In the course of the mid-Nineteen Nineties I traveled between Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., twice a month throughout the faculty yr as half of a commuting couple. I may depart Dayton by 5:15 p.m., drive almost 80 miles to the Columbus airport throughout rush hour, park my automobile within the economic system lot, and nonetheless get to my gate in loads of time for a 7:30 p.m. departure.
Then 9/11 occurred.
The terrorist assaults introduced swift and lasting modifications to the air travel expertise in the USA. And after 20 years of ever-more-elaborate airport safety protocols, many air vacationers don’t have any data of – or solely obscure recollections of – what air travel was like earlier than 9/11.
As somebody who has studied the history of airports in the United States – and somebody sufficiently old to recollect air travel earlier than 9/11 – I discover it hanging, on the one hand, how reluctant the federal authorities, the airways, and airports have been to undertake early safety measures.
Then again, it’s been jarring to observe how abruptly the sprawling Transportation Security Agency system was created – and the way shortly American air vacationers got here to just accept these safety measures as each regular and seemingly everlasting options of all U.S. airports.
Within the early a long time of air travel, airport safety – past fundamental policing – was essentially nonexistent. Getting on a airplane was no totally different from getting on a bus or prepare.
However within the late Sixties and early Nineteen Seventies, there was a wave of hijackings, terrorist assaults, and extortion makes an attempt – essentially the most notorious being that of the person often known as D.B. Cooper, who commandeered a Boeing 727, demanded $200,000 and, upon securing the case, dramatically parachuted from the airplane, by no means to be discovered.
Attacks on U.S. flights usually prompted another new security measure, whether or not it was the formation of the air marshal program, which positioned armed federal brokers on U.S. industrial plane; the event of a hijacker profile, aimed toward figuring out folks deemed more likely to threaten an plane; or the screening of all passengers.
By 1973, beneath the brand new protocols, air travelers had to cross by way of a steel detector and have any luggage X-rayed to test for weapons or suspicious objects.
For essentially the most half, nonetheless, these measures have been supposed to reassure nervous flyers – security theater that sought to minimally impede simple passage from check-in to gate. For home travel, it was attainable to reach on the airport terminal 20 to half-hour earlier than your flight and still be able to reach the gate in time to board. Households and associates could easily accompany a traveler to their gate for take-off and meet them on the gate upon their return.
Above all, airways didn’t need to inconvenience passengers, and airports have been reluctant to lose the extra revenue from household and associates who may frequent airport eating places, bars, and outlets when dropping off or selecting up these passengers.
As well as, these safety measures, although referred to as for by the Federal Aviation Administration, have been the duty of not the federal authorities, however the airways. And to maintain prices down, the airways tended to contract personal firms to conduct safety screenings that used minimally trained low-paid employees.
All that changed with the 9/11 terrorist assaults.
As soon as the airways returned to the skies on Sept. 14, 2001, it was instantly obvious that flying was going to be totally different. Passengers arriving at airports have been greeted by armed army personnel, as governors all through the nation had mobilized the National Guard to protect the nation’s airports. They remained on patrol for a number of months.
Safety measures solely elevated in December 2001, when Richard Reid, the so-called “Shoe Bomber,” tried to set off explosives in his shoes on a global flight from Paris to Miami. Taking off your footwear earlier than passing by way of safety shortly turned a requirement.
Then, in 2006, British officers intercepted an try to hold liquid explosives aboard a flight, leading to a ban on all liquids. This was later modified to limiting passengers to liquids of no more than 3.4 ounces. By 2010, the full-body scanner had change into a well-known sight at airports all through the U.S.
A 2019 study indicated that the typical time to get by way of safety at among the nation’s busiest airports diverse from simply over 23 minutes at Newark Liberty to 16.3 minutes at Seattle-Tacoma, however may go as excessive as 60 minutes and 34 minutes, respectively, at those self same two airports throughout peak instances.
These new safety measures turned the duty of the federal authorities to implement. In November 2001, Congress created the Transportation Security Agency, and by the early months of 2002, their workers had change into the face of transportation safety all through the USA – at airports in addition to railroads, subways, and different types of transportation.
At this time, the TSA employs over 50,000 agents.
No finish in sight
Within the first decade after 9/11, the federal authorities spent over $62 billion on airport security in complete, as annual spending for the TSA elevated from $4.34 billion in 2002 to $7.23 billion in 2011, and has only grown since then.
In some ways, the post-9/11 scramble by airport officers to handle safety considerations was much like the impulse to handle public well being considerations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when plastic obstacles, hand sanitizers, and ground markings encouraging social distancing appeared at airports all through the U.S.
How lengthy the COVID-19 measures might want to keep in place stays to be seen. Nevertheless, the safety measures adopted after 9/11 have proved everlasting sufficient that they’ve change into included into current airport terminal renovations.
For instance, when Reagan Nationwide Airport’s new terminal opened in 1997, passengers may transfer freely between the shop- and restaurant-filled National Hall and the gates in Terminals B and C. After 9/11, airport officers positioned safety checkpoints on the entrances to Terminals B and C, successfully making outlets and eating places not accessible to passengers who had handed by way of safety.
Now, (*11*) will transfer the safety checkpoints to a brand new constructing constructed above the airport’s roadway and open up entry amongst Nationwide Corridor, Terminals B and C, and a brand new commuter terminal.
Practically a era has handed for the reason that terrorist assaults of 9/11. Even these of us sufficiently old to recollect air travel earlier than that fateful date have grown accustomed to the brand new regular. And whereas passengers at the moment may fairly fortunately mark the eventual finish of the COVID-19 public well being safety measures, they’re far much less more likely to see a return to pre-9/11 safety ranges on the airport anytime quickly.