Since 9/11 and the increase in security and scrutiny, I’ve felt overall very safe at airports. That perspective changed on recent trip home.

After a week of multiple training sessions, I was exhausted. I returned my car rental and arrived at the airport five hours early to relax before a red eye flight home. Being a seasoned traveler, I watched the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lines to decide which one to move into. The line I was in came to halt, so when I saw a gap in the line next to me, I took the opportunity to move over (for non-seasoned travelers, you can switch lines if you’re not cutting people off).

Then, from behind me: “Really?” I didn’t realize the voice was talking to me until it was next to my ear, louder and more agitated. “Really?!” It was the woman behind me, a stranger.

After we moved through the security scanner, she positioned herself right at the opening of the x-ray machine as we waited for our items to move along the belt. “If I miss my flight you’re going to pay for a new ticket,” she stated.

As my items came through the machine, I said excuse me, that I needed to grab my things. The woman ignored me. I repeated myself, but she continued looking straight ahead. I attempted to reach around her and that’s when I saw it: Her hand was keeping my bin inside the mouth of the machine. She was holding onto my belongings.

When I reached over the bin to grab my backpack, the unexpected happened – she put her hands on me. She grabbed my wrist and, with the other hand, tried to take my backpack away from me. I utilized a wrist release we teach in The Mandt System® training and then used my forearm as a block learned from Maybo by Mandt, all the while telling her that she needed to stop touching me. She continued to grab at my things and my arms.

I finally secured my items while stating to the woman that she needed to keep her hands off me. I picked up my things and walked to another area to resituate myself. I later saw her in the terminal where, when walking past each other, she tried to swing out at me. I went and stood at the information desk for a while and watched her walk in the opposite direction.

A few key takeaways:

First, since 9/11 I have not expected anyone to try to cause disruption in an airport. Admittedly, I had a false sense of safety because of the extra security measures and scrutiny involved. Combined with being tired after a long day of work, I had taken off my R.A.D.A.R (or “Recognize, Assess, Decide, Act, Review Results,” an acronym in The Mandt System which speaks to situational awareness).

Second, the physical techniques I’ve trained for both Mandt and Maybo do work when used properly. I used distance, side stepping, a balanced stance (when shoved) and obtained a release. In a real-life, adrenaline-pumping situation, I was able to use the skills that I teach and practice every month.

Last, don’t assume. I’m used to people of all types being verbally aggressive. However, my physical threat assessment of the woman was way off. I looked at her general appearance (20ish years my senior), gender (female) and size (average height with medium build) to determine if she was threatening. I assessed that while she may be loud, she wasn’t a physical threat. I was wrong.

My belief that one of the safest places in the world since 9/11 is the airport gave me a false sense of security. After this incident, I’ll be sure to always keep my R.A.D.A.R on, like I teach in Mandt, and be even more situationally aware of my surroundings.

If you’d like more information about maintaining personal safety through situational awareness, effective communication, workplace violence prevention or Mandt training, contact FEI today.