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Thanksgiving Travelers Facing Tougher Security Measures

The New York Times logo The New York Times 11/24/2015 By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS and JAD MOUAWAD

Millions of Americans who take to the skies for the busiest travel period of the year, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks around the world, are expected to see longer security lines and more careful screening, more uniformed patrols and more bomb-sniffing dogs. But there is little sign so far that concerns about safety are keeping people home for Thanksgiving.

The nation’s railroads and highways will have heightened security, as well, but the vigilance will be most apparent at airports. Travelers’ jitters are also likely to be greater in the weeks after the attacks in Paris that killed 130, the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt that killed 224, the bombing in Beirut that killed 43 — all claimed by the Islamic State — and warnings of a planned attack in Belgium.

In interviews at airports around the country, travelers said they were well aware of the attacks, and some even admitted to a degree of fear. But they said that they had calculated that the risk was remote, and that they were determined not to let it alter their lives.

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“You just have to carry on living,” said Yvonne Moran, 53, a customer service agent who was painting her nails while waiting for a flight at Los Angeles International Airport. “Because if you’re going to be unlucky enough to be in a situation like that, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

On Monday, the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans because of the increased threat of terrorism. “Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Daesh return from Syria and Iraq,” the department said, using two of the acronyms for the Islamic State. “Additionally, there is a continuing threat from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis.”

Police officers kept watch Tuesday as passengers arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. © Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Police officers kept watch Tuesday as passengers arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. Late Monday, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security sent a joint bulletin to law enforcement agencies nationwide, warning of the possibility of “homegrown” terrorists trying to replicate the Paris attacks. But security officials have said they know of no specific, credible threat of such an assault, and in a visit to New York on Sunday, Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, urged people “to continue to travel, to associate, go to public events, go to public places.”

Airlines expect to carry an average of 2.1 million passengers a day over the Thanksgiving holiday period, which began last Friday and runs through next Tuesday, the most since 2007, said Airlines for America, an industry trade group. United Airlines said it was adding more than 2,200 flights over that period, especially early in the morning and late at night, when many aircraft would usually be idle.

A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, Mike England, said the agency was taking “all necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of airports” but declined to discuss any heightened security procedures.

Several airports in the United States said they expected record numbers of travelers over the holiday weekend, with some hubs predicting traffic up 7 percent to 12 percent over last year.

“Bookings wouldn’t suggest that people are choosing not to fly,” said Doug Yakel, a spokesman for San Francisco International Airport. “The way passengers have prepared to go through screenings will be consistent, but they’ll see a heightened sense of vigilance.”

Allianz Global Assistance, an insurer, said it had seen an increase in calls from travelers who are interested in buying insurance to protect international trips, in particular, and some cancellations after the Paris attacks. Yet even for travel to cities that have been targeted, there is only scattered evidence of a travel decline.

“I think people are refusing to be terrorized,” said George Hobica, the founder of, a travel website. “There have been no panic or fire sales. Airfares have not gone down to Paris or even to Brussels. You’d think no one wants to go anymore. But it still costs about $1,200 to fly there from Chicago or San Francisco.”

Lake Thelen, 24, who was waiting at Kennedy International Airport in Queens for a connecting flight on her trip from Portland, Ore., to São Paulo, Brazil, said she could neither put the risk of terrorism entirely out of her mind nor let it rule her.

“That fear is always in the back of my head,” she said. But if she gave it too much power, “maybe I’d just stay in my house all the time.”

But travelers, domestic or international, can expect to see changes at United States airports, including longer waits, experts say. Travelers with TSA PreCheck, the program that allows frequent travelers to speed up the security screening, have been advised that they may be asked submit to checks they can usually skip, like taking off their shoes, said Henry Harteveldt, founder of the Atmosphere Research Group.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, “we’re in a hyperstate of vigilance,” said Reese McCranie, an airport spokesman. He said that the increased police presence would be noticeable, including specially outfitted tactical units, and that passengers should arrive earlier than usual to contend with long security lines.

Arnold Barnett, an aviation safety expert and professor at M.I.T., said he anticipated that security lines at airports could be slower than usual this week. Since the Islamic State claimed that it used a soda can for the bomb that brought down the plane in Egypt, agents might be more focused on monitoring liquids, Mr. Barnett said.

At La Guardia Airport in Queens, Jonathan Zwerling, who had flown in from Atlanta with his 2-year-old daughter, said he had seen the warnings to be more aware of his surroundings than usual, and noted the airport’s version of seasonal trimmings: a police officer with an AR-15 assault rifle, and another with a shotgun.

“My wife was real worried,” said Mr. Zwerling, 45, an aircraft maintenance worker for Delta Air Lines. “I just kind of do my thing.”

Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, said: “I think everybody is more aware of the fact that terrorists are still active and that it could happen anywhere. “People are alert, but frankly, that’s a good thing. People can help by being the eyes and ears.”

“T.S.A. may step up screening on flights to New York or Washington, which have been publicly identified as possible targets,” Mr. Harteveldt said. “But that may be at random. It may not be everyone, or on every flight.”

Increased security will not be limited to air travel. In the New York metropolitan area, police officers will be on heightened alert at airports, bridges and tunnels, with increased patrols and bag checks, officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.

“You may well see more police and police outfitted in gear than people may be used to,” said Joseph Pentangelo, a spokesman for the agency. “You may see Port Authority police personnel in vests, heavy weapons and with canines.”

New York’s police commissioner, William J. Bratton, said that with mild weather expected, there could be record crowds for the traditional Thanksgiving parade, and record security to go with it. Measures will include, for the first time, the presence of about 200 newly trained officers from the Police Department’s Critical Response Command.

“There is no threat being directed against the parade, credible threat,” Mr. Bratton said. “People should have no fear. What we would ask, though: awareness.”

Amtrak said it would also have a heightened police presence in the coming days.

The AAA predicted that 42 million people in this country will drive 50 miles or more over the long holiday weekend, a small increase from last year.

Whether people are flying or driving, travel is cheaper than it was a year ago, the group said. Airfares are modestly lower, and gas prices are down sharply, by about 75 cents per gallon. The AAA said the average price at the pump had fallen to $2.07, the lowest since 2008, and should go below $2 by Christmas.

The air travel industry has grown faster than the economy as a whole, in the United States and worldwide, and industry professionals insist that they do not expect recent tragedies to have a lasting, widespread effect.

“Security may put a break in some places, but we’ve demonstrated that we knew how to deal with those threats in the past,” said Fabrice Brégier, the chief executive of Airbus.

David Scowsill, the president and chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, a trade group, said the impact of terrorism on travel in the past had been very localized, and temporary, with travel and tourism generally recovering within nine to 12 months of an attack.


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