Just How Safe are You at the Airport?

In the last fifteen years, we have seen a plethora of changes in airport security, many of which have impacted our lives as we move about the skyways and head towards our business or recreational destinations.


Many of the so-called improvements in security have been based on previous attacks. In other words, authorities have implemented security features at airports that reflect methods and tactics used in past attacks.


The problem with this line of thinking and knee-jerk tactics is that the criminals and terrorists also learn from past history and events, and when they try again, it will likely be with different tactics.


Some may recall Richard Reid aka the “shoe bomber.” He was labeled that because Reid attempted to place explosives in his shoes and detonate them while on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. And though his famed attempt was unsuccessful, to this day we are all still subjected to the practice of making passengers remove their shoes for security screenings before being allowed to board a commercial aircraft.


Procedures such as removing shoes and other clothing items in addition to other newer security measures, such as metal detectors and explosives detectors, have also created longer lines. With these longer lines at most airports, a new vulnerability has been exposed. We have essentially “herded” people into confined locations, which can have immense impact on casualties as terrorists and active shooters see these areas as soft targets ripe for attack.


As lines increase in length and people are forced to wait longer for security screenings, they are sitting ducks should a terror cell or active shooter decide to take advantage of this “paralysis” of sorts within the airport system of security checks and balances.


This exact situation was seen during the attack in Brussels. The terrorist cell coordinated several attacks that crippled both the airport and metro station—both major transportation hubs.


As the world watched in horror, many in the intelligence, law enforcement, and security community were already considering measures to strengthen transportation hubs around the globe. But again, augmenting security means challenging lines and gathering people in particular areas for periods of time, which makes them vulnerable and puts them in potential danger!


So How Can Travelers Better Protect Themselves With the Advent of Heightened Security Measures?

As business and recreational travelers, we can do nothing to buck the system, nor can we likely increase the speed at which we move through security screenings or checkpoints. What we can do, however, is focus our energies in several key areas:


  1. Improve Situational Awareness: Long before arriving at the airport, travelers should do some research about that airport and get a feel for the layout. Establish a baseline of the security environment that exists there. Spend a little time mapping out your movements through the airport. Of course, if you have been to that specific airport before, it makes your job that much easier. However, one can glean quite a bit of information about airports online by simply letting your fingers do the walking!


Be sure to consider entry and exit points, and bathrooms and security clearing areas, which are also typically choke points and represent “soft targets” for would-be bad folks. Understand that the environment can rapidly shift in the case of disaster or emergency, and so you will also have to plan in advance for cover and escape.


As you move about, remember to stay in condition YELLOW (a relaxed state of alertness) so that if there is a status change, you can quickly switch gears and move from relaxed awareness up the scale to “fight or flight” – if the situation becomes necessary. Lastly, in regards to situational awareness, remember that if you are traveling with family members or friends, make sure everyone knows what the emergency plan is. Include several potential rally points where everyone would meet up in case people get separated.


  1. Be Flexible: We have no way of knowing what to expect when arriving at the airport. However, we can all adopt a mindset that accounts for adaptation and flexibility. This may mean not waiting until the last minute to arrive.


Plan to allot enough time so that efficiency is the focus and you don’t have to rush. You need to get to your terminal, which may mean taking a bus or train within the airport system. Couple that with the time it takes to move through airport screenings, and you’ll need to be able to have that flexibility time-wise to accommodate all these variables.


You can also make sure all your things are packed correctly and that you have everything you need. We have all arrived at the airport at one time or another to find that we packed an important item deep within our luggage, causing us to open a suitcase and search through our belongings while trying to move through the line.


  1. Be Better Prepared: There are several pre-departure considerations that could assist you in your efforts to stay efficient and maintain a regular flow of movement as you negotiate the airport system. Have all your documents in one place whenever possible. That means have all passports, driver’s licenses, tickets, gate passes, and other forms of I.D. at hand or in an I.D. carrier, so that you don’t have to stop and waste time looking for things.


Make sure that if you are traveling internationally, your passports are up-to-date and you have all necessary visas. Be certain of carry-on items, size and weight restrictions, and what is allowed and not allowed.


For example, during the week of August 12-18th, 2016, the TSA confiscated 81 firearms!


And, as if that is not bad enough, 70 of those guns were loaded! With all that has happened before and since 9/11, I believe any sane person would know that firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags and pose a huge security threat. So 81 people just forgot? Like, “Oops I’m sorry, I didn’t remember that I put a loaded gun in my bag that I was going to carry on the plane?”


Being better prepared can serve both you and your fellow travelers by speeding up lines and making things run more efficiently, which leaves you less exposed.


Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall, and stay safe!


Dr. Jeff Cantor