A few nights ago, a flight I was on arrived in Los Angeles late, with 15 minutes for me to make a connection. I ran. At what was listed as the gate for the Santa Barbara flight, there was no sign, and no gate agent. But there was a wide-open Jetway door and the growl of the engines of a prop plane filled the hall. Another passenger appeared, huffing from her own gate-jog. She looked at me quizzically. “You going to Santa Barbara?” I asked “Yes,” she said, “but where is the flight or the agent?” Nowhere to be seen. “Follow me,” I told her, and we strode down the open Jetway and onto the tarmac. In the warm air, just for a minute, I forgot that I was at LAX—a massive airport on the top ten list of busiest airports in the world, and one that has had its share of security issues.
A shocked looking pilot perched in the cockpit of a small prop plane—its stairs pulled up and door closed—stared at us. A startled United employee trotted up and asked if he could help. “Yes, we are supposed to be on that plane,” I said.
“How did you get down here?”
“What did the gate agent say?”
“There wasn’t one.”
“How did you get past the door?”
“It was open.”
I reminded him the plane wasn’t actually supposed to leave for another 10 minutes. (At this point another guy pulled up with my luggage. The plane was about to leave early, and they cared enough to get my luggage to the flight, but not me.) Reluctantly, he put us on the plane.
After being seated in the very last row, the flight attendant handed us each a $50-off flight coupon, as an apology for “putting you in different seats.” That coupon, though, was likely about United knowing that they had two passengers on the ground at LAX, anxious about making their last-flight-of-the-night connection and yet still taking the opportunity to depart early.
It wasn’t as if we slipped through the security process (we were already in the “secure” gate area, off of another plane) but that one little moment of walking through a wide-open and unalarmed door, running unhindered down the Jetway and onto the tarmac—was deliciously, nostalgically, 21th century free.