[Disturbing] Video of First Shots Fired at Ft. Lauderdale Airport and What It Means for Travel

This week’s shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport was horrible. I’ve held off writing about it until now, because so much of the information immediately following an event like this turns out to be wrong. With wraparound coverage of the event online and on television, there simply wasn’t much that I could add.

    Copyright: boscorelli / 123RF Stock Photo

The events occurred around terminal 2 baggage claim around 12:55 p.m. on Friday. Early reports had Esteban Santiago flying Air Canada, though this was false, he arrived on Delta originating in Anchorage and connecting in Minneapolis. Additionally, initial reports were 1 person killed and 8 injured, though in fact 5 were killed and 6 injured. Furthermore there were original reports of additional gunshots including elsewhere in the airport. Law enforcement response was chaotic, and numerous passengers were injured in the panic.

During August’s false alarm at New York JFK, TSA agents ran through the terminal screaming about a bomb and a shooting victim.

After the tragic shooting on Friday the perpetrator fell to the ground after running out of bullets and he was apprehended without further incident. He was carrying a military ID, and he turns out to have had military firearms training.

In the video below the shooter walks through baggage claim and then pulls out his gun. TMZ shared video of the shooting, but edited it to show only the time leading up to it and the ensuing chaos.

Since the shooting politicians rushed to the cameras, with Members of Congress like Debbie Wasserman Schultz declaring herself to have an important coordinating role.

Gun control advocates immediately made their case on the basis of this incident, even before it was confirmed that Santiago had served in the military and that he had turned himself into the FBI, and law enforcement returned his gun after they completed their evaluation of him.

There’s been much hand wringing over the idea that he was able to check his firearm and have it delivered to baggage claim, with calls to end firearms in checked bags. However most anyone can walk off the street into baggage claim at nearly every airport in the US without going through security. In other words, eliminating guns from checked baggage does nothing to eliminate guns from baggage claim.

There have also been advocates of security checks to get into airports, as is common throughout parts of South Asia. What you don’t want to do is create long queues — targets for terrorists — to get into airports. And this perpetrator had no problem clearing security and actually flying, such a security check would have done nothing to stop him.

This was a terrible thing that happened. It appears to have been carried out by someone who was mentally ill, rather than a coordinated terrorist attack. There’s an old saying that two anecdotes makes a regulation and three makes a law.

Nonetheless these incidents are rare, flying remains safer than driving even factoring in what happened in Fort Lauderdale. I’m not a particular fan of guns and I do not own one. But I’d rather mourn the people who actually lost their lives than use them as tools to make a pre-existing political point.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sometimes the wish to create absolute safety only produces the opposite. In this case you can never be 100% safe, as the world is not. Airports are in the world, and no matter how far out we bring the security line, it will be an opportunity for attack, as is security at concerts, sporting events, etc. We can make changes to gun laws, but as per removing all risk, it’s impossible.

  2. The politicians are going to use this to further their agenda, whatever that may be. But I don’t understand how this is any different from an armed individual walking into the baggage claim area from the parking lot and firing. He just happened to get the gun from his luggage instead of his car. Air travel had nothing to do with this.

    What is the practical difference between shooting up baggage claim at his origination airport without ever going through security and shooting up baggage claim at his destination? Same end result. The fact that he checked a weapon and flew with it in reality didn’t change anything except the location of the incident.

    However, it will somehow cause a knee-jerk reaction which will slow down travel and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to travel with checked firearms.

    And for the record, I have never fired a weapon and don’t own any – this is purely principle for me. I have no dog in this fight aside from making my travel take longer for no good reason.

  3. This guy told the FBI in November 2015 that he was hearing voices pushing him to join Isis – the police took his gun and referred him for mental evaluation. He was released 3 days later and after ZERO followup treatment the police gave him back his gun in December. In January he flies from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale on a ONE-WAY ticket with only one piece of luggage – a checked gun case containing a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and 3 clips of ammunition.

    We deserve better than that.

  4. How often did he get PreCheck on his PreCheck eligible flights?

    As PreCheck is about profiling passengers and background checking passengers, this incident too may just go to show how the TSA’s version of profiling/background checks to determine who gets what kind of screening is ridiculous.

    Since his name and birthdate and sex are known, it shouldn’t be too hard to run an experiment using refundable tickets to see if he’s still getting PreCheck from the TSA.

  5. @Steve – Buying a one-way ticket does not make me suspicious. There are a plethora of reasons for doing so, none of which have to with planned violence.

    @Gary – I happen to think your article is stronger if you do not mention your personal views. Leave us wondering, and if asked directly, you can choose to answer, but it has no bearing on the validity of your points.

    As far as gun control, should we allow people who are so concerned about their sanity as to turn themselves into the FBI to continue to hold firearms? I tend to think not. I’d love to hear a reasonable argument against.

  6. Like most Americans, the majority of this blog’s readers favor banning all guns. This would be an excellent policy to implement.

  7. Sadly for Americans, you choose to continue to allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to carry a gun. Result…… Why won’t you people learn…..

  8. The fact he was allowed to have a weapon is really hard to fathom. This after checking himself into a mental institution for hearing voices…voices that were telling him to join ISIS. Our system is beyond broken.

  9. Hopefully bag checkers can be more careful about passengers transporting hazardous materials. I’m not sure there’s much they could do if he could legally carry the firearms. I’m not aware of that part of the situation.

    Ideally any new regulations will be easy to navigate for legitimate, safe passengers and only impact those who wish to do harm.

    Thanks for the coverage!

  10. I agree with Gary that there’s no practical solution to this incident. I mean, jeez, an obviously ill man with military training walks into an FBI office and tells them that the CIA is making him watch ISIS training videos and the police them give him back his guns? So other than hoping that law enforcement behaves more rationally and effectively next time, what can we do to stop these kinds of “one off” incidents? Nothing, I suspect.

  11. I appreciate the point you’re trying to make by posting a poll, Gary, but after seeing how badly the polling was off this past year I think we need to ignore polls and “trust the numbers” instead which as I say, favor banning all guns.

  12. @Hosea you made a claim about public opinion. I was simply offering what public opinion seems to be and how it has shifted over time.

    In any case, the polling wasn’t really off substantially in the Presidential election. It pretty much nailed Hillary Clinton’s level of support. It didn’t anticipate the cratering of support for Gary Johnson, which mostly moved to Trump.

  13. One of the big reasons so many people favor banning guns is because they give people mental illness that makes them very rude, like the guy above me. It’s no mistake that there’s a demonstrable link between the number of guns someone has used or touched and how impolite they are.

    I can’t find the research citation but it was a really interesting study.

  14. And there’s a demonstrable link between “being an anti-gunner” [personal attack deleted -gl]

  15. I have to agree there’s nothing that could be done about this type of situation, considering the circumstances. I do wish the pro-gun crowd would also agree to stop using the tired argument of “well if other people there had guns…”. Watch the video, its one second between when he pulls out a concealed gun and starts firing at random. Nobody can defend themselves against that.

  16. If this guy couldn’t have a gun he’d have a knife. If not a knife a bomb. If not a bomb a bat. If not a bat a hammer.

    The point is that crazy people hell bent on destruction will use any tools they can get their hands on to harm people. That is the bottom line. Banning hammers or guns or knives would solve nothing.

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