State Department

News to use: travel safely during the Mideast crisis

Sea-Tac security line

(This is a story we first reported for NBC News)

Last Thursday the State Department advised travelers from the U.S. to “exercise increased caution” worldwide because of the Israel-Hamas war, citing “the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests.”

The warning “means what it says,” said Jeffrey Price, an aviation security expert and professor of aviation and aerospace science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Don’t go to areas where they are actively capturing or killing U.S. citizens, and be careful when going to countries where you could be put in harm’s way simply by being there.” 

But what about trips to Barcelona or Singapore or even just Baton Rouge? Here’s what to consider if you’ve got travel plans on the books or are making them now, given the conflict in the Middle East.

All-purpose safety precautions

In addition to telling U.S. travelers to reconsider travel to Israel and the West Bank and to avoid any travel to Gaza, federal officials also recommend staying especially alert in popular locations anywhere tourists gather globally.

They suggest following State Department accounts on social media for updates and joining the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program [STEP] to make it easier for the agency to get in touch with American travelers abroad in case of emergencies.

The State Department has alerts of various levels in effect for many countries because of conflict and other risk factors, but “worldwide caution” advisories are less common. The last one was issued in August 2022 after a U.S. drone strike killed a high-level Al Qaeda leader.

Some national security experts regard last week’s global alert “as one of the most urgent issued in light of the extremely high tensions throughout the Middle East,” said Howard Stoffer, a professor of international affairs at the University of New Haven and a former senior official in the State Department’s Foreign Service.

“This type of alert usually lasts a relatively short time,” he said, but the current one “may last for some period of time.”

What should you do?

If you’re planning upcoming travel, you can monitor the State Department’s travel advisories for any destinations on your itinerary both before and during your trip. The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, also maintains an interactive Global Conflict Tracker that provides additional information for specific areas around the world.

Experts warn against slipping so deeply into vacation mode that you risk losing sight of potential shifts in the political or security situation on the ground.

“Be aware of your surroundings and be sure to cooperate with any increased security measures,” Price said.

Stoffer said, “Stay alert and listen to the news carefully when out there.” Otherwise, exercise the same good judgment you would under any other circumstances, like steering clear of major protests and making sure friends and family back home know where you are.

Air travel

Israeli flag carrier El Al Airlines is the only airline that continues to fly between the U.S. and Israel, although its website notes that “there may be a change in the departure times of some flights.”

Major U.S.-based airlines that previously offered regular service to Tel Aviv, including American, Delta, and United, have issued travel alerts for the Middle East and suspended all flights to Israel.

United has also issued a travel alert for its flights to Amman, Jordan, but service there is continuing.

The suspensions include direct flights out of major hubs such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., as well as connecting flights on partner airlines, said Scott Keyes of the flight deal website Going.

With Delta having already extended the dates of its rebooking provisions, Keyes said, “It’s all but certain other U.S. airlines will extend their travel waivers for at least as long as the escalated hostilities continue.”

At airports and other transportation hubs, “travelers can expect to see a larger law enforcement and canine presence,” said Robert Langston, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration.

The TSA is operating at a “heightened level of security as a result of world events and the current threat environment,” he said. Officials there and at its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, will continue to monitor the situation and adjust their security measures as needed.

Security checkpoint lines at airports could get longer because of the increased measures, Price said, but “if things are getting out of hand, TSA can also speed up lines by reducing random checks.”


A handful of cruise lines have made changes to scheduled sailings in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, said Aaron Saunders, a senior editor at Cruise Critic.

“The changes range from the cancellation of full sailing seasons to adjustments to itineraries that remove select ports,” he said. 

Windstar Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and MSC are among the cruise lines that have pulled all their ships out of the region because of the conflict, Cruise Critic has reported, while Norwegian Cruise Line has informed passengers on a coming Rome-to-Athens cruise that stops in Israel will be skipped.

“Cruise lines have teams dedicated to monitoring the latest news and updates and reserve the right to adjust their plans as they see most fit,” Saunders said.

He encourages anyone with a cruise reservation to watch for emails from the operator for updates on specific sailings, as well as any compensation being offered for significantly affected ones. For those considering a cruise to the region, “we strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance,” Saunders added.

Travel Insurance 

Many travel insurance policies already provide cancellation and interruption benefits in the event a terrorist attack affects a trip, according to published guidelines from the travel insurance comparison platform SquareMouth.

But in most cases, those benefits kick in only for policies purchased before the date of the attack, meaning such coverage would apply for the current conflict only on insurance taken out on or before Oct. 6.

Travelers with coming trips to Israel who have cancellation and interruption benefits may be reimbursed for 100% of their trip expenses if they need to cancel, SquareMouth noted. Travelers planning to visit Israel as part of trips may also be covered if they need to cut their itineraries short.

Should you worry about traveling on 9/11?

Each Friday on’s Overhead Bin I answer a reader’s question. This week everyone has the same question: Should I worry about traveling on 9/11?


On Thursday, U.S. government officials warned of a credible but unconfirmed al-Qaida threat to use a car bomb on bridges or tunnels in New York City or Washington to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The warning follows an updated travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department on Sept. 2 noting the upcoming anniversary and reminding U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad “of the continued threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates.”

“In the past, terrorist organizations have on occasion planned their attacks to coincide with significant dates on the calendar,” the alert said.

The warnings may have some American travelers wondering: Do I need to take any extra precautions as the day draws near?

The consensus: No need to stay home, but on this day especially, be alert.

“As we head into the 9/11 anniversary weekend, we continue to urge the American public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Friday. “Simply put, if you see something, say something.”

Security officials say they are, as always, prepared. “As with any other significant day or peak travel period, passengers may notice an increased security presence at airports and mass transit systems,” said TSA spokesman Greg Soule.

Alex Puig, regional security director for the Americas for International SOS and Control Risks, said that while “the heightened security posture of the authorities is warranted by the symbolism attached to the date … the main impact of the 9/11 anniversary on travelers is expected to be delays associated with that increased screening at access points to and within airports and other transport facilities such as subways.”

Puig added that the presence of large crowds at and traffic restrictions around the planned commemorative events is likely to disrupt travel and activities nearby as well. “Travelers should particularly anticipate well-attended gatherings in New York City and Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Mike Kelly, president and CEO of On Call International, said 10 years ago his company’s call center helped a lot of clients rearrange and re-work travel plans on and after 9/11. “We would not advise against travel on 9/11 this year. Rather we would suggest several ways in which to travel informed and prepared.”

Kelly suggests staying tuned to the news and connected via telephone and social media in case of travel alerts and events that may affect your trip. He also suggests packing some food items and an extra supply of medications (in their original containers) in your carry-on bag in case of unexpected delays.