With travel restrictions easing and vaccines and other health precautions in place, many Americans are preparing to reunite with faraway friends and family this Thanksgiving. Experts predict that crowds will rebound to pre-pandemic levels in airports, on the roads and even on the rails. But with so many people traveling — some for the first time in nearly two years — plus rising crime and violence rates, it’s more important than ever to keep safety in mind as we get ready to gather with our loved ones to enjoy this season of gratitude.
Locally, Thanksgiving 2021 is shaping up to be the second-busiest ever for travelers, only 3% shy of the all-time record of 4.5 million in 2019, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. Up to 2 million people are expected to travel through LAX over the two-week holiday period, potentially doubling last year’s number. Nationwide, AAA says this will be the third-busiest Thanksgiving on record, with 53.4 million people expected to travel (compared to 56 million in 2019 and 53.7 million in 2018). That will add up to heavy traffic on the highways and long lines at airports — possibly compounded by a shortage of TSA agents working security checkpoints, due to a federal employee vaccine mandate that takes effect November 22. (As of October 16, only about 60% of the workforce had been vaccinated.) All this is likely to exacerbate other recent worrisome trends, including soaring traffic fatality rates and incidents of unruly, sometimes violent, airplane passengers.
As always, many LAAPOA members and their fellow peace officers will be sacrificing time away from their families to work long hours throughout the holiday season, upholding their commitment to protect and serve the public. But since chaotic crowds of rushed, distracted vacationers can present a safety risk for themselves and others, as well as a tempting opportunity for criminals, we want to remind everyone to do their part by following these tips to help keep the holiday a happy one.
- If you’re flying, especially if you haven’t done so in a while, refresh your memory about how to pack safely by reviewing the TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” list and guidelines for transporting Thanksgiving foods. Make sure to leave hazardous items at home — including firearms. This may sound obvious, but seizures of guns (80% of them loaded) from carry-on bags at airport security checkpoints are at record highs this year, and the vast majority of violators claim they simply forgot they had their weapons with them.
- Remember to bring a supply of face masks, which are required by federal law on planes, trains, buses and other public transportation, as well as at terminals.
- Stay up to date on traffic or weather conditions that may affect your trip, and allow plenty of time to reach your destination. Flyers should plan to arrive at least two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights. If you’re heading to LAX, check Fly LAX Stats on Twitter for real-time updates on parking and traffic.
- If you haven’t been to LAX recently, you may encounter some surprises as the airport continues to update and expand, including renovations to Terminals 1, 7 and 8; the West Gates expansion at Tom Bradley Terminal; the LAXit lot for taxis and rideshare services; and the new LAX Economy Parking Facility, which includes the ability to pre-book your space online. Consult flylax.com for the latest updates to ensure you know where you’re going.
- Secure your home before you leave, including locking all doors and windows, placing lights on timers, canceling deliveries and arranging for a trusted neighbor to check in.
- Auto thefts have risen 48% in L.A. over the past two years, so whether you’re leaving your car at home, parking long-term at the airport or staying at a hotel, make sure it’s as secure as possible. Choose a well-lit spot in a heavily traveled area, lock all doors and windows, and don’t leave any valuables in your vehicle, especially not if they are easily visible to people walking past.
- If you use a ride-hailing service, don’t give your driver extensive details about your trip or how long you’ll be gone, especially if they picked you up at home. In the same vein, avoid sharing details about your trip on social media and alerting people to the fact that you are leaving home for an extended period of time.
- Make sure your luggage is well-labeled with your name and contact information, and keep it in hand or in sight at all times.
- 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.
- Keep your wallet and boarding pass in a safe place, and be sure to put away your ID as soon as you’re through security. Losing your license is bad; losing your passport is even worse. Don’t risk leaving it sitting on a seat or on a shop’s counter. It could make it very difficult to get back home.
- If you hear a loud noise or any other sound indicating violence, move away from it and go to a quiet and safe place, like a bathroom. Familiarize yourself with how to handle an active-shooter situation, and make sure you follow any instructions provided by law enforcement.
- Stay awake and vigilant as much as possible, especially if you’re traveling alone. And above all, be patient. Becoming agitated or aggressive won’t help, and can even endanger you and your fellow travelers. Keeping a cool head and your wits about you is the best way to reach your destination safely.
LAAPOA members remain dedicated to our sworn duty, and we are proud to work in partnership with our community to make holiday travel as smooth and secure as possible. We hope that the public will be mindful of the many ways in which law enforcement officers go above and beyond to keep them safe — not only during this season, but each and every day of the year. Thank you to all of our members for their tireless and selfless efforts in the face of scrutiny and danger, and to everyone who continues to support our mission to protect our airports and our city. Happy Thanksgiving!