Did Anyone Notice the Summer's Wildest Travel News Always Seemed to Involve LAX?

LAX is now the "Florida Man" of airports

LAX sign at Los Angeles International Airport
Mitch Diamond / Getty Images

Hollywood may be the hotspot for movies, but this summer, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) brought all the drama. In the skies, on the tarmac, on the plane, and behind the scenes: the summer action at LAX has been making headlines.

LAX kicked off its summer shenanigan showcase on June 4 when a Delta flight heading from LAX to Nashville had to be diverted after a passenger unbelievably stormed the cockpit after screaming for the plane to be stopped. The unruly passenger was immediately tackled and restrained by a four-person team of flight attendants and passengers, who eventually hogtied the offender with zip ties.

Just one week later, on June 11, another Delta flight out of LAX was diverted after another tried breaching the cockpit. This time the unruly passenger turned out to be an off-duty Delta flight attendant, a man who reportedly made terroristic threats to take down the plane, latched onto the handle of the boarding door, and managed to attack two flight attendants before being subdued.

Then, less than two weeks later, LAX was at it again when a four-door sedan with the letters “SOS” written on the roof of the vehicle crashed through the airfield perimeter fence leading to a car chase involving several police SUVs, an arrest, and an FBI investigation.

A mere 24 hours later? A United Express flight heading to Salt Lake City was taxiing away from the gate when a male passenger decided to get up and go pound on the cockpit door. Perhaps he knew that recent attempts by other passengers didn’t end so well because he then opened the flight’s emergency exit door and simply jumped out of the moving plane onto the tarmac.

It turns out the world’s fourth busiest airport was only getting started.

As early as the start of the second week in July, a United plane taxied its way right into a shuttle bus. Don’t exhale your breath just yet—the next day, news broke that two LAX cargo handlers plead guilty to stealing $224,000 worth of gold bars from an international shipment that came through the airport. Keep holding your breath because that same day, passengers on an American Airlines flight from LAX to Miami were forced to spend the last hour of their flight with their hands on their heads due to an onboard "security threat." They were also given strict instructions not to film anything, and when the plane landed, officials boarded the plane carrying machine guns and arrested one of the passengers.

While this all sounds like the plot in a Nicholas Cage or Liam Neeson movie, it’s not (at least not yet, anyway). And it’s not just LAX putting on a bizarre show of what-in-the-world air travel headlines. There’s been a steep rise of unruly behavior surrounding air travel ever since the pandemic began, and travel took a second take, from lighting up cigarettes onboard to groping, slapping, or punching crew members—and it’s only getting worse.

As of September 7, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration has received 4,184 official reports of unruly passengers. It’s the highest number, by far, on record since they started keeping records back in 1995. Of the over 4,000 reports, investigations have been initiated for 752 of the incidents. Previously, the record topped out at 310 investigations, all the way back in 2004, and every year since then has never gone over 183.

Still, LAX is making quite a scene. One might even say it’s cementing its place as the Florida Man of airports. Something outrageous happened on a flight or at an airport? Recently, odds are it has something to do with LAX. (Fun fact: if you Google ‘LAX news’ one of the frequently asked questions that comes up is “What just happened at LAX?”)

Angelenos are fierce defenders of their city, though it’s hard to find a single one that will give praise to the abomination that is LAX. On the best days, an LAX experience is annoying or frustrating; on the worst, it can feel like a straight portal to hell—or, in the case of the hundreds of passengers stranded at the airport for days in the wake of August’s epic Spirit Airlines scheduling meltdown, LAX can also function as purgatory. And that's without all the extra shenanigans we've seen lately.

July wrapped up with yet another sighting of a “guy in a jetpack”—the third such sighting in LAX airspace since September 2020. Authorities still have no idea what it is, who it is, why they are whizzing around, or why they’re only doing it at LAX.

At the start of August—Part Three of what we could only hope would end this monthly trilogy of kooky tales—the infamous Spirit Airlines scheduling debacle stretched over days. A limousine was suspiciously parked and abandoned outside of Terminal 5 in the red zone during the meltdown, which activated the airport’s emergency evacuation response. Luckily, the vehicle had just been left unattended while the driver helped their client collect their bags.

Less than a week later, another flight had to be diverted, this time on the way to Los Angeles, after a 13-year-old boy became aggressive, attacked his mother, and then tried to kick out the window in his row mid-flight. Then, in the very last 48 hours of August, there was yet another perimeter breach. This time, there was no car, but rather a man experiencing homelessness who used an unknown instrument to pry open the fence just enough to crawl underneath. Once on the tarmac, the 31-year-old beelined toward and attempted to board an American Airlines plane while it was being serviced by the crew.

Oh, and for those wondering if things are getting better as we trudge into fall, know that LAX started off the fall season last week with a 61-year-old male passenger acting belligerent, growling, aggressively moving his mask up and down on his face, arguing with the pilot, and sputtering nonsensical statements about politics on a flight to Salt Lake City. He was escorted off the flight.

Here’s hoping this bizarre show doesn’t get renewed for another season.