Guest Post: Preparing for the Unimaginable.
Today’s guest post from Laura Billetdeaux, who landed at LAX last week during the time frame of the incident at the airport. As the parent of a son with type 1 diabetes, the day’s events had her playing through many “what ifs.” This is her account of her experiences:
Last Friday, my flight from Detroit to LAX began its final descent to the runway shortly before 10 a.m. It was a big plane; we each had a tv on the seat back in front of us. Mine was tuned to CNN, and I watched, horrified, as the words “Shots fired at LAX” appeared on the screen.
We continued the descent. Surely we wouldn’t be landing there?
Not a word from the pilot. We landed and continued down the runway. Emergency vehicles were everywhere. “Welcome to LAX, where the local time is 9:55.” Really? The pilot suddenly stopped the plane on the active runway and spoke to us. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, it appears that you received information before I did. There were shots fired at LAX, and we need to wait here for a bit until we receive further instructions.”
We stayed on the runway for perhaps an hour, then taxied slowly to an empty gate, where we sat for another hour. Eventually, we were instructed to deplane and head down to baggage where we would ‘be secure and receive further instructions.’
They didn’t advise:
1. There’s no food down there, not even a snack machine.
2. You may be there for many hours.
3. You may or may not have access to your luggage.
They didn’t advise that it was ok (in retrospect, perhaps recommended) to stop at one of the many food venues in the gate area – or even to stay there if you didn’t want to go to baggage. Or to find the SkyClub and buy a pass for the day, and watch CNN from a real chair, with real internet access and a power source, with a beverage and snack in hand.
We didn’t know.
I followed the crowd down the escalator and retrieved my bag. I went to the exit and discovered that LAX was in lockdown. No vehicles in our out; no people in or out. Everyone tried to find a spot to sit: parents with young children; elderly couples; international visitors who didn’t speak English; people with physical disabilities. It was crowded.
I wondered: Who has type 1? Do they have supplies?
There was no one to provide information. I found a tiny spot to claim, a 2’x2’ space behind a row of chairs and a big pole, with the wall to my back and the window onto the street to my right. I could watch what was happening. Better yet, there was a plug on the floor – I was connected. Score.
As the hours passed and the afternoon wore on, I began to get more concerned as no one arrived to give us updates. Or tell us what to do. Or help those who needed assistance. It also seemed that people were at this point walking away from the airport. I wondered, “Where are they going?”
A police officer friend, who had been providing me insider updates via text the entire time, sent me a message: All roads will continue to be closed until further notice; if you can, walk out.
Pulling my suitcase and carrying two other heavy travel bags, I joined the travelers trekking off to the right toward Terminal 8. No one stopped us. The police and K-9 units continued to sweep the huge parking garage on our left. Helicopters hovered overhead. What is beyond Terminal 8? What am I walking into? I asked the man walking next to me, “Are you familiar with this airport? Where are we all going?”
He advised to follow the crowd toward Sepulveda Blvd, which is a street not a highway. He, on the other hand, knew a shortcut and was going to walk for a bit on the highway. I thought briefly about following him, but decided to stick with the hordes. We all walked. We passed the airport signs. “Welcome. Bienvenidos, Benvenuti.”
There were plenty of officers answering questions and directing us at the next intersection, and there was a Radisson across the street – surrounded by a mob. While ‘Radisson’ sounds safe, it looked like it might take 3 days to clear people out. I kept walking. A helpful officer advised that if I kept walking about a mile or so, there would be some stores and restaurants, and a place to try to connect with my ride.
I kept walking and passed the roadblock. Starbucks! What a vision. I phoned my ride and had a conversation about where we might connect amidst this gridlock – and we ultimately did connect 90 minutes later.
I ordered a huge iced tea, and sat down to think about what had just happened. I was perfectly fine, but all sorts of scenarios were running through my mind. What if I’d had children with me? What if I had type 1 and didn’t have enough supplies with me? Or food? Or water? (I always travel with snacks for everyone in my row, but I know my kids don’t.) For anyone who wasn’t prepared to be self-sufficient for 12 hours – or perhaps overnight – this was a challenging situation. For anyone with a medical condition or physical challenge, this had the potential to become an emergency.
The lack of information while we were detained was appalling. Thank goodness for my friends who texted updates. I am certain that, had there been a medical emergency, help would have been there right away. Along with helicopter crews filming from above. There was just so much going on that regular folks were ignored.
I have a few takeaways from this experience: Just-in-case supplies should be part of the preparation for any trip. More than one set change. More than ‘just enough’ insulin to get you to your hotel. Snacks and water – enough for a day if needed. Make sure you have a way to connect and a power source. Take a look at the floor plan of the airport you’re heading to, as well as the area around it. Understand where you are.
I’ve been watching the news reports about the LAX shootings. Apparently, some passengers had to stay overnight in the airport, and still others were never reunited with t heir luggage (PSA: never pack your diabetes supplies in your luggage). I’m thankful I was able to walk away, and I’m thankful I was prepared. I will view travel a bit differently from now on.
Laura Billetdeaux is better known as Sam’s mom. Now 23 years old, her son Sam has been living with type 1 for 15 years. Together, they have been on more airplane flights than they can count. Laura is VP of Education and Programs at Children with Diabetes.