Are you traveling during the holidays this year? You won’t be alone. In the United States, more than 27 million people will take to the skies during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period alone. The result for the frequent corporate executive flyers is more crowded airports, longer lines, and a higher potential for postponed/canceled flights. And while all of that is inconvenient, executives who travel over the holidays may have decreased situational awareness and increased safety and security incidents.   

The holidays should NOT change situational awareness

“We counsel executives that now is not the time to let your guard down just because you are traveling for personal reasons, not business,” says Carlos López Portillo, Managing Director, LATAM. “The same risks exist 365 days a year, so you have to stay aware that they could impact you and your traveling companions.”

Situational awareness is multifaceted and fluid, changing when the situation does. In general, it means knowing your circumstances and being prepared if an incident were to occur. 

“Many executives will travel during the holidays to destinations they don’t usually visit for business,” says López Portillo. “It’s important that they have the same precautionary outlook on their safety and take the steps to prepare themselves, and their families, for the risks that are involved. We say take the ‘holiday’ out of ‘holiday travel’ because it’s still the same situation that needs to be comprehensively looked at. If you travel on business, you should have the same safety protocols in place that protect you, and now your family, that you would have otherwise.”   

Accordingly, our three big executive travel safety tips are:

Be informed
Be prepared
Remain calm

Let’s take a look at each tip.

Safety Tip #1: Be informed about holiday travel destinations  

Many executives travel to the same destinations regularly, whether to meet with clients, check on operations, or attend industry functions. They become accustomed to the New York, Shanghai, London, and Dubai airports. But during the holidays, they will travel on vacation to destinations like Orlando, Cancun, or Kansas City. Even though the risk of kidnapping or other serious crimes may be less in family-friendly locations, there are still risks. Executives need to familiarize themselves with these locations to prevent surprises.

“Executives live busy, dynamic lives with a lot of distractions,” López Portillo says. “They may not think to research a holiday destination the same way they would for a business trip. For example, they may not know that there is a labor dispute at their destination airport or a protest planned or an unusually high level of crime there lately. They need to know this so that they aren’t targeted and can plan the necessary steps should something go wrong.”

Hotel choices, car rental companies, ground transportation routes, hospitals, dining options — all of them should be well researched before travel just like an executive would, or should, for a business trip.

“Intelligence is information that is timely, relevant, and actionable, so it should be available to the executive even during holiday travel,” says López Portillo. Additionally, it is recommended to avoid sharing sensitive information through social networks, as it can be used in a negative way if it falls in the wrong hands.

Safety Tip #2: Be prepared with security protocols  

Executive travel protection involves the development of security protocols before the trip to take the guesswork out of what to do in an emergency. Those protocols should remain in place when corporate executives travel during the holidays.

“For the executive, the stakes are even higher because they are traveling with a spouse and maybe children, too,” says López Portillo. “This is a good time to check that the protocols are in place and those responsible for actions related to them are reminded of them.”

For example, if an executive’s cell phone is stolen when traveling, contacts, emails, and other key information are now out of the control of the executive and could potentially put the executive, the company, and its employees at risk.

“We recommend that a ‘burner phone,’ a temporary phone loaded with 50-100 minutes, be with the executive at all times so that if this happens, he can call the IT department to have the real phone deactivated. We want it to be a useless paperweight within minutes or even seconds of it being taken.”

All travel protocols should be up-to-date, tested, and ready to be implemented when needed, no matter the reason for the trip.

Safety Tip #3: Be calm no matter the situation  

We’ve all experienced long lines at airports. Lost luggage. Canceled flights. These situations can cause stress for anyone. Picture an executive, traveling with family all day, having to rebook a flight while the kids and spouse are tired, cranky, and impatient. The executive may be hyper-focused on the ticket counter, possibly losing his cool a bit and raising his voice. A nearby criminal notices the conflict. He waits until the executive walks away from the counter before purposely bumping into him, further aggravating the executive. Words are exchanged, but eventually, the criminal backs off. Minutes later, the executive reaches for his phone or wallet. Gone. Taken by the criminal’s partner who lifted it while the executive was focused on the argument.

“That happens often, and it is a direct result of a major decrease in situational awareness,” says López Portillo. “We all know what the busiest travel days are, so avoid them. Travel a few days earlier when crowds are smaller and people are less rushed. Get to the airport several hours early so you can calmly proceed to your gate. You want to be the person sitting, enjoying a cup of coffee, and reading the paper, not the person running to get to the gate. That way, you can remain present to the situation around you.”

Holiday travel for executives does not present more safety risks than business travel. However, it does present more opportunities for those risks to turn into incidents because of the sheer number of people traveling at the same time. Maintaining a keen sense of awareness, having a plan for when something goes wrong, and remaining calm will help an executive enjoy a safe holiday season.

Published November 10, 2021