CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — In the wake of 9/11, air travel changed forever.
Two months after the attacks, President George W. Bush signed legislation creating the Transportation Security Administration. Beforehand, private companies handled airport security.
“The entire world coalesced around this,” travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said. “All countries agreed that airport security and passenger screening needed to be elevated.”
Harteveldt says safety measures evolved with each new threat. Anything that could be wielded as a weapon is now banned or scanned. Travelers have been forced to remove their shoes since the 2001 shoe bomber.
“It’s not fun, it’s definitely not fun. It’s intrusive, it can be embarrassing,” Harteveldt said. “But it’s intended to keep us all safe.”
In addition to the TSA, the federal air marshal program was dramatically expanded and now flight attendants can receive training directly from those marshals.
“Any way you slice it, it’s a dangerous situation and it’s out of control,” said Paul Hartshorn, an American Airlines flight attendant. He believes the changes made after 9/11 have helped keep us safe from terror attacks, but the new threat is unruly passengers.
Lynn Montgomery flies for Southwest Airlines and agrees progress has been made since 9/11, but believes more needs to be done to keep crews and customers safe.
“We’d like to see the air marshal program enhanced to include being there for customer conduct and we’d like to see uniformed security in the gate areas,” Montgomery said.
Some have called the TSA’s checkpoints “security theater,” but Harteveldt said the peace in the skies is proof they are keeping the country safe.
This summer, an average of nearly 2 million people per day have flowed through TSA checkpoints. On weekends and holidays, they can be teeming with stressed-out travelers. During the middle of the week, even at big airports such as DFW, they are less crowded; they hum rather than roar. Most travelers accept any inconvenience as the price of security in an uncertain world.
Travel “is getting harder and harder, and I don’t think it’s just my age,” said Paula Gathings, who taught school in Arkansas for many years and was waiting for a flight to Qatar and then another to Kenya, where she will spend the next several months teaching. She blames the difficulty of travel on the pandemic, not the security apparatus.
“They are there for my security. They aren’t there to hassle me,” Gathings said of TSA screeners and airport police. “Every time somebody asks me to do something, I can see the reason for it. Maybe it’s the schoolteacher in me.”