Ghost Town USA. By Owen Zupp.
My memories of Los Angeles Airport, or LAX, aren’t particularly fond ones. Long queues, late crew transport and chaotic parking. Away from the airport, crews had been accommodated at a range of locations around the city. I loved Pasadena but had no such fondness for Downtown. Still, whether it was the airport or the streets, there was always movement, hustle and noise. In the grip of the pandemic, this Los Angeles experience was very different.
From the time our aircraft approached the West Coast, air traffic control was distinctly quieter. The usual high speed chatter and multiple transmissions was replaced with the occasional clearance or instruction. The queue of approaching aircraft that once filled our windscreens and showed up as multiple targets on our instrument panel were nowhere to be seen. A lone aircraft in the distance was the only companion.
We received a warm welcome from the controllers, the QANTAS staff at LAX and by the folks who were outside the fence, waiting to greet the 747. Yet, disembarking with our face masks in place was a new and initially, uncomfortable experience. Soon, this would become the norm.
The Customs Hall still provided its usual delays but this was because only two desks now supported a lone extended, socially-distanced queue. Our road trip to our apartments was quick and we were soon in the isolation of our rooms. With only a short journey to gather food supplies permitted, the venture into the sunshine was welcome. Again, there were less cars, less people and less operating businesses. The hustle was gone.
Inside the grocery store, masks were mandatory for all and people subconsciously separated and kept their distance. In and out, minimal browsing and back to the apartment. The adventure of international travel that had characterised my flying career was gone. There would be no trips to Dodgers Stadium or visits to the Queen Mary. No wandering the flight line at Chino Airport and no breakfast at Flo’s.
This was the new reality, with only the wail of sirens providing a constant. And when it was time to leave, the check-in gates were unmanned with just a few exceptions. Baggage trolleys were lashed together and immovable. And the departures board that usually flicked from page to page with flight numbers and exotic destinations, bore only a handful of flights.
As the Boeing 777 accelerated down the runway, the darkened silhouettes of dormant aircraft flicked past the window. Climbing away, the glow of the lights of Los Angeles seemed dimmer and her highways empty. It wasn’t the place I remember, nor can it be just now. My hope is that like the rest of the world it will emerge from this mire but for now, it felt like “Ghost Town USA”.