How students can stay safe while flying


A man planned to board a flight from the Lehigh Valley International Airport headed to Orlando, Florida. His plans changed when was caught attempting to bring a dangerous device on the aircraft in his checked luggage.

The device was identified as an explosive belonging to Marc Muffley, who was arrested by the FBI and charged for possession of an explosive in the airport on Feb. 27.

Christopher Houtz, assistant chief of Lehigh University Police, said there was no information released that would have prompted a direct threat to the Lehigh community. He said if there had been any threat to students flying, LUPD would have notified the university.  

Houtz said there are certain Clery regulations Lehigh has to follow when it comes to sending out campus safety notifications.

“If we think that it could be a potential risk or danger to the university or the community, obviously we would put something out,” Houtz said.

Grace Lothian, ‘26, flew out of Lehigh Valley International Airport on March 10 and said she would have liked to receive communication from the university regarding the incident due to the number of students who use the airport. 

Lothian said she was shocked and scared to learn about the event, and if she had known about it sooner, she might have looked into flying out of a different airport.

Before the incident, Lothian said she never questioned her safety in the airport. Now, her level of concern has increased significantly.

“Obviously we have these (Transportation Security Administration) checks for a reason, and they caught him,” Lothian said. “But, coming into the airport and not knowing that someone a few feet away from you may be armed is definitely terrifying before the TSA check.”

The incident at the Allentown-based airport has prompted other airports, such as Reading Regional Airport, to update and reaffirm security protocols in accordance with TSA protocols.

TSA screens approximately 1.4 million checked bags nationwide for explosives and other illegal materials every day. Upon discovery of explosives, TSA notifies police and the bomb squad for immediate investigation.

Along with screening bags, airport security is maintained with body scanners, metal detectors, pat-down screenings and the If You See Something, Say Something® campaign, which allows people in the airport to submit concerns of any suspicious behavior.

Houtz advises those flying in the future to pay attention to their surroundings, and to not be afraid to report suspicious activity.

“If you see a package sitting there while you’re waiting for your flight and no one’s been around that package for a half-hour to 45 minutes, say something to somebody and let them check that out,” Houtz said. 

He said even if the check turns out to be nothing, it’s better to take precautions than find out later that something could have been prevented.

Houtz said, in addition to airport security procedures, flyers should follow their own safety procedures, too.

“Safety is a partnership,” Houtz said. “The airport can do all the things that they do, but with people’s help, they can do a lot more.”

A similar incident occurred at the University Park Airport, near Pennsylvania State University’s campus, on March 3. A suspicious package was detected in a checked bag and further investigated.

Joe Nowakowski, ‘26, said he is not surprised or concerned by the Lehigh Valley incident because of how back-to-back these security threats are.

“Issues like this take place all the time across the country, so I don’t think that it happening at Lehigh Valley changes my feeling of safety in the airport,” Nowakowski said.

Nowakowski said he has never had full confidence in TSA checks, but he has not felt noticeably unsafe in the past, nor was he concerned about flying home for spring break.

Nicholas Cheney, ‘23, said he has flown out of the Lehigh Valley International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport multiple times and never felt unsafe.

Cheney said because TSA was able to detect the explosive and the FBI was able to apprehend Muffley, he is not concerned.

“A lot of times I think the TSA is pretty pointless, but I had my faith restored in it,” Cheney said.

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