The State Department issued a travel alert on October 2 for all of Europe, saying, "Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks. European governments have taken action to guard against a terrorist attack and some have spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions."
The alert specifies that "terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services."
The travel alert expires January 21, 2011.
The alert is in response to growing concern that terrorist elements may be planning small-scale armed attacks similar to the one in Mumbai, India, in 2008. In that incident, heavily armed terrorists launched a series of coordinated attacks, culminating in the siege of a hotel. At least 173 people were killed (including nine attackers) and over 300 were injured.
What to Do
It's worth noting that the alert does not advise Americans to call off trips to Europe. Rather, the alert urges citizens to "take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling."
What does this mean in practical terms? Basically, use a little extra common sense. If you see abandoned luggage in a train station, alert security or police. If you can, avoid subway systems during rush hour. Walk or take cabs when practical or affordable. Pay attention to those around you when visiting crowded attractions.
If you do want to skip or reschedule your trip, keep in mind that, as of press time, airlines are not waiving their change or cancellation fees in response to the alert. You'll have to contact your airline and pay those fees to have your trip moved. Typically airlines only waive fees when a travel warning is issued.
Stay tuned for more details if and when they become available.
**Update, Oct. 4: So far, airlines say they haven't seen an influx of cancellations or noticed any sigificant change in operations. Air travel seems to be normal, suggesting no real ripple effect from the alert.**