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LAX Back in Business

By Benjamin Adair, 9/14/2001

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On a normal day, some 40,000 airplanes crisscross the skies over the United States, but for more than 48 hours last week those skies were empty. When planes began to fly again, at least a few of them, we sent The Savvy Traveler's Benjamin Adair to one of America's busiest airports, the Los Angeles International Airport. He experienced LAX as few of us will ever know it...
When I was a little kid. I lived across the street from this park with just three huge trees. This one time, we were climbing the biggest tree - my brother and me - and we shimmied out on one of the longest branches. We were both hanging down and suddenly my brother let go. The branch swung up, out of my hands and I fell down - right on my back.

I remember I was lying there, staring up at the sun, and just then a plane passed overhead. Right above me and blocked out the sun. And at that instant, even though my jerk of a brother did what he did, I felt good. I felt warm. Blessed.

In Los Angeles, the 105 freeway takes you to the airport and it runs parallel to the landing paths. On a normal day, you're passed by one or two planes coming in. You look back as you take the turn off and there's six or seven planes in the distance, like a baby's mobile on final approach. At night it looks like a Christmas tree.

Today, I looked back and saw nothing. The runways were deserted. Just cement like an abandoned military base. All the planes stopped. Parked up against the gate.

And the smell. Today, the airport smelled like the ocean...there was no smell of jet fuel hanging over the area.

Instead, there was impatience...there was frustration. There was a little bit of fear and sadness. There was a man and his wife trying to get home to Dallas.

Moodys: "We came in last Thursday and were due on Tuesday, you know what happened. We had several changes and today they said this is it. (what are you thinking about when you're getting ready to get on this plane today). Just taking off and landing, from point A to point B with no problems - seeing my grandchildren. I just want to get home..."
Kelly Abbott: "I'm a little nervous. I don't think they're doing enough right now. I think they air marshals on the planes and they haven't done that yet. I'd like to see that."
Michael Abbott: "They first confirmed us on a flight on Wednesday morning and that didn't happen. Then they confirmed us on a flight this morning. That didn't happen. The last one they confirmed us on was this afternoon. Each time I've called they say it's still on schedule, so."
Bob Wilcox: "There's no traffic on the freeways. And I don't understand. I mean, were all these people on the freeways going to the airport? What's the deal? I don't understand it. I mean, really. Do you know the answer?"
Traffic aside, flight schedules aside, the fact that you can't drive into LAX today, that you have to park in Remote Lot B or C and then take the airport shuttle to your terminal - put that aside too. Still, things are different now.

Roger Horne noticed the difference when he showed up for work on Tuesday. He works the afternoon shift, driving the remote parking shuttle in its never-ending loop

Roger Horne: "Yeah, I mean it's different because I work out here at the airport, I'm around airplanes and I'm used to this environment. You never really notice the planes you know, they're here, but you never really notice them, you become sort of oblivious to them. But when they're not in the air, you actually do notice."
We're all looking for something. Meaning. Or answers. Revenge? Most of the people trying to fly this weekend will say they're just looking to get home, but odds are, when the immediate challenge is over, they'll be like the rest of us.
Kelly Abbot: "(are you worried at all for your trip that's coming up this afternoon?) No. No. I think that we're probably going to be okay, but, I don't know, it's just a terrible event and it just makes you feel real sad."
We didn't ask for this to happen. But we woke up in Los Angeles and there it was. We want to feel like things aren't any different now, but there's a question that hangs there in the back of our minds. What's next?

We want to see that plane, we want to fall under its shadow as it blocks out the sun. We want to lie on our backs, despite what's just happened, and feel good. Feel warm. Feel blessed.

But for now, all there is to do is get home. And feel real sad.

From the Los Angeles International Airport, I'm Benjamin Adair for the Savvy Traveler.

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