National Guard troops for the first time Tuesday began inspecting vehicles entering parking structures at Los Angeles International Airport, under a directive from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Soldiers in combat fatigues with M-16 rifles surprised motorists turning off the horseshoe-shaped roadway into the garages opposite American and United airlines and the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Signs saying "All vehicles are subject to inspection" were posted at the entrances to several parking structures along with troops.
Drivers of sport utility vehicles, pickups and minivans were stopped by the guardsmen, who conducted visual inspections of the vehicles.
The FAA has directed airports to inspect larger vehicles entering parking structures that lie within 300 feet of terminals, said Ron Pelayo, a federal security manager for the FAA at the airport.
Pelayo said troops may ask motorists to open their trunks or to pull aside so guardsmen can conduct a more thorough search. The searches aren't the result of any new threat against the world's third-busiest airport, he said.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 27, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Airport searches--In Wednesday's California section, a photo caption accompanying a story about troops searching vehicles at Los Angeles International Airport incorrectly referred to the U.S. National Guard instead of the California National Guard.
Passengers can expect vehicle searches to continue throughout the holidays, Pelayo said.
Like most travelers asked, Jeanine Kim, who was leaving on an American Airlines flight to New York, said she approved of the National Guard presence in the parking garage two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's something I've got to get used to," she said. "It's a part of life now."
With a huge American flag in the background, Terrance Williams, a member of the 146th Air National Guard detail in Ventura County, explained what he and his colleagues were ordered to do.
"It's really a pretty simple mission: to provide a uniformed military presence and to help restore confidence in the flying public," he said.
Williams and a colleague stopped an SUV before it entered the garage and told the driver they needed to inspect it. They looked through the smoked glass windows for "anything other than luggage," such as boxes or crates.
The increased deployment of guardsmen at LAX and other California airports was ordered by Gov. Gray Davis last week in advance of the traditionally busy Thanksgiving travel season.
But the usual rush wasn't materializing at LAX on Tuesday. Traffic was moving, and most terminals were operating without long lines--with the noticeable exception of Terminal 1, where lines for Southwest Airlines snaked out of the terminal and down the sidewalk.
There also was plenty of parking. Airport officials reopened parking structure No. 6 on Tuesday for the first time since the attacks. Tests proving the structure could withstand a bomb blast were recently completed and approved by the FAA.
"It is very empty," said veteran parking attendant Dulcie Allwood, as she stood at a breezy outpost on the upper deck of the parking structure opposite the United Airlines terminal. "On a typical Thanksgiving, it would be busy, but it's a different time nowadays. It's been very slow."