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Jan 13, 2006 | 23:59 GMT

5 mins read

Travel Security: Self-Preservation Techniques for Airline Passengers

Jan. 24, 2011: Five years ago we published the following report warning readers that soft areas in airports outside the security hardline remain vulnerable to attack. An attack today at Moscow Domodedovo airport further underscores our analysis. Editor's Note: This is the second in a seven-part series on personal security for international travelers. The International Air Transport Association, a Montreal-based industry group, predicts the number of people who fly each year on business and leisure will soon top 2 billion worldwide. As traffic rises, airports around the world are increasingly jammed with crowds of passengers waiting to check in, pass security and board their flights. Although the congestion increases pressure on security authorities, the fact is that air travel is safer today — in the post-Sept. 11 environment — than it had been in years. Passengers, however, should not rely solely on outside security for their personal protection. Air marshals are present on U.S. and many foreign airlines, cockpit doors remain locked while the plane is in flight and international "no-fly" databases are aimed at ensuring that people who pose a potential threat do not board international flights. Perhaps most effective is the heightened state of vigilance and awareness that air travelers have adopted since the Sept. 11 attacks. In addition to official security, hijackers also would have to contend with a plane full of passengers who know now that the highjacking could be a suicide mission — and that their lives are at stake. Even with this atmosphere of security surrounding air travel, travelers nevertheless can take steps to ensure their own security while on a plane. Passengers who include a smoke hood and a small flashlight among their carry-on items, for example, could help themselves in an emergency situation, whether it be an attack or an accident aboard the aircraft. In such situations, smoke inhalation, especially from the extremely toxic burning plastics within a plane, poses a serious threat. In addition, a flashlight can be used to facilitate getting off of the aircraft when the power is out and the air is thick with smoke. With more emphasis placed on securing aircraft, however, militants could be content to confine their attacks to terminals, where crowds of waiting people present an enticing target for militants aiming to cause mass casualties. Travelers, however, can mitigate the risks by maintaining a high degree of situational awareness and taking other personal protection measures. In a security sense, airport terminals are divided into two parts. The "soft side" is before the security checkpoint — where passengers and carry-on luggage is screened — while the "hard side" is after. Time spent in line at the ticket counter and then at security checkpoints, therefore, should be minimized. In the first case, arriving at the counter early enough to avoid the mad dash of latecomers would help, while avoiding wearing clothes with lots of metal buttons and buckles, and minimizing carry-on baggage can expedite getting through security. Once on the hard side, travelers should avoid the waiting areas at the gate, if possible, by utilizing the members-only lounges operated by many airlines. This helps to keep the traveler out of a potential attack zone — away from crowds and out of plain view. In many parts of the world, air travel can be dangerous because of lax maintenance and safety procedures. This is especially true in the developing world, where maintenance regulations and procedures often are not strictly enforced. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibits U.S. carriers from flying into foreign airports that do not meet security and safety standards. Although this information is not readily available to the public, determined travelers could contact the FAA for a list — and then avoid those airlines and airports that U.S. authorities consider substandard. The consular information sheets issued by the U.S. State Department also provide information about air travel safety. At the destination airport, transportation can be arranged in advance to further minimize time spent on the soft side. For traveling executives, discretion should be employed when it comes to finding the local driver on the other end of a flight. A driver who holds up a sign bearing the executive's name and company could tip off potential kidnappers and terrorists to the presence of a high-value target. Airport terminals, especially in the developing world, are notorious for criminal activity as well. When on the soft side, unattended luggage can be stolen and travelers can be victimized by pickpockets — especially when they are less vigilant after a long, exhausting intercontinental flight. Situational awareness and preparation are the most effective personal security measures a traveler can take. Paying attention to people and events in the area and avoiding potential attack zones are two basics for self-preservation while in the terminal and on the plane.

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