|Photo by Freeimages.com/Leonor Rivas|
French investigators and an expert from Airbus arrived in Cairo early Friday morning to investigate the crash of Egyptair Flight 804 following the discovery of debris from the plane floating in the Mediterranean, Reuters reports, and the impact of the crash on the travel industry could hinge on what investigators find, according to an aviation and terrorism expert Travel Agent spoke with.
“We will have to wait until we know the actual cause,” says John Rose, COO of travel risk management company iJet International. “If it was terrorism, was it the Muslim Brotherhood targeting Egypt? If it was ISIS, were they targeting France? I think, depending on which one it is, will influence the impact.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail told Reuters that it was too early to rule out any explanation for the disaster, although the country’s aviation minister said terrorism was more likely than mechanical failure. U.S. officials told Reuters that satellite imagery had not so far shown any signs of an explosion, and that the U.S. was not ruling out any possible causes for the crash.
If the cause of the crash does prove to be terrorism, Rose says, having so many attacks in such a short period of time — from last year’s bombing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula through the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels — could start to influence how consumers purchase travel. “Most people in this generation have not experienced so many attacks in such a short period of time,” Rose says. “Of course, we had 9/11, which was horrible, but there was not much after that.”
These attacks are also different from earlier periods of unrest in the 1990s in that they are directly targeting travelers, such as the bombing at the Brussels airport, or the attacks against restaurant and concert patrons in Paris. “I remember when I was younger, the IRA was carrying out a lot of attacks against Great Britain,” says Rose. “But I don’t remember anyone saying they wouldn’t go to London because the IRA wasn’t blowing up tourists.”
The rise of social media, too, means that fear spreads faster than in the past. “With social media, everything is instant,” Rose says. “There was a video of the ‘fireball of the crash’ up within 30 minutes, although we can’t tell if that was real or not. So the fear factor grows so much faster from innuendo and speculation.”
What does this all mean for travelers? While terrorism fears may not sway the decision to travel in general, it can influence a traveler’s choice of destination.
“It’s sad to say, but people are getting hardened,” says Rose. “People say, ‘Well, things are happening in Europe, so I’ll go to the Caribbean, or stay in the United States.’ That’s part of the real threat — what it’s going to do to specific destinations.”
Airport Security Changes
What could change travelers’ minds, though, is the investigation’s impact on airport security. With media reports already criticizing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for long wait times, any additional security procedures could have an impact on the travel experience.
“After 9/11 the TSA was double-screening everyone’s bag, and that was a nightmare,” says Rose. “They went overboard for our protection, but it ultimately led to a better process all around.”
At the same time, Rose was quick to point out that there have been major improvements in airport security and screening efficiency in the years since 9/11. “You could argue that now, it’s faster to get in and out of the airport than it was pre-9/11, with options like PreCheck and Global Entry. Sometimes the increased security doesn’t mean it’s going to be four hour lines, which is what makes leisure travelers choose a drive trip over a fly trip.”
In fact, this week TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger outlined a new plan to address long lines, particularly at Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports, Future Travel Experience reports. Following Neffenger’s speech at the AAAE Annual Conference & Exposition in Houston, Texas, the TSA announced that it would add 58 more TSA screeners to Chicago airports in the coming weeks, with 250 more by mid-August. Additionally, 100 TSA screeners will shift from part-time to full-time.
What Travel Agents Can Do
The most important thing travel agents can do right now is arm their clients with useful, actionable information.
“There’s a difference between meaningful and actionable information and the news,” Rose says. “The news is the information that’s in front of you. It may or may not be meaningful, or it may be something that you can take action on. If a traveler appears empowered, that traveler will go again and again and again, as opposed to a traveler who’s afraid.”
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