LAX Is Supposed to Be Disinfected Hourly Against Coronavirus. But Is It Really?

Lauren Mackin, wearing the blue face mask, as she returned from Thailand, with her family from Laguna Niguel who also wore masks to greet her at LAX Bradley International Terminal (Sharon McNary/LAist/KPCC)

After a Korean Airlines flight attendant was diagnosed with coronavirus after passing through LAX last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti sought to calm travelers' fears. He said LAX was being disinfected every hour.

But during an hour-long stakeout at the airport's Bradley International Terminal arrivals area Friday morning, I saw no sign of an hourly wipe down by airport workers. I saw workers empty trash cans, but I saw no door handles or seat arms or handrails being cleaned during that time.

Los Angeles World Airports spokesman Heath Montgomery said he was unable to get information about what cleaning actually was done during that hour Friday. He reiterated airport policy, saying workers (both in-house and an outside firm) are "deep cleaning and sanitizing" restrooms, handrails, door handles and other public areas of the terminals. The airport has added 250 hand sanitizing stations around the airport and hosted Centers for Disease Control screeners at the airport, he said.

In fairness, I saw only one small part of a giant airport, a part that people move through quickly on their way from customs to their destinations in Southern California. I didn't have a ticket to get into the secured passenger areas where people spend more time, and LAX officials declined to do an interview or escort me there to see the cleaning for myself. The reasoning was that if they did it for a radio reporter, they'd have to do it for TV stations as well, Montgomery said.

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MASKS, MASKS EVERYWHERE

That doesn't mean people aren't taking their own precautions to avoid spreading or acquiring a virus. Health officials recommend wearing the masks if you have symptoms. But they say the masks are not helpful in avoiding getting a virus, and that handwashing and using hand sanitizer and avoiding touching your face, nose and eyes is a better prevention method.

Flight attendants with Japan Airlines wear masks in the arrivals area of Bradley International Terminal at LAX Friday, February 28, 2020. (Sharon McNary/KPCC/LAist)

Plenty of passengers coming into the arrivals area from customs and the people waiting to receive them wore masks. A dozen Japan Airlines flight attendants all wore masks.

Lauren Mackin wore a blue and white medical face mask as she arrived at LAX after 18 months of missionary service in Thailand with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There to greet her were five family members, all wearing their own black cloth masks.

She said that being greeted by a family of mask-wearing people was not at all odd, given the heightened coronavirus concerns already in Thailand.

"Everybody wears one," she said.

As I circulated about the terminal arrivals area, I offered hand sanitizer to the people I spoke to, and nearly all accepted the offer, or showed me their own personal containers of the stuff.

An employee for an outside company that runs the snack stand said he wipes his own counter as often as he can. I also saw a manager of the currency exchange kiosk wipe his counter and the bulletproof glass window separating customers and clerks.

Marla Wiley, who volunteers two days a week at the travelers information booth, says the terminal cleaners rarely wipe down the counter she works at. And she couldn't recall seeing any airport workers clean off the chairs in her part of the arrivals area.

"I haven't seen anything," she said.

Ashley Holmes wore a mask to protect her from the coronavirus as she traveled through LAX on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (Sharon McNary/KPCC/LAist)

Outside Terminal 1, which serves mostly domestic flights, Ashley Holmes had just arrived on a flight from New York City. She wore a mask printed with a zipper where her mouth would be. She ordered it a few days ago online.

"I got a few of them and I wanted them to be cute," Holmes said. "If we're gonna have to wear these masks let it have a design on it or something."

She works in the recording industry, and her New York office told employees who were travelling on business to take precautions against getting the virus. She said she did see extra cleaning going on at LAX as she walked through the terminal.

"As I was going down the escalator, there's definitely someone who's wiping the handrails," Holmes said. "So as you're going down, they're wiping behind you. So I can appreciate that, for sure. Made me feel safer."

AIRPORT WORKERS ON EDGE OVER VIRUS

There was a heightened level of concern among airport workers. Derrick Griggs works for a firm responsible for moving passengers' bags from one plane to another — bags that have been touched by people all over the world.

"It's a little weird working with the virus," Griggs said. "We're all a little on edge here as employees. But, you know, we're doing the best we can to just handle our business."

UPDATES:

2:35 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect additional hand sanitizer stations added recently at LAX and to note that in-house cleaners are supplemented by an outside firm to accomplish hourly cleaning.

This article was originally published at 11:52 a.m.