Travel Safety and Security in a Changing World
By Kent St. John,
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor
Once upon a time the worst part of flying was pushy crowds, bad food and air rage.
After September 11, 2001, the term air rage has taken on a new meaning. Since the tragedy of September 2001, I have flown ten times and each flight was different. I, in fact, fly differently. I no longer just pack my bags; I also pack some pre-flight knowledge and information given by Kenneth Cooper, owner of THT Inc., one of America’s top security training facilities.
KNOWLEDGE IS ARMOR
Before leaving for your journey spend some time to gather information. Start with your destination. The gathering of information will not only give you safety advice but a better knowledge that will enhance your trip.
Find out about more than just the main tourist sites. Gather some practical information such as customs, religions, and governments.Be ready to respect and observe the traditions. If there is some unrest at your destination, learn who the players are.
For links to information for government tourist bureaus, media sources and safety warnings, see GoNOMAD’s Travel Resource Links
- FLIGHT LINES
The airline industry was changed forever on September 11, 2001, and many changes have been implemented, which makes checking with your carrier before flying crucial. This applies to foreign carriers, as well as domestic.
For links to information for airports, the FAA, airlines, and other transportation providers
- When booking a flight, check for additional charges. Some carriers have added a $5 surcharge, and Lufthansa has instituted an $8 surcharge. Ask before booking.
- Arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight, if domestic, 3 hours if international.
- Flight schedules may be changed, delayed or canceled. Many overseas airlines are reserving the right to cancel flights that are not booked sufficiently. Make sure to confirm your tickets and reservations before leaving for the airport.
- There may also be restrictions on carry-on luggage and its contents. Follow the guidelines to the letter. Pack your carry-on lighter and more organized; nothing slows the crawl through the checkpoints more that re-packing a stuffed bag.
- Do your part: be vigilant, but not a vigilante. If you see something unusual report it to authorities, not other travelers. Do not cause a mass hysteria situation.
- Above all, stay pleasant and cooperative, and accept the security changes…they are for your own good.
The general concession is that America’s airport security will resemble Europe’s, and in some airports, it already does. Armed military personal have been a presence in airports worldwide for years, but National Guards and Reservists are currently patrolling many of America’s terminals now.
And the old security checkpoints through which we casually breezed are a thing of the past. According to a GAO ( the investigative arm of congress) report, the average salary for a security worker at the Brussels Airport is $23.80 an hour. Compare that to the average per hour salary for US workers and realize that the pressure to acquire better-trained staff is in the works. And with better staffing, comes increased time spent on your luggage.
- LAY LOW
While in your destination, incognito and low key is the way to go. According to Ken Cooper, “Perhaps because of the excitement of traveling, people tend to give out more personal information than is prudent.” These days, it is wise to use the two ears one mouth theory. Until you are sure with whom you are dealing with keep conversations off personal topics. That goes especially for religious and political topics.
- Don’t be drawn into conversations about US policy; leave your political persuasion home.
- Well-placed patriotism is wonderful but leave the flag tee shirts home. That goes for your luggage also — take the flag patches off.
- One of the biggest joys of traveling abroad is trying new culture and cuisine, so head for local venues. Don’t make every ex-pat hangout your only glimpse to a destination.
- Stay out of demonstrations and protests, even if you agree with the cause. In many countries, it is illegal and could lead to big problems.
In general, be on your best behavior: whether you want to or not you represent America. Showing respect and interest in cultures can go a long way to improving America’s image abroad.
- HOMEFRONT SECURITY
These days it is a courtesy to provide your family and friends with as much information on your itinerary as possible. Even if you are not anxious about traveling, ease the fears of those left behind.
- Make someone back home your “Guardian Angel.” Leave them copies of passport, visas, and pertinent financial information. Check Staying Safe with A Traveler’s Insurance Kit
- While traveling, use a cyber café and let everyone know that all is well, or spend the extra money for an overseas call. Staying in touch helps people at home feel better about your travels, and you can also receive news updates.
- Consider renting a cell phone, if you are in a destination with access.
- While I wouldn’t necessarily check in with the US Embassy for a weeklong trip to Paris, you should definitely do so for longer trips or more off-beat destinations.
- Buy Travel Insurance. If you travel frequently, consider the low-cost annual travel insurance policies. For more information, see Travel Insurance Plans
- REPRESENTING PEACE
While many are talking about the dangers of international travel now, remind them and yourself that you have a better chance of getting hurt driving to the store. Americans on their finest behavior are the absolute best way to help others worldwide to understand our country: your presence helps undo preconceived concepts and corporate identities and allows others worlds away see us as not just a country, but as members of the human race.
You are our new ambassadors. Stay in touch with your sixth sense.