NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — LaGuardia Airport was back to normal late Friday, after a terminal was evacuated because of a suspicious vehicle.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, there were questions Friday evening about how LaGuardia communicates with passengers in an emergency.
The scare began just before 11 p.m. Thursday with calls to authorities about the vehicle that was left unattended outside the terminal. CBS2 was told an illegal cab driver left it behind.
“There’s a gentleman here who just left his car and ran away, people are saying,” a dispatcher is heard saying, according to audio on Broadcastify.com.
“One of the ramps had a car,” traveler Jayson Karp said. “Someone deserted the car.”
Emergency responders quickly swarmed the area as passengers inside were eventually ordered out. Video and photos on social media showed passengers leaving the Central Terminal.
Passengers did not seem to know what danger they were being evacuated from.
“I don’t think anybody really knew what was going on for a while,” said traveler Taylor Ward. “There was a bunch of police officers standing around, but a lot of people didn’t know what had happened, or why they were being evacuated.”
“There was an announcement, maybe 30 minutes in, but the first 30 minutes there was just authorities moving everyone,” said Karp.
At the time of the discovery, airport operations were winding down, police said. Three Southwest Airlines planes remained on the tarmac and passengers on those flights did not deplane, police said.
Nearly two hours later, the vehicle in question was cleared and finally towed away.
The driver was later located and questioned by Port Authority police, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported. Officials have not giving a lot more information, but said the driver was ticketed.
Traffic still moved around the airport – in a far cry from the meltdown seen last month in the tangle-prone traffic pattern at the airport. The traffic jams are a byproduct of massive construction of a new airport while the old airport continues to operate.
But some travelers Friday questioned the Port Authority’s response and what some say was too long a delay in notifying passengers of what was going on.
“It wouldn’t stop me from traveling today, because I’m sure they’ve taken care of it,” one passenger said. “But this situation we’re in right now. It’s very concerning.”
“There must be some way for them to communicate, even putting it up on the screens, you know, whatever,” said traveler Eileen Martin. “Let people know, because when you don’t know what’s happening, that’s when you’re frightened.”
Marlon Senior thinks better protocol needs to be established.
“Something more efficient, something using technology because everyone uses technology nowadays and I feel like that would get the get the word out to everybody faster than word of mouth,” said Senior.
The Port Authority and National Guard continued their muscular display of strength outside the terminal Friday, but no one in authority was willing to go on camera.
Privately, some conceded that there is a limit to what actually can be communicated in the early stages of a security scare. The feeling behind the scenes is that authorities are getting better at handling such situations, although many passengers seem to think that is a pretty low bar to clear.
The incident happened a month after a false alarm of shots at John F. Kennedy Airport. It turned out to be fans cheering during the Olympics, but the emergency response was criticized.
Some lawmakers questioned how prepared law enforcement is when dealing with a crisis.