Normally it’s rude to look away from someone mid-conversation to stare at the airplane flying by — at least, that’s what most people tend to think.
But for a few hours around noon Saturday at a park next to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), getting distracted by passing jets in the middle of a chat is basically the whole idea.
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Hundreds of AvGeeks descended on In-N-Out Burger and the adjacent park on the north side of the airport for the annual Cranky Dorkfest planespotting event. For more than two hours, conversations were punctuated by the loud roar of jet engines on planes that were seconds away from touching down on the airport’s runway 24R — and by the subsequent clicks of hundreds of camera shutters.
“It’s a fun opportunity to be around similarly nerdy people,” Tonei Glavinic, an AvGeek originally from Alaska who now lives in Mexico City, told TPG at the airline festival on Saturday.
At the event’s free-to-enter raffle, Glavinic, who frequently flew Alaska Airlines when he lived in Alaska, won a framed piece of bulkhead carpeting from one of the carrier’s planes — one of the many gifts that airlines donated. Other items included scale airplane models, free plane tickets and a seat on regional carrier Horizon Air’s final Q400 flight.
The event was started about 10 years as an informal gathering by Brett Snyder, who writes the eponymous Cranky Flier airline industry blog. It’s grown since, and in recent years has become an unofficial place for airline executives and other industry insiders to gather, along with casual AvGeeks and families. At the 2019 Dorkfest, then-United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz attended.
“It was fun when Oscar came that year,” Snyder, who was wearing a shirt with the logo of recently-defunct ultra-low-cost carrier aha! told TPG.
For the first time, this year’s event featured a DJ with a sound system simultaneously blasting aviation-themed songs like “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz and a feed of the LAX air traffic control tower. One air traffic controller even gave the event a shoutout on frequency, and flashed his red light gun — a high-powered light used to signal planes in the event of a radio failure — at the gathering.
In recent years, Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX, has become a big supporter of the event, which is held on their property.
“It’s a huge event for us — we’re here for the community,” LAWA CEO Justin Erbacci told TPG during a brief interview. “We want to support the community.”
“I myself, am an aviation geek,” Erbacci added. “I relate to the people here.”
For those who consider themselves to be super AvGeeks, Dorkfest is held in conjunction with the Spot LAX event, a gathering organized by NYC Aviation, a New York-based enthusiast website. Each year, the group has a room block at the nearby H Hotel, a property with a large observation deck that looks out over the final approach course for runway 24R.
“It’s an airport that’s just conducive to a gathering,” said Ben Granucci, one of the event’s organizers. “It’s easy to get here. There’s good variety that you don’t see on the East Coast.”
For Isaac Alexander, who lives in the Seattle area and publishes the Hype Aviation aggregation site, it’s the people that keep bringing him back each year. For him, it’s an event he looks forward to for months ahead of time.
“I get charged up by being around people with the same passion,” he said.