Flying? Holiday travelers advised to arrive early amid extra airport security
WASHINGTON – If your plans for the next couple of days include airline travel, here’s a word of advice: GET THERE EARLY. Security lines were already long Tuesday afternoon at D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, and more of the same is expected as holiday travelers take to the skies.
Extra security is in place at airports around the country following news Monday night that the State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert, warning Americans of possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. The alert states that information suggests ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups are planning attacks in multiple regions. The alert warns travelers to be aware of their surroundings, and avoid large crowds and crowded places, such as holiday festivals and events. Click here for a complete list of tips included in the alert.
Law enforcement sources say the FBI and Homeland Security have issued a 9-page bulletin Monday night. It is known as an after action report of the coordinated attacks in Paris. The bulletin specifically warns that homegrown violent extremists “inspired or directed by” ISIS in Syria could seek to carry out copycat Paris attacks using similar weapons and tactics, but on a “smaller scale.”
The bulletin is placing heavy emphasis on the vulnerability of U.S. soft targets and warns ISIS demonstrated in Paris it has the ability to target beyond traditional “government, military and law enforcement officials and facilities.”
As a result of the heightened security procedures, the Transportation Security Administration announced a major change in how long you might have to wait in order to get on your plane. The TSA is doubling their official recommendation of passenger airport arrival times, which means instead of arriving an hour before your flight for domestic trips, you’re now asked to arrive two hours ahead. Locally, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) advises international travelers to increase their arrival times from two to three hours prior to takeoff.
On Tuesday, FOX 5’s Tom Fitzgerald spotted a TSA explosives detection K-9 team on the tarmac at Reagan National,following the State Department’s warning. There was a heavy police presence out in force. Police officers are not on post outside, but were stationed on shuttle buses bringing passengers to the terminal. Inside the terminal, we have seen law enforcement on Segways and hybrid bikes in order to cover more ground. Passengers said they have noticed a difference with airport security while Virginia s governor said the state is remaining vigilant.
“It was heavy with security, said passenger Tanya Wallace. They are double checking. I had medicine so they had to run tests on the medicine to make sure nothing was in the medicine and stuff like that. So it took a long time to get through security.”
“We are doing everything we can at the state level to work with the federal officials, said Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). I can tell you here today in Virginia that I have no specific threats on us in anything that’s gone on. But I’ll tell you, we plan like there is every day.
Travelers: What can you bring?
One of the biggest things that holds up the security lines here are people trying to bring prohibited items through TSA checkpoints. They said if they can cut down on that, they can cut down on wait times. TSA is now trying out some new ways to keep you updated. One of them is a new web tool called “Can I bring?” that you can find on the TSA s website and app. All you do is just type in an item, hit enter and it will tell you if you can bring it through a checkpoint.
Reserve parking in advance
There is also a big logistical component to the recommended arrival times at D.C. airports. Officials at Reagan National Airport said they expect parking to be in high demand over the next week, so when you factor in that two-hour extra security window, you also need to check on the airport s website and add in additional time to find parking.
“The great thing about this website is that if passengers see that the garage is full and they have reserved their parking in advance, they are still able to park in that garage even though it’s indicating that the garage is full, said airport spokesperson Kimberly Gibbs.
- ^ the State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert (www.fox5dc.com)
- ^ Click here for a complete list of tips included in the alert. (www.fox5dc.com)
- ^ a new web tool called “Can I bring?” that you can find on the TSA s website and app (apps.tsa.dhs.gov)
- ^ a new Twitter handle @AskTSA. (twitter.com)
- ^ reserve a parking space (www.flyreagan.com)
A bomb was placed inside this Schweppes Gold soft drink which was carried aboard a Russian passenger jet that exploded in mid-air over Egypt on Oct. 31, 2015. Most of us perceive airport security personnel, baggage handlers and airline cabin crews as harmless individuals. They are, after all, tasked to make our travels abroad as convenient and safe as possible. A risk management expert, however, warned that even the airport security crew can be infiltrated by terrorists, and can cause harm to a huge number of passengers.
Former National Transportation Safety Board member Vernon Grose admitted that the United States’ airport security is woefully lacking in necessary safeguards, even 14 years after the terror attack at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The crew can be infiltrated. Luggage handlers, the people who prepare the food or those who service the lavatories the number of people with full access who could do us harm is shocking,” Grose, the chairman of Omega Systems Group Inc., told WND.com.
“Anyone can smuggle in a device. It’s a wide-open gate if they want to come in,” he added. Grose’ views bolster a report by the Department of Homeland Security last June, which revealed that as many as 73 aviation workers employed by airlines and even ordinary vendors in the airport had alleged ties to terrorism. The same report also highlights the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s weaknesses in screening airport personnel.
“TSA had less effective controls in place for ensuring that aviation workers had, one, not committed crimes that would disqualify them from having unescorted access to secure airport areas, and, two, had lawful status and were authorised to work in the United States,” the report read.
“In general, TSA relied on airport operators to perform criminal history and work authorisation checks, but had limited oversight over these commercial entities.
Thus, TSA lacked assurance that it properly vetted all credential applicants,” it added. The issue of aviation security once again came to the public’s attention after a Russian jet was recently downed by Islamic State militants over the Sinai peninsula in Egypt. All 224 passengers aboard Metrojet Airbus 321-200 were killed after a local baggage handler at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport in Egypt supposedly planted a bomb inside a soda can.
Traveling this Thanksgiving is very tense for a lot of people. Evenmore than most years. Terrorism alerts are all over the place. Roads are full. Airports are full. People are more than angst-filled. Waits for airport security are supposed to be longer.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International are telling people to allow at least 90 minutes to get through airport security. I think that s a good thing. I worry about a lot when I travel, but right now, airline security isn t really one of them.
I ve always felt the TSA people did a good job of screening people. I still think that. I traveled by plane over the weekend, and security lines moved smoothly. Airports are crowded, but I do believe the right people are being screened. You don t hear that much any more about little old grandmas being frisked.
I think they are going after the right people at airports. Nothing is foolproof, but of all the worries in the world, I am not worried about who is sitting next to me on a plane. What do you think? Are you worried about airport security?
Gary Stein can be reached at