When Esteban Santiago killed five people in the Terminal 2 baggage claim of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, he revealed a vulnerable area. The baggage claim is outside airport security and people coming off flights or into the airport can move freely.
With this in mind, airport security consultant Leticia Monteagudo says travelers should get to the security screening quickly, spending as little time as possible outside secured areas.
“Nowadays, many flights and many airlines allow you to print a boarding pass from home, and you also have the boarding pass on your mobile device,” she said. “As soon as you get to the airport, you’re already checked in, you go straight to security.”
She also urged people to pay attention to the “if you see something, say something” overhead announcements and report any unattended baggage and suspicious activity to airline authorities.
In the aftermath of the shooting, airports are trying to make unsecured areas safer. At Miami International Airport, for example, the Miami-Dade Aviation Department increased police patrols and instituted random vehicle checks.
Monteagudo said that while more security is better, these efforts wouldn’t address the root problems of which Santiago took advantage.
“You can’t just put a Band-Aid and have more policemen covering the area while you still have possibility of bags coming in that are unknown to you that may have weapons inside – and you can’t profile every passenger,” said Monteagudo.
Monteagudo has conducted more than 57 on-site security assessments at airports around the world. For each, she spends four days going through all the same screenings a passenger would in order to identify potential problems or areas for improvement.
When Santiago was a passenger, he followed the security rules. He checked his gun according to the proper airline procedure, informing the airline agent at check-in that his case had an unloaded gun.
Monteagudo said this is where she would put a simple fix, flagging the bag so it could be monitored more closely.
“The airline can place some sort of an identifier, just like they do when you are a priority customer and they put the orange tag. In this case they can put a red one and say ‘special handling,’ you don’t really have to say a weapon,” she said. That way, “all the bags that have a red tag we know is because there is some sort of weapon.”
When those bags arrive in baggage claim, airport authorities would be able to identify people with weapons by the red tags and could watch them more closely.