LAX shooting snarls air traffic across U.S.

Thousands of fliers across the U.S. were delayed Friday after a morning shooting at Los Angeles International Airport closed parts of the airport. The prolonged shutdown at the nation’s third largest airport was particularly troublesome for those hoping to head to the East Coast or across the Pacific Ocean.

Flights bound for Los Angeles that had not yet taken off were held at their gates for hours by the Federal Aviation Administration. The so-called ground stop is in effect until around 4:00 Pacific time. There were nearly 200 flights cancelled. Some flights already in the air were allowed to land at LAX while others diverted to nearby airports.

Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates the Los Angeles airport, said at a midday press conference that planes were landing at the airport at “less than half the normal arrival rate.”

Flight tracking site FlightAware.com said that as of 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, there were 195 flight cancellations. Another 268 flights were delayed. To put that in perspective, there were roughly 200 other flight cancellations Friday nationwide, mostly in New York and Philadelphia because of rain and heavy winds.

The shooting occurred around 9:30 a.m. local time. Some passengers who landed after the incident spent at least two hours sitting on planes parked in a remote corner of the airport.

Even though the airport never fully closed, travelers trying to fly out were unable to reach it because of massive road closures.

Lindsey said it will take “quite a deal of time” to get operations back to normal at the airport. She said it will be a “carefully orchestrated logistical ballet.”

Friday morning a man carrying a note that said he wanted to “kill TSA” pulled a semi-automatic rifle from a bag and shot his way past a security checkpoint. One Transportation Security Administration officer was killed and at least three others were wounded, authorities said.

One security expert doubted much could be done to prevent similar incidents.

“I am not sure what can be done other than effectively banning most types of guns as in the UK where there are minimal shootings,” said Kenneth J. Button, a public policy professor and director of the Center for Transportation, Policy, Operations and Logistics at George Mason University.

“This could just as well happened on a street in New York or at a shopping mall,” Button said in an email in which he also alluded to last year’s mass shootings in a Colorado movie theatre and at a Connecticut elementary school. He added that “airports are possibly one of the safest places given the security there.”

Los Angles is a major gateway for flights to Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Domestically, the largest cities served are: San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, San Jose, Calif., San Diego and Phoenix.

However, it is not a major connection point such as Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Minneapolis.

Most airlines issued waivers for people traveling through Los Angeles, allowing them to change flights without paying a fee.

JetBlue diverted flights from Boston, New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to nearby Long Beach airport. Southwest diverted at least one flight — a trip from Chicago that landed in Denver.

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