Liz Barrett was driving with friends through the English countryside in North Yorkshire when she heard about the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. She was visiting Britain from Chicago, and was horrified by the news.
“It was the only thing on all the radio stations,” she says. Her next stop on the trip will be London, before flying home from Heathrow Airport.
With the threat level in Britain raised to “critical” — the highest in 10 years — and soldiers deployed in the streets, Barrett says that she is curious to see what is happening in London and at the airport. But altering her travels never crossed her mind.
“We didn’t consider changing any plans because, honestly, I refuse to give way to those evil idiots,” she says.
It has become too common a consideration: to travel or not to travel in the wake of a terrorist attack. Dan Richards, chief executive of Global Rescue, a risk-management firm focused on health, safety and travel, says that the decision depends on the individual.
“I think England, Britain and most of Europe, despite the most recent attack in Manchester, are still very safe,” he says.
George Hobica, founder of the travel deal site Airfarewatchdog.com, says that he hasn’t seen interest in traveling to Britain falling off since the attack.
“Furthermore, terrorists fervently hope that their actions will disrupt the economy and cause people to live in fear,” he says. “We can’t accede to their wishes, and every time something like this happens, travelers keep calm and travel on, as it should be.”
If you have a trip planned to England, here are some things to consider:
If you wish to cancel, did you purchase travel insurance? If you did purchase travel insurance before the attack, and you don’t wish to travel to Manchester or nearby towns right now, your policy may offer you an out. “Most travel insurance policies with trip cancellation benefits include coverage for a terrorist attack. This benefit allows travelers to cancel a trip if a terrorist attack occurs,” says Megan Singh, spokeswoman for Squaremouth, a travelinsurance-comparison site. Singh says that in order for such an event to be covered, it usually must meet these requirements:
●It occurs in or near a city listed on the traveler’s itinerary;
●It occurs within a specific time period of the traveler’s departure date, usually seven to 30 days;
●It has been deemed “terrorism” by the State Department or the U.S. government issues a travel advisory for that destination.
Some policies also require there have been no recent terrorist incidents in the same city within a specified period of time. Singh says that some policies will specify how far the coverage extends, geographically — 50 or 100 miles from the city on the itinerary, for example.
“Some travelers may not be aware of the distance from Manchester to other popular locations in Britain. London, for example, is more than 100 miles away. So in some cases, even if the traveler has a policy in place, depending on where and when they are going, terrorism cancellation coverage may not apply,” Singh says.
If you did purchase a policy, Singh suggests calling the provider immediately to understand what’s covered and find out what steps need to be taken.
If you wish to cancel and didn’t purchase travel insurance, start dialing. If you think that the possibility of an attack will cast a shadow on your trip, Richards says you may want to consider your options. “The last thing people should do is travel to a place and be constantly fearful if something is going to happen. That’s no way to spend a vacation,” he says.
Historically speaking, some airlines, hotels and car-rental agencies have relaxed their rescheduling or cancellation policies following an attack, and action is often taken on a case-by-case basis.
For example, British Airways recently issued this statement: “Following the tragic events in Manchester, we are offering a range of flexible rebooking policies to people who are affected or who are due to travel to or from the city in the coming days. We would encourage any customers with concerns about their bookings to contact us or their travel agent and we will be as flexible as possible.”
United Airlines issued a statement by email: “All of us at the United family send our deepest condolences to those affected by this terrible tragedy. We have issued a travel waiver that enables customers who are flying to and from airports we service in the U.K. to adjust their travel plans free of charge.”
Call any businesses you have bookings with and see if there’s any flexibility in your upcoming plans.
If you go, take some basic precautions. Richards points out that recent attacks in Europe have a few things in common: “They tend to happen in very crowded, highly populated environments, and they tend to happen near fairly well-known landmarks within these cities.”
He shares the following tips for people traveling to Britain:
●Take a “redundant” method of communication. Cellphone service often gets disrupted following an attack or disaster, and that redundancy can act as a backup. Richards says having a phone that can also tap into a WiFi network can be helpful, and so can a satellite device. That will allow you to contact friends and family to let them know that you’re okay, or that you need help.
●Weigh the risks when it comes to crowds. As a tourist, avoiding densely populated areas can be rather tricky — especially if a sporting event, concert or popular museum drew you to the city in the first place. Richards says to consider your options. “This is the age we live in and these environments can be soft targets,” he says. “And they’re not environments that can be controlled by any secure law enforcement presence. So you take risks. Are they huge risks? Well, if you’re caught in one of these events, sure they are. But the likelihood is still very, very low.”
●Be vigilant. Always be aware of your surroundings, Richards says. “That doesn’t mean you need to be suspicious of everybody or fearful of everyone, but be aware of who is around you and what they’re doing.” If you feel uncomfortable, leave the situation and contact law enforcement.
●Have a plan. Wherever you go, discuss an exit strategy and meet up point with your travel companions. It may be an uncomfortable conversation, but it could provide needed guidance in case of an emergency.
Keep the threat in perspective. The notion of getting caught up in a terrorist attack is horrifying, but it’s important to remember that it is also rare. In 2013, President Barack Obama said on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”: “The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than they are of dying in a car accident, unfortunately. The general rule is just show some common sense and some caution.”
Richards points out that staying home isn’t necessarily safer than traveling, particularly if you live in a large city in the United States. “I guess you can crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head and you’ll probably be safe. But most of us don’t live our lives that way,” he says.
“The likelihood that you come down with some sort of foodborne or airborne illness or are involved in a motor-vehicle accident or slip and fall on the way to the bathroom in your hotel room and break your ankle, all those things are much, much more likely to occur than you being caught up in a terrorist action.”
Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter: @K8Silver.
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