Opportunistic and petty crime is rife across the Latin American and Caribbean regions and has steadily increased year-on-year since 2019, affecting not only travellers but also airport staff, posing a substantial risk to transiting flight crews. Although criminals primarily target foreign nationals – especially those displaying indicators of wealth – some incidents, including follow-home robberies and express kidnappings, have targeted nationals who failed to have adequate meet-and-greet procedures in place.
Osprey Flight Solutions has collected data and issued alerts on significant incidents that have affected both arriving and departing travellers as well as aviation workers, including US pilots, to support the aviation industry and mitigate the potential impacts of criminal activity at and near airports.
Criminal risks at and near airports
During the first half of 2022, travellers in Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina have been victims of various crimes, including assaults, thefts, follow-home robberies, express kidnappings, hijacking and even kidnap-for-ransom.
Several types of abductions occur across the region. In July, Osprey issued an alert highlighting a kidnap-for-ransom incident targeting a French national at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport (SKBO/BOG); the victim had flown from Paris to meet his “girlfriend” whom he had met on social media and had convinced him to travel to Colombia to meet in person. Criminals demanded EUR 20,000 from his family for his release.
“Express kidnappings” are another type of abduction primarily affecting victims in Latin America. Criminals abduct their target for a period of hours and demand cash and/or high-value items from them, occasionally forcing them to withdraw money from ATMs under the threat of violence. Osprey released two alerts in May and April regarding express kidnappings committed by irregular taxi drivers in Mexico affecting travellers who had arrived via Monterrey International Airport (MMMY/MTY) and Mexico City International Airport (MMMX/MEX). Incidents involving abductions by “fake” taxi drivers are more unusual. Osprey issued an alert in February highlighting an incident in which an unlicensed taxi driver was reported to have abducted, drugged, robbed and then abandoned three Colombian nationals on a beach after picking them up at Simón Bolívar International Airport (SKSM/SMR), serving Santa Marta.
Follow-home robberies occur when criminals – who often travel on motorcycles – identify their victim(s) at an airport and follow them as they drive away, robbing them at traffic lights or near their accommodation. Victims usually display indicators of wealth, such as Rolex watches. Since January, Osprey has published seven alerts highlighting such incidents affecting travellers and aircrew across Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. In particular, criminals have targeted arriving travellers as they exited Barranquilla’s Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (SKBQ/BAQ), Medellin Jose Maria Córdova International Airport (SKRG/MDE), Bogota Airport and Mexico City Airport. Criminals have also targeted US pilots as they travelled to their hotel after arriving at Bogota and Cali’s Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (SKCL/CLO) and aircrew as they transited from their hotel in Salvador in Brazil to the city’s Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhães International Airport (SBSV/SSA).
Assaults & robberies
Osprey has published nine alerts regarding assaults and robberies affecting travellers, airport taxi drivers, cargo transport units, and airport staff at/near Bogota Airport, Colombia; Resistencia International Airport (SARE/RES), Argentina; Havana’s José Martí International Airport (MUHA/HAV) and Santiago de Cuba’s Antonio Maceo Airport (MUCU/SCU), Cuba; Cibao International Airport (MDST/STI), Dominican Republic; Viracopos International Airport (SBKP/VCP),Brazil; and Santiago’s Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCEL/SCL), Chile. Of note, in Santiago, a group of armed criminals hijacked a vehicle and robbed its two passengers as they approached the city’s airport.
Petty crime and violent criminal activity in the surrounding areas of international airports in main urban centres across Latin America and the Caribbean has the potential to negatively impact transiting flight crews. As international travel restrictions continue to ease, tourism in the region will increase, creating more opportunities for criminals to target foreign travellers and aircrew. Between January and July 2022, criminal activity recorded by Osprey nearly doubled compared to the same period in 2019. Criminals are likely to be armed, and aviation operators should consider providing pre-flight personnel security awareness training for aircrew. Osprey will continue to monitor crime impacting aviation in Latin America and the Caribbean region and provide up-to-date, detailed information and advice via our alerts.