Passing through Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Enjoying a rock concert or an evening meal in Paris. Dancing at a nightclub in Orlando. Catching a movie in Frankfurt or doing some shopping in Nairobi.
All of these things might be a small part of an executive flight crew’s trip. And on the wrong day, these otherwise mundane activities might all turn fatal.
The unfortunate reality is that anywhere and anyone could be legitimate targets for hostile acts. But compared to the average tourist, executive air crews have even higher risks – as well as the potential to improve or reduce the principal’s security, too.
In this column for DG Amazing Experiences we will look at how to support and empower air crews to increase their own safety and security – and function as an additional ring of security for the clients, the executives and families they fly with.
Executive flight crews are exposed to a broad spectrum of potential threats. As they move from country to country, hotel to hotel, and restaurant to restaurant, their personal risks can be anything from crime to sexual harassment and terror. Knowing how to detect hostile surveillance, improving situational awareness to spot potential developing threats, and knowing the basics of emergency response actions and physical self-defense can all increase the odds of positive results in bad situations.
Not All Attacks Are Frontal
One avenue that can be exploited is that of executive flight crews. By conducting hostile surveillance on the flight crew, hostiles can gain information regarding the principal’s scheduling, timing and routines. Another tactic could be approaching a member of the flight crew in the hotel bar in order to gain information about you and your planned movements.
Seven Skills For Executive Flight Security
Personal security is far more than carrying a can of mace or taking a self-defense class. Let’s examine seven skills that executive flight crews should be trained in.
- Understand The Threats
The threats in today’s world are multiple and varied – especially when traveling.
Possible threats include theft of credit cards, passports and personal goods; petty street crimes and harassment, sexual abuse, violent crimes and even terrorist attacks are also possibilities. But before one can understand how to mitigate, contain and control such threats, it is essential to understand their probability and criticality.
By examining these risks and the circumstances of where and how they occur, crews learn how to assess them. A good assessment of potential threats lays the foundations of other skill sets that enable crews to not be a victim, and how to respond if faced with a hostile situation.
- Detect Hostile Surveillance
Hostile intelligence gathering predicates any form of attack.
From a simple mugging all the way to complex, multipronged terror attacks, the hostiles employ rational choice theory to pick out the highest-value target with the easiest access. Hostile surveillance can take many forms and is made easy by the fact that most people are happily oblivious to its insidious existence.
Understanding surveillance indicators and learning how to detect them enables your flight crew to stop the threat as early and far away as possible. We train people to improve awareness of the earliest indicators that something is afoot. Whether it is someone following or taking pictures of them and their colleagues, a stranger approaching one of your crew at a night club, or a person sitting in the lobby of your hotel taking note of when they come and go, it is essential to know how to spot these indicators and know what to do when they do see them.
Hostiles may be targeting flight crew hoping to get to you. The stranger who starts a pleasant conversation in the lobby and asks what they do or who they fly for, when they’re leaving, etc., may just be a friendly person. Or not.
There are signs that the person chatting with you or your flight crew may not be as innocent as they appear and if you see them, it does not necessarily mean the person is hostile, it simply means you and they should be aware and take care what is said.
The person brings up something that immediately establishes a personal connection with them. For example, a shared hobby, a shared loss, brings up a topic close to your heart. All these may be coincidence, however, they are all tools used by skilled intelligence gatherers to establish trust in a short space of time so that you will be more inclined to share information.
Someone encouraging you or your flight crew to drink. Whether the motivation is intel gathering or taking advantage of you or conning you, either way when a stranger is encouraging you to drink, it should raise a red flag and you should be on your guard. Never leave your drink unattended. Never accept a drink from a stranger. Have a waiter bring it to you or take it from the bar.
The person seems to know detail that they shouldn’t. For example, they tell your flight crew they hear you’re in town or staying at whatever hotel, but the visit is not public knowledge. This indicates a specific interest and again, should raise a red flag.
Being asked specific questions about your flight crew’s job, your schedule, how long they are staying, where they are heading and even if they do not answer, the person keeps coming back to the same questions.
- How To Handle Unwanted Questions
Knowing how to handle such a situation, what to say and what not to say are all part and parcel of hostile surveillance detection. Whether you or your flight crew is being targeted by a criminal, knowing how to notice that you are being observed is one of your primary tools to avoid trouble.
You and your flight crew should only give your first name, do not tell them where you are from, your family situation or your actual job.
They should never reveal your name or that they fly a VIP or celebrity around the world.
Never tell anyone your room number, where you are staying, who they are with or when they are departing.
Keep the conversation general, without giving specific information.
Flight crew should not give strangers access to their phones. Do not let them handle it or enter information into it.
Once more, I reiterate, none of the above means that the person they are talking to is hostile, however it means they should sit up a little straighter and pay closer attention to them and their motives.
The advice regarding safeguarding personal information is simply good common sense in today’s world. There is no reason for someone you or they just met and will most likely know for a brief moment in time to learn details about your life, job or family. Flight crew can be friendly and have a good time but never let your good manners compromise personal safety !
They do not have to answer the questions. They do not have to share just because the other person did. We are brought up to be polite, trust people, answer truthfully but in cases like described above, that is not always the best policy to ensure the group’s well-being.
- Spot Pre-Attack Indicators
Continuing along the lines of observation skills, there are usually, but not always, clear indicators that a human being is about to engage in an act of violence.
Whether it’s a robber, a mugger, an active shooter or a suicide bomber, there are most often behavior patterns or other indicators that something is about to happen.
Here again, most people are oblivious to these clues. With training, however, the indicators are quite apparent and will enable you to avoid or distance yourself and others from the incident, or maybe even alert the authorities and help prevent a tragedy.
- Know Travel Security & Safety Practices
Good travel security habits can help your flight crew prevent everything from stolen wallets to being the victim of a kidnapping.
Whether it be at an airport, coffee shop, leisure activity or night club, there are many best practices that should be second nature to frequent travelers. These habits can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to an unfortunate incident.
What are the essentials one should always carry? Are their rooms safe? How do they secure transportation? What should they know before heading to a destination? What should they think about when participating in leisure activities?
While many of these questions seem easy to answer when it comes to personal security, there are considerations which are not obvious until pointed out. Most people who fall victim to crime when travelling could have avoided the unpleasant experience had they followed a set of basic personal security guidelines.
- Think Through Emergency Response Procedures
The seconds after a hostile incident occurs are critical.
The faster you respond correctly to what is going on around you, the higher your chances of a positive outcome. When bullets are flying or the ground is shaking, hesitation and indecision are your worst enemies.
Faced with an extreme threat, most people tend to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. But that’s not necessarily the smart thing to do. Even though everyone is running in the same direction, hiding under tables or freezing in place, there is nothing to suggest that the wisdom of the crowd extends to the appropriate response that will optimize your chances of getting out of the situation without injury.
Slogans like, “Run, hide, fight” can get you into serious trouble. The first order of business is always “Think”, never “Run”. By understanding the thought processes behind responding to an emergency situation and what your considerations should be in order to make the right decision to protect yourself, you exponentially increase your chances of a positive outcome. This can save you and your loved ones from potentially life threatening situations.
- Develop Some Basic Physical Protection Skills
We do everything to avoid physical conflict. We don’t like to contemplate its reality and are uncomfortable talking about it. However, in today’s world, having physical response skills can stand you in good stead.
If you are ever in a situation where your choice is fight or be a victim, you fight. Clearly a short training course is not going to turn you into a seasoned commando. However, like so many other disciplines, if you establish a good foundation and understand the basics, a little knowhow can go a long way. Learning applicable and relevant techniques, and the combat strategy behind them, increases your chances of winning exponentially when faced with an extreme threat. As a colleague of mine says, “Avoid trouble at all costs. But if you can’t avoid it, win!”
These seven personal security skills are essential for corporate air crews and anyone else who travels the globe. Like a good insurance policy, it is far better to have the skills and not need them than to need the skills and not have them.