Fire (or at least smoke) at the St. Louis Airport

My recent adventures at the St. Louis airport (STL) on 2010-02-18 started in the amusing category and drifted towards the annoying category, with kinda scary off in the distance.  Those of you who followed my Twitter stream (@Cromely) may have already been annoyed by my telling of the story as it unfolded.

Travel anecdotes generally fall into one of five categories:
  • Amusing
  • Entertaining
  • Annoying
  • Anger inducing
  • Scary

I flew into STL from O'Hare and we were essentially on time (which is is almost newsworthy itself). We got off the plane and headed toward the exit. The crowd thickened and slowed Eventually we came to a stop in the hall outside Starbucks and the smell reached us.

Smoke. Looking over the heads of people toward the security checkpoint we could see the thickening haze. TSA and airport staff kept us in the C terminal. We could see the flashing lights of the fire alarm further up, even though we couldn't hear anything. And there were no announcements. Word trickled back to us that the fire department was there.

So we have visible smoke, smoke we can smell, fire department on scene, no PA system, and hundreds of people. The logical solution is to keep us all in the terminal instead of using the emergency exits onto the tarmac, right? Apparently STL and TSA staff thought so. Perhaps that was the right decision for them given the circumstances.

After several minutes they decided that maybe it would be a good idea to get the passengers out of the terminal. They routed us from the C Terminal, down a hall to the B security checkpoint to get out.

Of course, the hallway was smaller than the terminal and they were courteous enough to direct more of the smoke into that hall. It was thicker and smelled stronger. A few people began coughing more. Then, for whatever reason, we came to a stop in the hall way. I'm not sure if the authorities stopped the group from moving, or if it was just traffic as we merged with the crowds being evacuated from Terminal B, too.

Ultimately, I guess it turned out to be no big deal (except for all those delayed flights and rescreening of passengers). I didn't see anything about it in the news. I'm not sure when people were able to get their checked bags. I just carried on and went straight to the rental car shuttle.

But when I stepped outside the terminal building, and took several big gulps of air, I smiled. I never expected to enjoy the fresh air of St. Louis quite so much.

The map below shows the path we took to leave the terminal. We started on the right of this image and moved towards the left. The two "X"s mark the approximate place where I took the pictures of the crowd.


Connie @MurrayNewlands.com said...

Sounds like a scary time. If anyone was annoyed by your tweets they have a problem.

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