Donna Trunnell sprang from her seat next to the American Airlines baggage carousel at Los Angeles International Airport and eyed her nearly deserted surroundings suspiciously.
"The holidays? It's busy, crazy and boring," said the off-duty security officer, blowing a plume of cigarette smoke into the still air. "Everybody rushes, and nobody relaxes. Everybody's irritated. Right now, though, it seems nice. But just wait. It'll get crazy soon."
But, on this Wednesday, Trunnell's grim prediction was not to be realized. The chaos that many had expected to engulf the airport Thursday and Friday also never took hold.
And instead of reeling from an anticipated three-day onslaught of travelers, relieved airport workers found themselves steeling for a crush of passengers today.
"It'll be a madhouse," said Moses Logan, an airport baggage handler. "That's when people will be trying to get back home for work on Monday. It'll be a real hellhole."
But despite similar fears expressed earlier, order prevailed at LAX on the days leading up to today's expected crunch. There were no long lines at ticket counters or bathrooms or cocktail bars. Few people--if any--were bumped from overbooked flights. Arriving passengers deplaned, collected their bags and shuffled out the airport with ease.
"It's all due to preplanning and organizing," said Tony Pinneri, a passenger service agent for Delta Airlines. "Nobody has gotten out of hand or been unruly. Everything has gone nice and smooth."
Both employees and passengers said much of the holiday harmony at LAX resulted from passengers who made flight arrangements well before they were to depart and who arrived at the airport early.
They also credited such aids as prepaid boarding passes issued by travel agencies.
"The (prepaid) boarding passes allow people to sit down at the boarding gate and then go straight onto the plane without getting in line," said Lee Pollard, a ticket agent at Delta. "That's why you don't see a lot of long lines around here."
But despite the calm, chaos-wary workers refused to be caught unprepared for a sudden crush.
"The airlines have been testing us all day," said Rhonda L. Singleton, 23, who operates the X-ray machine and metal detector just outside the Delta Airlines boarding area. "They'll put fake guns and knives in bags to see if we'll catch them. They want us to be ready, because they expect a lot of people in here."
But even early in the holiday weekend, as the dreaded "Black Wednesday"--Trunnell's nickname for Thanksgiving eve--drew to a close, employees and passengers alike began to realize that this holiday would be different, that perhaps Thanksgiving traveling wouldn't be so harsh after all.
"It's not nearly as crowded as I thought it would be," said Phil Beaubien, an Encino contractor awaiting a Delta flight to Las Vegas. "The freeway was like normal. I was expecting the most horrendous thing."
Indeed, the flow of passengers had dwindled to a trickle by the night's end. And by Thursday, a sense of emptiness--and boredom--that would last well into the weekend had spread to all but a few areas within the airport.
In Terminal 2, rows of Pan Am ticket counters were unattended. Across from the booths, a lone woman strolled by the screens showing flight arrival times, the click of her pumps piercing the heavy silence.
Nearby, four Air Canada customer service agents lounged behind their booth and chatted.
"The Canadian Thanksgiving is in October," laughed one ticket agent. "Just wait until then. That's when it'll be busy for us."
At an Alaska Airlines counter, ticket agents busied themselves by recounting stories of passengers leaving Los Angeles for Anchorage in mid-November.
"Our flights have been pretty fully booked," said one agent, Chantay English. "It seems sort of strange that someone would go from L.A. to Alaska, but if you've got family there, it's like going anywhere else for Thanksgiving, I guess."
Just outside the terminals, skycaps perched languorously on their dollies. Police patrol cars and shuttle vans slowly cruised the empty streets. Disgruntled cabbies leaned against their hacks and scanned the grounds in vain for potential passengers.
"Business has been slow all day," said Alexander Klyushnikov, a driver for Independent Cab. "I've had only four passengers from 8 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. this Thanksgiving. On a typical Thursday, I get 12 or 14."
The scene had even begun to border on the eerie for some.
"It's almost spooky coming out here on a Friday and having almost no one here," said Andy Rupert, as he waited for an airport shuttle bus to take him from a terminal to his car. "There's not even much traffic. You just don't expect that out here."
Although the relative emptiness was a boon for most airport employees, some members of LAX's Finest found it slightly bothersome.
"The volume of calls we have gotten have been more than we've expected," said airport police officer Mike Briseno on Thanksgiving Day. "We really expected it to be slower, but the (car) thieves probably think they can do more because there haven't been many people traveling."
Indeed, although airport officials said an added 20,000 people would use LAX this year, many of the passengers said they had a hard time noticing the increase.
"It can go bad or it can go smoothly and this year it went smoothly," said 19-year-old Donna Gabriel, minutes off of her flight from Oregon. "I guess people are going to arrive really late this year or just not come. Maybe Thanksgiving just isn't hip anymore."