International Travel in an Era of Terrorism

It was Christmas day, and I had driven from Washington, DC to Warsaw, Virginia where I was having dinner with a friend's family. I had forgotten to turn my phone's push notifications off, something that rarely happens in special dinners like these. News had just broken and I had a push notification from the AP briefly saying there was an attempted terrorist act on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit and that all passengers on board were safe. I passed my phone to my host who was sitting beside me, a journalist and professor of broadcast journalism. She read the story and handed the phone back to me; it was a rude thing to do in a family dinner, but it was news too difficult to ignore. We did not share the information with her family. As I was returning to DC at around 7:00PM, the AP had reported more information on the attempted act. The terrorist was a Nigerian national whose flight had originated from Nigeria on KLM through Amsterdam. The first question that came to mind was, how is this going to affect international travel? I wasn't being altruistic because I was traveling on the same flight schedule only two days later. I had a reservation for Washington, DC to Detroit, Detroit to Amsterdam on Northwest and Amsterdam to Nigeria on KLM. As I write this, I am on that KLM Flight heading to Nigeria, having arrived in Amsterdam safely earlier today.

As I left Washington, I did not notice any security other than the usual checks. There were no extended delays. In Detroit, we did not go through additional security checks. The pilot did alert us that there were extra security precautions in Amsterdam. Our flight was one hour late from Detroit, but it was due to inclement weather. Airport officials had to de-ice the plane. As the pilot had informed us, I noticed additional security checks in Amsterdam. We had to go through scanners again. I was not able to verify if this was an airport-wide practice or if it was only restricted to Nigeria and countries that have terrorist ties. This screening did not cause unnecessary delays. I was in the line less than ten minutes, time that I feel is worth the all travelers' safety.

Since September 11, airport security has increased. For long flights, I do not mind arriving at the airport two to three hours earlier and going through security procedures. I believe it is the price we have to pay in an era of terrorism. September 11 was such a catastrophic event that I am ready to do all I need to do to ensure that such an act does not happen again. However, airport security is still broken. It is inconceivable that despite the fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutall was turned in by his own father and was on international watch lists, he was able to travel with explosive devices not only from Nigeria to Amsterdam, but also from Amsterdam to Detroit. That he did not blow up that Northwest flight is not because security worked, but because his explosives failed. December 25, 2009 would have been another tragic day for us.

This unfortunate event is a call to action. It is worth placing full body scanners in all airports around the world. I have always had concerns about these scanners because of privacy issues, but I would rather briefly lose my privacy than lose one more person to terrorist acts in our airways.