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Originally published August 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 13, 2007 at 2:17 PM

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L.A. airport back to normal after weekend's massive delays

The Los Angeles International Airport was back to normal today after a U.S. Customs computer breakdown stranded more than 20,000 passengers...

Seattle Times news services

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles International Airport was back to normal today after a U.S. Customs computer breakdown stranded more than 20,000 passengers over the weekend.

The breakdown at LAX was blamed on faulty computer hardware and an insufficient backup system that left frustrated travelers sitting on planes or standing in lines for hours waiting to clear customs and immigration.

The delays on Saturday night/Sunday morning in screening people arriving on international flights were unprecedented, said Kevin Weeks, director of Los Angeles field operations for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

The computer switch malfunction, which began at 2 p.m. Saturday and lasted about 10 hours, came on a peak summer travel day. American and foreign travelers were caught in the mess, and were frustrated by disrupted vacations and missing their connecting flights.

"This is the worst delay I've ever encountered, and I travel a lot," said Rosita Iglesias, 47, of Tujunga, who was heading to Cancun, Mexico.

The outage forced some planes loaded with passenger to sit on the tarmac for so long Saturday night — some for five hours — that workers had to refuel them to keep their power units and air conditioners running. Passengers had to wait aboard the planes until there was room in the terminal for them. Maintenance trucks drove around the airport, with workers hooking up tubes to aircraft to service airplane lavatories.

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The computer system, which serves five LAX terminals that handle incoming international flights, is considered essential to national security. It allows officers to check biographical information and passport numbers of people entering the country and compare them to terrorist watch lists, immigration records and law-enforcement reports. Some people are then subject to more in-depth, secondary searches.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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