After months of planning, the time was upon us to pack our bags and get ready to go to Maui. I had arranged for my supermely capable aunt to fly into LA the day before we left to see how a day in our life operates and to implement the consistency for our three year old in the coming few days we would be gone.
At the nail salon getting my nails done the day before we left, I overhead one of the nail techs talking about how LAX was closed because of a shooting.
“Great,” I thought to myself as I came to start worrying about how this turn of events would likely affect the majority of the rest of my day, and possibly my entire week ahead. The flight my aunt was on was supposed to land at LAX in just under an hour from when I heard the news. Her flight was scheduled to land not 2 hours after the incident. There I sat waiting, debating if I should still have these last few nails polished or if i should immediately race out the door and down to what was sure to be quite a scene at LAX.
I waited for the rest of my nails to be polished, paid and got in my car. Before getting on the road I called a colleague I work with who is also a former LAX police officer. I explained my situation and asked him if he could ask anyone he still knows there if my aunt’s flight would be landing and if I would be able to get to my aunt once at LAX. He told me he would call around and call me back.
I started my car and made my way down the 405 to LAX. My colleague called me back and said the airport was closed, flights weren’t arriving or departing and that no one was allowed into the airport. I thanked him but stayed en route, hoping somehow his colleagues were wrong.
I then got on the phone with United airlines to see if her flight had been diverted. After ten minutes of menus and selections, I was able to speak with someone in reservations who told me her flight was on time. I asked if i would be able to pick her up from the airport. The person on the other line was definitely in a call centee overseas. I ground my teeth as she read from her script and again told me how the flight was on time to arrive at LAX.
Too nervous to be much nicer, I told her there was a shooting, I heard the airport was closed and asked her to check with her supervisor to see if people were able to pick up arriving passengers at the airport. She placed me on hold for a couple minutes at most and assured me her flight was due to arrive on time and that I would be able to pick her up.
Sure enough, in the miles before the exits to the airport, there were signs stating, “airport closed.”
“What am I supposed to do?!” I thought in a minor panic. “If I can’t get my aunt today, we can’t leave tomorrow and all our plans we’ve been working on for months will be all for not. How and why would someone waltz into an airport and start shooting people? Why can’t we all just be happy and not hurt each other?!” Sigh. These were my thoughts as I pulled off the freeway, onto Sepulveda and put my foot on the brakes.
There were red taillights everywhere; stopped cars as far as I could see. People were waiting everywhere for someone to have any sort of information about arriving & departing passengers and how we were supposed to get them and if people’s flights would be leaving that day. While in the line of stopped cars, I called the LAX airport information line but after two rings it said, “all circuits busy,” and dropped the call. I called again to see if I might get a different response. I didn’t.
As I inched closer to the airport, the scene was surreal in a very unsettling way. Of the ten minutes I had been in the vicinity of LAX, I had only seen one plane land, and five helicopters hovering over the typically otherwise restriced airspace. I sat in the line of traffic on Sepulveda, in front of In-N-Out burger and saw, on the grassy area between the burger joint and the road, about 50 people with luggage, sitting around talking, pointing, scratching their heads, literally and figuratively.
I saw about 10 flight attendants grouped together in their pressed white shirts, blue pants and uniform scarves. I saw a couple take towels out of their suitcase and use it for a makeshift picnic area. The man laid down & put on his shades. The woman sat cross legged and took out a magazine. Everyone was so calm, even with the handful of news trucks in the background and the helicopters buzzing overhead.
I called my aunt, hoping she’d landed somewhere by now. The call went directly to voice mail so I sent her a text asking her to call me when she lands so we can figure out what to do from there. Not too long after I sent her the text, I drove away towards Marina Del Rey, just to escape the other, many confused people almost on top of each other for lack of information about where else we should all go.
I drove towards MDR and turned around at the first stop light. I didn’t want to go too far in case she made it in and in case we would be allowed to go into the airport to pick up arriving passengers.
As I waited, my phone chirped. My aunt texted back saying they had arrived into LAX but were waiting for a gate. I had no idea if the passengers were given information about what had happened. I asked her to call me if and when should could.
She called. I told her what had happened and told her how the airport was completely closed and that it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to drive onto the property to pick her up. I told her I would wait at one of the parking lots hoping that the police might be allowing shuttle buses to bring people out. Then I saw a shuttle bus driver who confirmed that even they couldn’t go in or out.
My aunt called back when she had her luggage and said there were no cars or busses anywhere in the airport. I tried to imagine the scene. It seemed too unreal to believe. She said she would start walking towards Sepulveda and that if they started allowing cars inside or at least along Sepulveda that she would look for my car & hop in if she saw me. I told her I was going to leave the parking area and go stay at in-n-out and wait for her. I had to pay $6.00 for the 20 minutes I was in the parking area. It drives me crazy that in times of crisis business owners can’t lend the smallest hand and give people a pass.
Miraculously I found a parking space at In-N-Out so I parked, grabbed my phone and started walking towards the airport. The weather had reached the low 80s. I didn’t want my aunt to have to pull her suitcase any longer than she already had. As I crossed the crosswalk onto an eerily empty Sepulveda, my phone rang. My aunt was in the parking lot at In-N-Out! I turned around, crossed the street again and was offered a bottle of cold Arrowhead water from a young man with cases full. A news reporter came up and said, “ok, i’ll take one. How much?” “Oh, these are free,” he said, grabbing as many as he could and handing them out as fast as he could. I didn’t ask who they were provided by, I just took one for my aunt, thanked him and kept heading back towards where she was waiting.
I’m always happy to see this aunt but I have never been more relieved to see her face standing with her suitcase in the parking lot at In-N-Out. We gave each other huge, sweaty hugs, I gave her the bottle of cold water and we made our way to my car and back to the Valley.
Before going to sleep that night my fiance had the brilliant idea to try to check us in and see if we would be able to or if our flight was somehow delayed due to the incident at LAX. I was able to check us in online without a problem, but I called the airline just to be sure we wouldn’t have any surprises at the airport. Sure enough, the airline assured us we could check in as we would have any other day, but to get there a bit early, just to be sure.
We arrived early and drove by the eerie scene of terminal 3. The windows were covered and there were police cars lined up, about 10-12 deep. I was very thankful we weren’t departing out of terminal 3, that our flight was able to leave without delay only one day after the entire airport was shut down and mostly, I was thankful that my aunt was able to get into and out of the airport without major incident. I feel truly blessed that, although we were minorly affected by the incident, it was only a convenience of time factor and nothing more.
My aunt and I have a great joke about walking to and from LAX now. When I took her back she asked if I could take her all the way to the terminal and not drop her at In-N-Out, even though she knew she could walk that distance with a suitcase.
I love all parts of my surreal life, even the nerve wracking parts! Being able to remember the nerve wracking times in my life truly makes the easy parts that much more enjoyable for me. So thankful, for everything.