LOS ANGELES: After security breaches forced the evacuation of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) terminals eight times in 11 days, PR staffers are upping their efforts to educate travelers."It's the passengers who bring the funny stuff in the airport and the passengers who leave their bags unattended,
said airport PR director Nancy Castles. "They are actually the cause of these evacuations."
From the end of February through early March, LAX faced an unprecedented string of closures that began when a set of three cardboard boxes containing computer equipment tested positive for explosives. Subsequent scares included an exact replica of a grenade in checked luggage, a GPS receiver mistaken as a pipe bomb, and the capper: five terminals containing 10,000 passengers evacuated when security workers discovered their metal detector was unplugged.
Despite the resulting flurry of local, national, and international press coverage, Castles insisted, "It's exaggerated that we're getting a bad reputation."
Still, Castles and her staff are staging live presentations for travel agency associations on tips for navigating the airport. They are also contacting travel publications with tip sheets, and translating the information into seven languages for foreign passengers. Loudspeaker announcements in terminals warning passengers to keep close watch of their luggage have also been changed. "It was friendlier,
explained Castles of the old message.
In May, the airport will also launch an "ambassadors
program funded by the airlines, which will employ 80 young people to act as passenger information officers.
Aside from troublesome travelers, Castles said her department's biggest challenge is coordinating with other involved PR departments such as the individual airlines, the LA police, the FBI, and the new transportation authority. Often, she said, each of those organizations will issue statements even though they are not on the scene.
"Out of 100 airlines that operate here at LAX, 80 of them are commercial passenger airlines; there are only 10 total public information officers for those airlines,
she pointed out. "They're all back in their corporate headquarters.
She added that the new transportation authority also lacks a West Coast PR person.
"We do a lot of correction with the media now because we have many people involved,
she said. She added that sometimes the press gets informed before her office - often from another organization's PR staff.
"The media will often tip us to the fact that the LAPD bomb squad is rolling to the airport,