LAX Impersonates JFK for the Day

Delays/Cancellations, LAX - Los Angeles

I was on the beach Saturday afternoon when I received a call from a friend. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but it was along these lines . . .

Him: “Dude, I landed forty minutes ago from Hong Kong and we’re still sitting on the plane. They say customs is full so we have to wait.”
Me: “That sucks. I won’t bother mentioning that I’m on the beach right now. Oops.”
Him: “Thanks. What’s going on here? Have you heard anything?”
Me: “Nope, but I’ll see what I can find out.”

An hour later, he calls back . . .

Him: “We’re still here. It’s not looking good. They just turned the movies back on and announced they were getting catering to bring food and water to the plane.”
Me: “Holy crap. That is a nice bikini. Oh, uh, did you say something?”

It turns out, as the LA times reports, the customs processing system at LAX went down Saturday for a long time. That meant hand-processing of everyone once they could get the lists in the first place. Ugh.

As you can imagine the airport was a mess. All of these planes sitting on the ground waiting to let passengers off wouldn’t make their return flights on time, so there were people stuck in the terminals as well as on the planes. And all those late arriving passengers wouldn’t make their connections, if they had any. My friend had it easy. He was in business class and he wasn’t connecting anywhere, but in the end he still had to endure 5 1/2 hours on the plane after a 13 hour flight and another 1 hour to get through customs.

Amazingly (ha), he survived. From all the horror stories you’ve seen the media report on this year, you’d think that this would have been the worst thing to happen, EVER. While he was annoyed and tired, he was ok. Cathay did a great job of feeding people, keeping the lavs going, and entertaining everyone on his plane. And most of the other places I’ve seen people talking about this online had similar scenarios. Alaska Airlines, one of the most affected airlines since it flies to Mexico several times a day, put out a press release noting that all flights had lavs serviced and were catered with food and drink. They also delivered baby formula, diapers, pillows, and blankets to the planes. Now, I haven’t heard any reports of what United or American did, but I’m guessing if it was bad, we would have heard about it by now.

Let’s not bother with the obvious question about how this system crashed. I have no idea, so it’s not even worth speculating. Let’s instead talk about how it is that LAX has this massive meltdown and yet planes keep getting serviced and passengers are taken care of but it never happens that way at other airports. Why is that?

Well, I can think of a couple of reasons. The weather was fine, and the relatively cool ocean air kept temperatures tolerable. They didn’t have to contend with snow-clogged taxiways or ramp-closing lightning storms, so movement on the ground wasn’t an issue. Most importantly, however, it only impacted international flights and not the whole airport. So the efforts could be focused on a smaller number of planes than during a winter storm. Yes, there are a LOT of international flights at LAX, but it wasn’t the entire airport.

No matter what the reasons, I think it’s safe to say that this is how long on-plane delays should be handled. Though people were stuck on planes for hours on end, I have yet to hear the type of horror story come out like those we’ve heard about elsewhere. (If you have a horror story, let me know and I’ll change my tune.) Hopefully the airlines and airports can study the response here and apply what they learned at other airports.

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