Travel After 9/11: The Same As Ever?
After 9/11, the travel industry shifted and shrunk. Most noticeably, security became a hassle, and the TSA began to treat passengers as the new enemy. In response to subsequent attacks, ticketed passengers were told to remove their shoes, and then their liquids. The liquid thing has never made sense: with three 3-ounce containers, there is enough liquid to make a bomb. So why the 3-ounce rule? In 2004, David Forbes (of Forbes Security), published a report stating that the security changes in the airport were about show not substance. Critics call it "Security Theater." The government has spent around $45 billion on air travel security since the attacks; new machines, new doors, new security people, new rules, and more new rules. But are people safer? It's hard to say.
Still, people don't appear to be as scared as the TSA initially predicted. On the first anniversary of September 11, a decent number of people made air travel plans. The airports reported that it was "just a little bit quieter" than the weeks before. Over one million people attempted to get one of the 13,400 free tickets offered by Spirit Air for flights on September 11, 2002. Other airlines, however, like American and United, cut back on their flight schedules. All airlines have reduced the number of flights since the attacks (remember the days of mostly empty airplanes?).
In the weeks following September 11, 2001, Midway Airlines shut down. Other airlines laid off tens of thousands of employees. The federal government bailed out the surviving airlines with $10 billion in loans. Airlines still aren't doing so well (as you were reminded the last time you checked a bag for $25). In the US, 237,000 people in the travel industry (including hotels, etc) lost their jobs during the last few months of 2001.
However, travel is back in vogue, and this September 11 looks like most other days in the airport. There was a warning, though, because of that Pastor in Florida who decided that a Quran burning would be a good way to remember September 11. (Luckily, he changed his mind). Today, there are the same number of flights as yesterday. The same number of busy people removing their shoes and throwing out their shampoos. Travel is, after all, still the ultimate freedom.
Then again, it's not the same. Nine years after the terrorist attacks, just saying 9/11 can make people cry, squirm, or walk away. It's a lovely Saturday in early September, but few couples in the United States will wed today. The date has a scar. It has become the kind of day where it feels a little funny to have a big party, take a nice trip or forget the past.
Photo credit: Dbenbenn