How to Stay Safe in Airports

The lethal shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on January 6, was as horrific as it was unpredictable: innocent people, thinking only of their vacations and a break from frigid weather at home.

Instead, 5 shot dead, 6 others seriously wounded. Could this have been you?

It’s not a question you should ponder too long. You can’t live your life afraid of all the things that could happen to you. And don’t delude yourself that Fort Lauderdale airport is a particularly “soft” target as US airports go.

It is the 21st busiest airport in the US (just one spot behind LaGuardia), it boards over 13 million passengers per year, its security procedures are as tight as any in the country, and its 4 terminals and adjacent parking pavilions require maps to navigate. But its safety record remains admirable.

With the help of professional safety and security advisories we can suggest how to minimize your risk of harm while passing through airports and avoid the highest risk- encounter situations.


Avoid the non-secured areas

As we saw in Fort Lauderdale last week and in Brussels and Istanbul in 2016, the highest risk areas for mass disruption are in the unsecured arrival zones, ticketing lobbies, unsecured baggage claim and departure areas. Avoid them.

Pre-ticketing options, by which you print your own boarding pass are easily available online. Take advantage of them.  All airlines offer the service.  Pre-ticketing is easy and quick and allows you to avoid the super-crowded (high risk) ticketing lineups and lets you go directly from your drop-off point to security clearance and your gate.

Once at your gate, you are under full security, but that doesn’t mean you drop your guard. Find an out-of- the way spot—if you can.  Avoid the crowds and amuse yourself with your smart-phone,  another electronic gadget, or a book. Be sure to look up from your entertainment regularly in order to remain aware of your surroundings.

If you check baggage, use your carrier’s sidewalk check in if they have it. You can do that if you have a pre-printed pass, or store a copy in the wallet section of your iPad or smartphone. Do anything to avoid the long congested ticket counter lines or kiosks.  But first…


Do you really need all those bags?

Let’s go back to Fort Lauderdale as an object lesson. Here, the shooter had time to retrieve his checked weapon (perfectly legal), enter a bathroom, load his weapon, and come out shooting while a few hundred people stood around patiently, clustered at the edge of the baggage carousel, waiting for their suitcases.

Believe me, it can be done easily, if you pre-plan and pack only what you know you absolutely need. Seasoned travelers do it all the time. I do it all the time, even with my grandkids—one cabin-friendly roll on. No more. No baggage claim necessary.


A special note to Canadians on US baggage claim areas

With the expansion of US pre-clearance procedures in more Canadian destinations, Canadian air passengers will not have to undergo US Customs clearance in American airports. But that also means they will arrive in unsecured baggage claim areas, similar to the one in Fort Lauderdale.

That’s certainly more convenient. But it requires caution. In such a case, avoid the most congested locations. Find a remote/out-of-the-way spot, stay there until your baggage carousel starts to roll. Don’t crowd up to the edge of the carousel along with a hundred other impatient passengers. And once you spot your bag, get it and get out.

Also, keep the friends or relatives meeting you at the airport away from the baggage claim area. You don’t need them hanging out with you at the carousel, adding to the congestion, and distracting you from your surroundings. Meet them outside or at some designated point.

If you’re returning to Canada from foreign travel, you will most likely be deposited at an incoming customs and immigration gate from which you will proceed to a secured baggage-claim area.

That’s a layer of safety as it’s not accessible to non-ticketed personnel, although in some locations there is allowance for family or friends to be given gate passes to assist passengers with special needs.


Become a frequent or trusted traveler

In Canada and the US there are government-approved, pre-authorized programs that allow frequent travelers who have applied and been pre-screened (Nexus for example) to avoid long lines and go straight to Customs and departure gates. You must apply for these passes and complete some forms, but if you travel frequently, it’s worth it, as it gets you in and out of airports relatively quickly, and that can translate to safely.

Do your homework. Plan your travel logistics. Eliminate the junk. And stay safe.


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