Business travelers breathed a sigh of relief when British police made a fifth arrest in the plot to attack London’s airports — Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted — and Scotland’s Glasgow airport.
The latest travel scare occurred a week after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took office, and while the Wimbledon tennis tournament was underway and Princes Harry and William were paying tribute to their mom, Princess Diana, with a charity concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. During the Independence Day holiday week, security at U.S. airports and other transit points was elevated, and more U.S. air marshals were added on flights to the U.K.
International news about terrorist attacks has become all too commonplace, with many people wondering — will the next attempt be foiled? Despite the added security measures, just how safe it is to travel these days? Locally, how are the most recent threats playing out in Mississippi airports? What does it mean for business travelers, especially those traveling overseas? What is the potential impact?
Despite the threats, said Vickie Greenlee, CEO of For Travelers Only, it’s business as usual.
“I’ve called other agencies around the country and we all agree,” said Greenlee. “No one, thus far, has canceled a trip.”
In a survey of travel agents taken after the foiled terrorist plot in the U.K., 53% said they did not anticipate any slow down in travel to the British Isles, with only 30% saying they might expect a slow down, she added.
Greenlee said U.S. travelers have accepted tightened security as part of traveling, viewing it is a time-consuming but necessary nuisance. “Tightened security means it takes more time,” she pointed out, cautioning business travelers to “be sure to get to the airport earlier and be prepared for long lines to get through security check.”
Glenn Helman, president of Corrigan Travel Agency in Jackson, confirmed that agency representatives haven’t had clients express reservations about flying domestically during this time.
“However, I agree with Britain’s new prime minister, who advised his people to be vigilant, but to continue about their business,” said Helman. “He doesn’t think that criminals or terrorists should dictate what we do, or have any control over our society.”
At the local airport…
Bonnie Wilson, COO of Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA), formerly the director of public safety and operations for JMAA, said the authority’s security personnel has worked “a significant amount” of overtime since the latest international threat, particularly during the holiday week when many families are traveling to reunions.
“Not only have we had an increase in the number of people using the facility, but many of them are not seasoned business travelers and are therefore less familiar with our procedures, so that creates a delay,” said Wilson. “Also, this terrorist attack heightened the level of scrutiny. Additional measures have been implemented throughout the traveler’s experience, which has the potential to marginally increase the amount of time it takes.”
Because Jackson-Evers International Airport is an O&D facility (origination and destination) and not one known for a high percentage of connecting flights, more veteran travelers pass through the gates.
“Business travelers have been through the process a number of times,” she commented. “They generally know what they have to take out of their pockets and their bags before they get to the checkpoint and have worked out personal methods to get them through quicker.”
During the summer months, the airport sees more children and elderly travelers, with one traveler often managing two or three people.
“Then you have extra backpacks,” noted Wilson. “So moms are trying to pack smart but end up packing heavy because kids get wet and dirty and need more changes of clothing. Then we see purses exploding with juice boxes and goldfish crackers, so there’s more for security to look at.”
TSA’s rhyme and reason
As a result of the latest terrorist plot, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s federal air marshal branch is being deployed in large numbers, not only in their standard mission to have an onboard presence and to provide a deterrent effect on aircraft, but also by taking on a different ground mission, Wilson said.
“This is sort of a new mission they haven’t undertaken in the past, but it makes sense because they’re trained for exactly this situation,” explained Wilson. “They’re supplementing local and airport law enforcement and security personnel with their presence at most of the major airports where you’d expect to have a higher level of concern of threats and a larger number of people, which unfortunately makes it a more attractive target. You’ll notice in Scotland, the terrorists chose Glasglow because the potential mortality numbers were higher. Obviously, the size of the aircraft and the flight patterns of aircraft make it a more attractive target.”
Wilson could not comment on whether TSA’s new mission would continue past the holiday week, but said the way TSA is managing this particular event “is remarkably locally focused, and I’m very impressed with what they’re doing,” she said. “They’re working incredibly closely with local law enforcement and security personnel at airports to determine that airport’s most functional, operational response.”
For instance, Wilson explained, a roadblock or traffic restriction moves a target further away from the terminal building.
“But if you create a traffic jam, that becomes an attractive nuisance, doesn’t it? So the TSA, again working with the federal air marshal service and local law enforcement, is looking at facility by facility to enhance each one’s enforcement and observation profile in their specific environment.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.