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Europe and Terrorism

Europe travel terrorism

ABOVE: A police officer in Italy. INSET BELOW: Police in Paris.

Archived Article from 2001

imageIn the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, some North American tourists are already cancelling their European vacation plans. Reasons vary from "I'm afraid to fly" to "I don't feel safe in a foreign country."

If you're an American or Canadian with second thoughts about a European trip, don't make any rash decisions. Cancelling a flight or tour is likely to be expensive--and you may come to regret it.

Here are some facts to consider before saying no to a European trip:

  • Flying has a great safety record. It's often said that you're more likely to get killed driving to the airport than you are on an airplane. A cliché? Of course--but that doesn't make it any less true. And remember: Most of the people who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon weren't on an airplane; they were at the office.

  • Foreign tourists seldom encounter violence in Europe. Pickpockets and purse-snatchings are a problem in some countries, but you're unlikely to be mugged (let alone bombed by Ireland's IRA or shot by the Basque ETA) on a European vacation. See my Crime in Europe article for some illuminating statistics on violent crime in Europe and the U.S.

  • European airport security is often tighter than in the U.S. or Canada. Don't be surprised to see paramilitary guards with submachine guns patrolling Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport or armored cars cruising the tarmac in Zürich. Many European airports also have several levels of security for transatlantic flights--meaning that you might put your luggage through one X-ray machine to enter the passenger terminal, then through another before entering a secure gate area. Boarding systems that match passengers with their checked luggage at the gate are also common.

Here's something else to think about: At least one U.S.-based supplier of travel insurance has stopped offering terrorism coverage for trips within the United States--but it continues to provide terrorism coverage for trips to Europe.

Bottom line:

If you look at the facts objectively, it's hard to turn down a European vacation for safety reasons--which is why we haven't changed our own plans for a fall visit to Europe.

2015 addendum:

A few years after article was published, my wife was mugged in front of our house during the daytime in a supposedly safe U.S. neighborhood (she had pain for more than a year afterwards and required physical therapy).

However, we have yet to be victims of crimes in Europe--even when walking around sketchy-looking neighborhoods of Paris, Rome, and other European cities at night.

Moral: Sometimes the places you do know can be more dangerous than the places you don't.