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LAX shooting: Some passengers more sympathetic toward TSA workers

Transportation Security Administration screeners pull luggage through an x-ray machine at a security checkpoint near the Southwest Airlines counter at Los Angeles International Airport.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC
Transportation Security Administration screeners pull luggage through an x-ray machine at a security checkpoint near the Southwest Airlines counter at Los Angeles International Airport.

The sympathy many airline passengers showed toward Transportation Security Administration workers in the days after a gunman allegedly targeted them at LAX has faded with the rush of holiday travel and the stress of delays and cancellations.

Some travelers say they are still trying to be more considerate of the work the TSA does.

“I try to always give them smiles,” said passenger Miriam Lee at LAX Wednesday.  “It’s probably a hard job.” 

She spoke the same day accused gunman Paul Ciancia made his first court appearance at a San Bernardino County jail. He faces numerous charges, including murder, stemming from the Nov. 1 shooting that killed one TSA officer and injured two others, according to federal officials.

Later, an elderly woman tugged the sleeve of a TSA officer standing at the front-and-center of the sliding doors of the Southwest Airlines terminal. She asked him a question, then ended her conversation saying: “I feel bad for you.”

TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was standing near the entrance of Terminal 3 when he was shot 12 times by a gunman that federal prosecutors say was specifically targeting TSA workers.

“Some of them are nicer,” said one TSA officer who was helping passengers at a security checkpoint near the Southwest Airlines ticket counter. He didn’t give his name because he wasn’t allowed to speak to the media while working.

“They try to be nicer, but then they go back to their usual self,” he said. “But I’d probably be the same way if I was them.”

The security checkpoint line Wednesday afternoon looped in two circles, then stretched out of the terminal and continued along the curb where people were being drop-offed for their flights. Confused passengers meandered through the crowd. A woman shouted into the air reminding passengers to have their boarding passes out with their IDs.

Patti De La Casas and her husband shuffled along the security line, on their way to visit their daughter in New York. She said the shooting has made her more sympathetic toward TSA workers.

“They have to repeat the same instructions all day long and people get cranky,” De La Casas said.

Victor Payes is president of the AFGE Local 1260, the union that represents TSA workers. He said passengers were very patient in the days after the shooting and offered condolences. Some of it has worn off.

He said attitudes have changed, but so have the workers who do passenger screenings.

“Every time you see someone coming up the stair or escalator, you’re a little more attentive to who they are,” Payes said.

For frequent flyer Joe Castellanos of Texas, he said nothing has really changed.

"You have the TSA agents that are overly aggressive, sometimes rude. Then you have the other ones that are extremely lax,” he said. “So I don't know; I see a little bit of everything."

A federal judge Wednesday ordered Ciancia, 23, to remain in custody while his case winds its way through the criminal court. The judge determined he was a flight risk and posed a threat to the community.

The court hearing was the first time Ciancia has been seen in public since the airport shooting last month, when L.A. Airport police shot him in the head and leg.

Ciancia still has bruises on the right side of his face and wore a bandage around his neck, according to journalists allowed inside the small hearing room. He faces charges of murder and attempted murder of federal officers and committing a violent act at an airport causing bodily injury.