Planes sit at Sky Harbor International Airport in 2017
Photo: Ross D. Franklin (AP)

In a true showcase of the joys of air travel, the Phoenix-based Arizona Republic reports that a “suspicious” unattended rental car shut down parts of the Sky Harbor International Airport down for four hours—delaying about 300 flights and canceling dozens of others. The driver ultimately got parking citation and a $56 fine.

The Arizona Republic reports that the driver, who was never named by police, “thought only a few minutes had passed” after he left the rental car to help his girlfriend check in for her flight. He had no idea the bomb squad was ripping the car apart while the airport backed up with crowds of more-annoyed-than-usual air travelers waiting for those hundreds of flights they really needed to catch.

Time really gets away from you when you’re out delaying a bunch of people’s travel days, doesn’t it? Ah, how fleeting the precious moments in life are.

The driver left a Nissan Sentra outside of the terminal at Sky Harbor, and the Arizona Republic reports that a witness said the car sat there for at least 25 minutes before police called a tow truck in—something the truck driver, Richard Polanco Jr., told the Arizona Republic he’d done for nearly a decade in response to airport goers leaving vehicles behind to find travelers who left their IDs or other belongings in the car.

But police put the tow on hold when Polanco got there, telling him they’d found a trace of something on the car. Polanco never figured out what it was, he told the Arizona Republic, but it was the beginning of an hours-long holding pattern for parts of Terminal 4 in the airport. From the story:

Polanco said officers told him to wait off-site for their call to tow the vehicle.

The Phoenix bomb squad and a bomb-defusing robot spent the next four hours working to determine whether the car was innocently left behind or if it was actually packed with explosives and intentionally planted at the terminal of one of the busiest airports in the nation.

The Phoenix bomb squad and a bomb-defusing robot spent the next four hours working to determine whether the car was innocently left behind or if it was actually packed with explosives and intentionally planted at the terminal of one of the busiest airports in the nation.

Advertisement

The Arizona Republic reports that Polanco didn’t get to tow the car until five hours later, with windows busted out and its trunk ripped open from the search. Polanco told the paper that the Sentra driver was still talking to police when he hooked the car up and offered the driver a ride, overhearing him say on the phone during the ride that police detained and questioned him for several hours.

The two talked after he hung up the phone, and the driver naturally felt like an idiot. From the Arizona Republic:

“He was just bummed out that for something so small — an idiotic mistake he made — turned into such a big deal,” Polanco said.

He never thought to ask for the man’s name.

But if time is money, especially when you waste the time of loads of other people, it didn’t cost much in this case.

Advertisement

The Arizona Republic reports that a Phoenix Police Department spokesperson, Sgt. Tommy Thompson, said Sunday that the Sentra driver will likely only face a parking citation as a repercussion. And while the Arizona Republic didn’t find out if the Sentra driver would have to pay for the tow or the damage to the car, Thompson did say the citation would probably cost a cool $56.

We can all learn important lessons from this mistake, though—like the fact that delaying huge chunks of an airport for four hours from the outside costs about as much as dinner for one does on the inside.