‘Tis the season to take to the roads, rails and skies to visit loved ones and celebrate the holidays. Capping off a record-breaking year for passenger loads, airlines expect 45.2 million fliers between December 16 and January 5, up 3.5% from the same period in 2015. While the festivities hopefully keep spirits bright, it’s also important to remember that more crowds and confusion can add up to increased risks. LAAPOA encourages everyone to travel smart and stay safe while enjoying this special time of year.
As we are all too painfully aware in a year that saw terrorist attacks at airports in Brussels and Istanbul as well as at the waterfront in Nice, plus continued mass shootings across the U.S., violent incidents can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time. The potential may be greater now, however; the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning the week before Thanksgiving that the holiday season could bring “opportunities for violent extremists” to attempt to target “public events and places where people congregate.” Just last week, Los Angeles was on high alert following a threat to the Metro rail system, although no corroborating evidence was found. December is certainly ripe with opportunity for criminals of all types to take advantage of stressed and distracted shoppers, revelers and travelers. To combat dangers both major and minor, the best tool is awareness of your surroundings. Be on the lookout for suspicious activity, and if you see something, say something.
Before you leave on a holiday trip, keep the following tips in mind:
- Ensure that you pack safely. Review the TSA guidelines (for holiday travel, the “Food” list may come in especially handy), leave hazardous items at home, and understand the rules for checked versus carry-on luggage. The TSA recommends not bringing wrapped gifts, as they may need to be opened for inspection. Also, remember that Samsung Galaxy Note 7 cellphones are currently prohibited on airplanes due to explosion risks.
- Secure your home, including locking all doors and windows, placing lights on timers, canceling deliveries and having a trusted neighbor check in. (To prevent fire risk, keep live Christmas trees well-watered and don’t leave them lit unattended.) You may want to avoid sharing the details of your absence on social media, or to taxi or rideshare drivers transporting you to the airport.
- Stay up to date on traffic or weather conditions that may affect your trip, monitor your flight status and allow plenty of time. Plan to arrive at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights – especially at LAX, which is expected to be one of the nation’s busiest airports this season and is undergoing continuous construction.
- If parking long-term, secure your car. Choose a well-lit spot in a heavily traveled area; lock all doors and windows; and don’t leave any valuables behind.
Once you reach the airport:
- Secure your luggage. Make sure it’s well-labeled with your name and contact information, and keep it in hand or in sight at all times. Thieves are aware that holiday travelers are likely carrying bags full of potentially valuable gifts, so be extra vigilant about your belongings.
- Don’t agree to watch a stranger’s luggage or transport any items on someone else’s behalf.
- Report unattended baggage, or any other questionable object or activities you witness.
- As much as possible, stay awake and alert, especially if you’re traveling alone.
- While the chances of a violent incident are small, the greatest likelihood is in crowded areas outside security, such as ticket counters and the baggage claim. If possible, check in online beforehand, get through security as quickly as possible and avoid places where people tend to congregate. If you hear a loud noise or commotion, move away from rather than toward it, and try to find safety in a quiet place such as a restroom, rather than blindly following a panicking stampede. Follow the guidelines for how to handle an active-shooter situation, and always obey the instructions of law enforcement personnel.
Rushed and harried travelers are more likely to be vulnerable to danger, so above all, keep your wits about you, and pack your patience and common sense along with all the treats and presents. As always, LAAPOA members are committed to our sworn duty of protecting our airports and our city, and we are proud to work in partnership with our community to make holiday travel as smooth and secure as possible. We wish all of you joy and peace this season and throughout the new year.