Holiday Tips

Should I be concerned about bringing my kids to London this winter?

Over a year ago my father made a big announcement at a family dinner: “I’m taking you all to London for Christmas!”

He shared that spending a Dickensesque holiday with his kids and grandchildren was a longtime dream and he ordered us all to start shopping for flights. Who can argue with that? We were all elated.

And so my husband and I and our two kids are flying into Heathrow mid-December and then we’ll meet my brother and parents at a house that we’ve rented.

I’ve been nothing but excited but when earlier this month the U.S Department issues a Travel Alert warning U.S. citizens of “the potential for terrorist attacks in Europe” by “al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations,” I couldn’t help but worry a little.

Later some countries came out with warnings naming specific locations–France and Germany. England wasn’t a target spot apparently.

I quickly pushed my fear away, realizing that I can’t live in a bubble. The least safe part of our trip would surely be driving from our home to the San Francisco airport–not walking around London.

A USA Today article addresses how travelers should asses these warnings. It offers up some helpful info from experts:

More so than with previous notifications, the European alert seemed to hit a nerve, perhaps because it covers an entire continent rather than a specific country. As one report put it, the notice is “both sweeping and frustratingly limited in information.” Similar criticism has reverberated across the web in recent weeks, on both sides of the Atlantic.

For example, a posting on the Detroit Free Press’ Travel Diva blog asserts: “The alert is so vague as to be meaningless to those actually traveling.” The post continues: “What are travelers supposed to do, report anyone who looks foreign? Scream if you see someone unzipping luggage? A warning to be careful because someone might strike somewhere in Europe with something against somebody sometime produces free-floating anxiety. It’s an indication that top officials are pretty darned alarmed, but they are not sharing exactly why.”

But other industry veterans note there is a “legal construct” at play: When the U.S. Government notifies its own employees about threats abroad, it is required to notify the public as well, as a “duty of care” issue. Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, notes, “We’re looking at this alert from one dimension hereā€”but there could be other dimensions that we just don’t know about.”

This sentiment was echoed in a detailed teleconference briefing by the State Department. Patrick F. Kennedy, the department’s under secretary for management, stated: “Other situations are cumulative. Bits and pieces of information come together; the State Department is in constant contact with colleagues in the other elements of the United States Government, the intelligence and law enforcement communities and with allies and friends throughout the world. And as information comes in, it can reach the point where the cumulative effect says: Now is the time to issue a Travel Alert.”