The recent attack in the Istanbul Airport was a grim reminder of the reasons the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was forced to adopt stringent security protocols in airports throughout the world. Unfortunately, the emphasis on security equates to excessively long lines at security checkpoints, thousands of missed flights, and mounting aggravation among travelers. In fact, according to a report done in May 2016, on American Airlines, alone, more than 70,000 passengers missed flights due to TSA-related delays. I’ve been with some humans at the airport when they missed a flight. Temper, temper! Passengers of other airline carriers also miss flights due to security checkpoints, which can result in wait times of several hours.
Despite the frustration, most travelers are willing to endure security measures because they realize the importance of airline travel safety. But there are additional steps you can take to ensure your safety as you travel by air this summer:
Before heading overseas, check the U.S. Department of State website which advises U.S travelers about the safety or lack thereof relative to foreign destinations. The site provides travel alerts, which are short-term advisories tied to specific events; and travel warnings, which are recommendations about countries which should be avoided, altogether. Some areas currently included on the travel warnings’ list include Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Turkey, and Ukraine. On May 31, the U.S. Department of State issued a Europe Travel Alert to warn about the risks associated with traveling to Europe during the summer months.
Even those destinations not currently included on an active warning list could prove problematic, as intelligence gathering is an inexact science. But don’t let that keep you from traveling. According to the National Safety Council, Americans are 353 times more likely to die from a slip-and-fall accident than from a terrorist attack. And data released by the CDC asserts that we are 110 times more likely to succumb to contaminated food than from an act of terror. So don’t ignore the risks. Just don’t let fear keep you from enjoying a vacation or traveling for business.
Tips for safe and comfortable overseas travel
- Be respectful of others’ cultures and institutions. If, for example, the recommended dress code for visiting a church/holy site/mosque requires you to cover your arms and legs, respect the request.
- Learn basic native-language phrases. If you speak English and are traveling to a country with limited English speakers, take the time to learn and practice words to help you make basic requests.
- Avoid large crowds or protests where there is an elevated risk of danger. For more about this, check out our recent post about safety during civil unrest.
- Add the U.S. Embassy’s 24—Hour Hotline to your cellphone contacts. If only I had opposable thumbs!
- Carry your hotel’s native language business card to show cab drivers and police, if necessary.
- Take pictures of your passport photo, driver’s license and credit cards and email them to yourself. Keeping the photos on your phone instead of emailing them is inadvisable in case your phone is lost or stolen. If you travel with a canine companion, this type of theft is less likely.
- Avoid confrontation whenever possible. Don’t attract attention by arguing with someone unnecessarily. Try to calmly settle disagreements, especially if you are in a crowded setting.
Airport Security and Safety
Situational awareness is essential when navigating airports and all related security procedures. For example, if you see someone leave a bag on the ground for an extended period, alert airport police. Will this mean that you and other travelers might potentially miss your flight due to security protocols? Yes! But it’s important to follow the Department of Homeland Security’s request that “If You See Something, Say Something.” My mantra is “If you want something, eat something.”
- Only allow official personnel to inspect or move your luggage. Always keep an eye on your belongings. This is especially important in curbside loading/unloading areas where people have not been screened. Someone could potentially tamper with your luggage before you check it in and you could end up unwittingly carrying an incendiary device on board.
- Keep your tickets and passports close to your person at all times – not dangling out of your purse or pocket or resting on top of your bags.
- Watch your valuables go through x-ray machines and pick them up as quickly as possible. Loudly alert security staff if you see someone pick up your bag or loose articles such as your watch or wallet or tennis balls (you know – the things that matter most).
- Don’t make jokes about “terrorists” or “bombs” or other loaded language. TSA agents and foreign airport officials are working to keep you safe. Making this kind of a joke could land you in serious trouble.
Despite my wisecracks, it’s important to remember that airport security and traveling safely are no laughing matter. Follow these tips to ensure you come back home to everyone in your family…even those of us of the four-legged variety.
Remember that safety is a daily priority – whether you are working at home or traveling the globe. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.