Reports on changes to air travel post 9/11

Most of us have been watching New York, somewhat anxiously, in the last few days as the anniversary of the 2001 tragedy has approached. Now thankfully it has passed (almost) without much incident.

There has obviously been much reported in the press around the world of the impact of that event on many levels, including travel.

Here are a few snippets from newspapers, travel magazines, airports and websites from around the world in recent days about changes to air travel post 9-11:


But everything changed, of course, after the 9/11 tragedy took place. Americans willingly sacrificed their freedom in the name of security and protection against terrorists. And as well-intentioned as many people likely were in bowing down to the federal overlords that were all-too-quick to unlawfully search them and seize their property, this capitulation to tyranny has made air travel feel more like lining up for roll call at a Nazi concentration camp than simply embarking on a peaceful and more rapid form of transportation than bus or car.

Air travel has not become safer by ‘enhanced’ TSA security protocols, despite propaganda

Some people might argue that because there have been no US major attacks since 9/11, the TSA’s enhanced security protocols have obviously been a success. The US government and mainstream media have repeated this mantra for years, and have even singled out a few supposed cases where terrorists were stopped as supporting evidence. This notion, however, is a logical fallacy, and here is why.

Just because there have been no major terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11, it does not mean that TSA and its enhanced security procedures have had anything to do with it.

Air travel has seen a complete makeover in the past 10 years — for better or worse.

A lot of what’s changed goes on behind the scenes. The TSA has multiple layers of security operation every day, including Federal Marshals on aircraft, hardened cockpit doors, and even behavior detection officers.

In the past decade alone, the TSA detected 50 million prohibited items, including 5,000 firearms on passengers attempting to board planes.

Of course, all of this comes with a price.

The TSA is constantly struggling to strike the right balance between what technology is capable of, and what the public is willing to accept.

These days, we are subjected to the occasional pat down, revealing body scans, and a small-scale strip down at the security check. We remove our shoes and belts, and place small quantities of liquids in plastic bags.

While this can be aggravating, looking back, it seems rather bizarre that items like box cutters were ever allowed on planes. But they were for years before 9/11.

Before, your wife could escort you to the gate without a boarding pass. Now, that is unheard of.

Some things we don’t even think much about. For instance, the TSA created large spaces, often installing “mood” lighting to create a calm, stress-free environment in airports. In this environment, it’s easier for officers to pinpoint potential threats.

The outcome of all the measures that have been put in place since 9/11 is that the chances of a successful repeat of an event like it are small, but the risk of a sabotage attempt is as great as it ever was while the risk of its success is probably reduced.

Direct reactions to 9/11

Hardened cockpit doors locked throughout flight (universal)
New flightcrew and cabin crew onboard drills in the event of hijack (universal)
Armed air marshals (USA)
Armed pilots (USA)
Advance passenger details notification to security agencies
Air traffic control: upgraded military reaction to unidentified or non-communicating aircraft
Security changes not directly related to 9/11
Improved landside protection for airport terminals (not universal)
Universal checked baggage scanning
Improved cargo screening
Restrictions on passenger carry-on liquid containers
Shoe scanning
Improved levels of screening/vetting for all personnel who work airside
Improved passenger identification drills
Proposed or under trial
Outcomes-based security requirements (UK/Europe consultation on defining the security objective, then giving security providers more flexibility in how they achieve it)
Whole-body scanners
Technology companies’ proposal under development: integrated single-point walk-through passenger and hand baggage identification and scanning

After 9/11, Washington federalized airport security by creating the Transportation Security Administration. It was the largest federal startup since World War II. The agency quickly hired more than 60,000 people to screen passengers and their baggage at 450 U.S. airports. At first, TSA checkpoints looked a lot like their private predecessors. But that started to change in 2001. Passengers were required to remove their shoes for X-ray scanning after Richard Reid tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes.

In 2006, a foiled plot to smuggle liquid explosives onto 10 aircraft bound for North America from the United Kingdom led to a requirement for passengers to limit the amount of liquids they could bring aboard in carry-on bags. In the latest would-be incident in 2009, the so-called “Underwear Bomber” tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear, prompting the TSA to speed up deployment of body-scanning machines that are supposed to detect things hidden beneath clothing.

For many travelers today, just getting to the plane can be a major hassle. For some, it has been a nightmare. A Marine Corps veteran tried to board a plane at Midway airport in Chicago last year, only to find that he was on the FBI no-fly list. A Colorado woman was arrested and held in jail overnight because she says she has an uncontrollable aversion to being touched by strangers. A college student from Philadelphia was handcuffed and detained for more than four hours because he was studying Arabic and was carrying homemade flash cards.

Germal Singh Khera, chairman of the International Air Transport Association-recommended Board of Airline Representatives Malaysia, feels that while security and passenger safety have improved at airlines and airports, the financial costs, bureaucratic red tape, inconveniences and innumerable complexities have made things more difficult.

“While striving to make travelling safer, many government agencies have failed to take into consideration practicality, costs and passenger convenience. Security measures are also not uniform and not consistently enforced. This results in confusion among the travelling public.

“There must be consultations with relevant stakeholders to ensure harmonised global standards,” he says, citing the local context as an example.

“Malaysia is one of the safest countries in the world, and yet aircraft and passengers flying to or from here are subject to the same rigorous screenings as they would in major trouble spots due to international expectations, fears and a small measure of ignorance by the legal eagles and bureaucrats overseas who call the shots on member airlines. All this adds up to more expensive and inconvenient travel for everyone.”

Reuters: Indian air travel post 9/11

Here in the Indian capital, the international airport was built with modern security measures in mind. One of the largest airports in the world, it can handle 34 million passengers a year. But with that comes an element of risk. Executive director of security and vigilance at the airport explained the security measures. (SOUNDBITE) (English) S.I.S. AHMED, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SECURITY, VIGILANCE AND LANDSITE MANAGEMENT OF THE DELHI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT LIMITED, SAYING: “More emphasis on access control, more emphasis on the checking of hand baggage, more emphasis on the checking of hold baggage, these have come up. Even the perimeter, the systems in perimeter intrusion – like perimeter protection they also have undergone a change, a different concept all-together.” Delhi international airport is equipped with over 3,000 camera’s, five level baggage screening and bomb proof dust bins. But security here starts before you even step foot inside the building. Scanners on the roads leading to the airport screen and photograph each vehicle before it is allowed to drive towards the terminal. Before 9/11, travellers could arrive 30 minutes before boarding a domestic flight. Today is a very different story.

USA Today

“Travel has become an increasingly miserable grind that is interspersed with groping, intrusive security experiences that do little to engender any comfort or sense of improvement in the overall safety of flying,” says frequent flier Nick van Terheyden of Laytonsville, Md., who works in the health care technology industry.

Flying is so miserable that many Americans avoid it. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll last year found that 27% of fliers who made a round trip at least twice in 2009 were more likely than before to travel by car, train or bus to avoid the inconveniences of flying.

Another aviation security consultant, Doug Laird, says, “There is no doubt in my mind that it’s safer to fly today than it’s ever been.”

Security is stronger today because cockpit doors have been reinforced — “thus preventing the 9/11 scenario” — and checked bags must be screened by state-of-the-art devices that can detect explosives, he says.

Not all buy the arguments.

“Don’t get misled into believing we’re safer than before 9/11,” says aviation consultant Michael Boyd. “We are simply being screened by a bigger bureaucracy, and the back doors of our airports — where the security failures really were on 9/11 — are still wide open.”

Boyd says travelers fly to save time, but much of that benefit has been lost getting through security.