.
He said he walked down a ramp to the customs area, then through the office areas and what appeared to him to be a locker room area without being questioned or stopped.
Nichols would not comment directly on Lloyd’s experience, saying he did not have enough information, but he added, “I have never been there when there weren’t officers.”
Upon his arrival at L.A. International from Washington on Friday, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) agreed that the busy terminal is probably one of the safer airports. “LAX, because of the Olympics, has spent more time and thought and taken more actions than most airports in the world for safety,” he said.
Barbara Abels, a spokeswoman for the regional office of the FAA, reacting to a recounting of Lloyd’s experience, said security measures “may not be as apparent here as in other countries.”
The last hijack attempt at L.A. International, which was unsuccessful, occurred Oct. 27, 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Despite the stepped-up security, life at the airport appeared routine last week, which is, Abels said, “what we hoped it to look.”
In a random sampling of passenger security gates at Pan American and Western Airlines in the Bradley Terminal, there was only an occasional physical examination of carry-on bags. New government regulations banning curb-side check-in of baggage ticketed for international flights did not affect operations Friday at LAX, where, according to airport officials, the practice has not been permitted for some time.
Travelers seemed to move as quickly as ever through the luggage X-ray and metal detectors at security gates, with no long lines due to extra measures, such as hand searches of passengers.
However, ground personnel--both airline employees and airport staff--reportedly were being more carefully scrutinized by security officers, even though they routinely wear identification tags. Airport spokesman Nichols, for example, said he was stopped one day in the field area “to see if I was properly identified.”
Most airlines refused to discuss their security measures or what, if any, improvements are being contemplated. However, Linda Dozier, Western Airlines’ public relations director, said, “We have put extra security people in the terminal.”
Passenger Attitudes Vary
“We are making continuing changes in our security procedures,” Dave Venz, TWA director of corporate public relations said, adding: “I don’t want to get into specifics. The more you talk about these things the more apt you are to say something that tends to compromise the system.”
When asked about airport security, passenger attitudes were varied.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles speech therapist Linda Luger refused to board a People Express flight for Newark that had been delayed several hours due to a bomb scare.
“If this had happened two months ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about it,” she said. “But with all that’s happened in the past two weeks, I felt it wasn’t worth the risk.” She postponed her trip a month.
On the other hand, Ruth Hoehn of Tuscon, Ariz., said that she had had a tennis holiday in Austria “planned a long time” and was “not going to stay home.” As she waited for her flight she added, “I figure, you could go out and get killed in a car.”
Pan American Airlines resumed its flights from Los Angeles to Athens on Friday for the first time in more than a week since President Reagan requested U.S. airlines to stop flying to the Greek city after the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.
Staff writer John Kendall contributed to this report.