No more plane sailing

first_imgIt’s never a good idea to let the newspapers make your decisions for you. If you were to believe everything you read in the daily of your choice, the country would be divided into some pretty interesting little groups. Telegraph readers wouldbe convinced that the Tories, under Boris Johnson,  were about to win the next election, Daily Mail readers would be sure that their Great Little Island was being overrun by a plague of illegal immigrants, and Sun readers – well, the people who look at its pictures, anyway – would know for sure that the England were going to win Euro 2004 and the next World Cup to boot. And as the public repsonse to Robert Kilroy-Silk’s recent gratuitous anti-Arab rant in the Daily Express has shown, most agree that Muslims are a universally dangerous people hell-bent on destroying the West.While the rabid opinions of the majority of the papers can be more or less ignored, the repercussions of September 11th and the subsequent rise in terrorist incidents around the globe directed at “Western” targets are having an effect on independent travellers. Bookings are down, flights are being delayed or cancelled while security checks are carried out, armed police are keeping watch at UK airports, travellers in America are being finger-printed and photographed for security reasons, and western targets abroad – embassies, expensive hotels and nightclubs popular with westerners are being deliberately targeted by al-Qaeda and its constituent lunatics. You can’t go abroad, it seems, without either being blown up, shot at, or having your plane vapourised by some crackpot with a pound of Semtex stuffed inside his Hush Puppies. You might be safer going on holiday to Greenland for a few years, or even spending the time hiding under your kitchen table with your fingers in your ears. Fewer risks, you see.These risks are probably not as great as people think. The vast majority of the world is almost devoid of any threat whatsoever, and the level of threat in much of the rest of the world is rarely more than low. The terrible bombings in Istanbul last year did change the picture, however. Turkey is on the borders of Europe and soon to become part of the continent, and one of the targets was the HSBC bank; for the first time a British target had been deliberately picked out.But setting aside for a moment all the media hype and the sinister videos of bin Laden encouragingMuslims across the world to rise up and destroy the West, has the outlook for travellers actually changed much since September 11th? It would seem not. As the recent controversy over BA flight 223 to Washington showed, thes security services are listening to terrorist plans and are usually aware ofvany major plans before they can be carried out. Armed flight marshals are already being used on American airliners and will shortly be employed on British planes as well, so in fact our aeroplanes are probably even safer than they were before September 11th.Only a few countries are genuinely “off the map” for independent travellers. Even countries like Syria  and Iran that continually refuse to bow to American demands for their immediate disarmament aren’t regarded as dangerous to the solo traveller, and reports from people who have been there are almost universally favourable; some people even recall watching public demonstrations against America and Britain and then being warmly welcomed by the people who, minutes before, had been screaming their hatred of the country they had just come from. The impact of terrorism on individual countries is much worse. Third World countries like Kenya and Tanzania which rely so heavily on safari-going tourists to bring in much-needed funds are suffering heavily as terrorist threats and flight cancellations abound. While opportunists would say that the inevitable price-slashing merely gives tourists a better deal, it also means that operators are more likely to cut corners to maximise their profits, which, in countries where countless fragile ecosystems are under threat from exploitative tourism, is never a good thing.With careful planning and sensible precautions, the individual traveller should have few problems, in spite of the impression that the media may give you. Look at it like this: are you really going to let a bearded lunatic with dodgy personal hygiene and a penchant for hiding in Afghan caves ruin your trip of a lifetime? Thought not…Archive: oth week HT 2004last_img

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