As police armed with machine guns stood watch by the luggage carousels, Marlene Whitehead tended to her phone, reassuring friends she had landed in Miami and not Fort Lauderdale.
“My friends are concerned for me,” she said between text conversations in Miami International Airport’s baggage-claim area Friday afternoon. “That’s what has me nervous.”
Anxious friends aside, airport rhythms seemed to unfold close to normal Friday for Whitehead and the more than 100,000 other passengers making their way through MIA in the wake of the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International. The incident brought a noticeable increase in armed guards but did not appear to spark extra restrictions for passengers or added delays at security checkpoints.
“We’re open for business,” said director Emilio González during a tour of the airport’s check-in areas, where pockets of armed guards were stationed within sight of each other.
Armed officers are already a familiar site at MIA, but the Fort Lauderdale incident sparked what González described as a more muscular presence. Police also increased patrols of nearby roads but did not plan the kind of disruption that can come with road blocks and vehicle inspections, an airport official said.
With Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International closed to flights, MIA officials were bracing for a potential surge of new arrivals. But word came in the afternoon to expect only eight diverted jets, a modest increase for an airport with about a thousand passenger flights a day.
Ryan Sinclair was on one of those diverted flights, an inbound plane from Chicago that was sent to MIA after the shooting. The medical student was supposed to fly from his hometown to Fort Lauderdale for a cruise. He said the pilot didn’t provide details when he announced American Flight 1433’s new destination would be Miami.
About 10 minutes before landing at MIA, Sinclair said passengers began getting Internet access on their phones. Waiting for him were texts from his mom and dad. “They asked if I had landed in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “And if I was okay.”