Are We Safer in the Air Since 9/11?

Are We Safer in the Air Since 9/11?

It has been 10 years since 9/11, and the changes are all too apparent every time you enter an airport. Of course, change was inevitable, especially in the area of airport security, but the question remains: Are we any safer in the air?

The answer is a qualified "maybe."

Listen as FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney and editor Anne McDermott talk about 9/11 and the incredible changes it's meant for flyers.

Let's look at the major changes in the air travel industry over the past decade, and you tell me: are we safer?

3 Biggest Changes in Security

Remember back in the 1960's and 70's when the biggest air travel terror was a hijacker who wanted money or a unscheduled ride somewhere, but not our lives? That's when metal detectors at airports were introduced. Security measures went much further after the terror attacks of Sept. 11.

  1. Cockpit doors and pilot guns: One of the most important security innovations post-9/11 was the fortification of cockpit doors to prevent entry by those who would take over a plane. Another step in that direction: allowing pilots who take special training to be armed.
  2. New security procedures: Too many to mention them all but here are some of the highlights:
  • Liquid ban (no more than 3.4 ounces)
  • Shoe removal through security check points
  • Additional personal screening with body scans and/or enhanced pat-downsNot everyone believes these innovations are adequate, as the occasional news reports of guns or other weapons getting past security will attest. Others decry it as "theater" and point to reports of youngsters and 95 year old women being singled out for "special" security measures. My sense is that while many flyers do feel safer, they do not feel completely safe, and they are not very happy about the current state of affairs in air travel.

Which leads us to number 3.

3. Security personnel: Employees of two major agencies affect air travelers.

  • TSA: Perhaps nothing has engendered more controversy than the nearly 50,000 new security agents assigned to air travel, many of them in the Transportation Security Administration. Yes, there are occasional bad apples, but most do a good job under difficult circumstances. It's also worth remembering that low level security officers are not the ones who make policy that results in you getting a body scan or a pat-downs.
  • Air Marshals:  Some will be surprised to learn that this program actually began under Pres. Nixon, but it was greatly expanded in the wake of 9/11; the actual number of marshals is said to be classified but they are estimated to be "in the thousands".

2 Biggest Changes in the Airlines

While security was changing, so were the airlines. Passenger traffic plunged for nearly two years following 9/11, and airlines began cost cutting measures which including dropping the number of seats flown. Other economic factors coupled with the financial fallout from 9/11 made this a rough decade for airlines, including bankruptcies and the ultimate disappearance of carriers like ATA, Skybus and Aloha.

  1. Fees: American Airlines was the first major carrier to charge for transporting a single checked-bag and other airlines quickly followed. The two domestic holdouts are JetBlue and Southwest.
  2. Customer Service: Meal service dropped off radically after 9/11 and by last year, Continental served the last free meal in coach for a domestic flight. Another customer service vanishing act: a number of human airline agents, thanks to a proliferation of airport kiosks.

Changes in Passenger Attitudes

This may be one of the biggest legacies of 9/11: passengers are no longer passive. When things go wrong, they get involved, as we saw with the so-called Shoe Bomber, who was subdued by a group of passengers, and when another jumped the man known as the Underwear Bomber. And I say, bravo.

Rick Seaney
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