How air travel changed in the 20 years since 9/11

Saturday 11 Sept., 2021 marks 20 years since the deadliest attack on American soil, which claimed the lives of an estimated 3,000 people.

While the harrowing sights of the Twin Towers engulfed in flames is the predominant image of the 9/11 attacks, terrorists also hijacked a passenger plane and crashed it into the Pentagon. A third plane, destined for the White House, went down in a southern Pennsylvanian field after the passengers fought back.

In the ensuing decades, notable changes have been made to border security and surveillance affecting almost every passenger who boards an international flight.

These are some of those changes.

Stricter Security: Anyone who has ever travelled to the United States post 9/11 has undoubtedly encountered the agents of the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. The TSA was created on 19 Nov., 2001 as a division of the Department of Homeland Security. While its presence is felt predominantly at airports, the TSA has jurisdiction over the general security of the travelling public in the United States.

- Advertisement -

Outside the US, the TSA’s roles are often conducted by private security companies at international airports. In Cayman, the Flowers Air Agencies Ltd. (FADS) conducts security screening.

Ramped up passenger screening: As part of the TSA experience, all passengers endure more intense screening, which includes taking off belts and shoes, and removing liquids from carry-ons.

Laptops, cameras and tablets are now scanned and swabbed for explosives. As an extra layer of security, passengers and their luggage are searched at random.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Metal detectors, full-body Non-ionizing Radiation Scanners, and highly trained sniffer dogs have been deployed to detect potential safety breaches, as well as people looking to smuggle contraband.

More time in longer lines: Prior to 9/11 you could show up for a flight 30 minutes before its departure and still stand a pretty good chance of actually boarding the plane. Now, the TSA advises passengers on international flights to check in up to three hours before departure. Upon checking in, passengers are often greeted by longer lines as they are each processed individually.

All together, these changes have transformed the travelling experience.

The iconic A-frame waving gallery at Owen Roberts International Airport, scene of many a welcome and farewell since the mid-1980s, closed in 2017. – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

Goodbye to waving galleries: Before the security crackdown, airport waving galleries around the world had provided families and friends either a final bittersweet farewell to a departing traveller or a momentary glimpse of a returning loved one as they deboarded.

The iconic “A-Frame” waving gallery at the Owen Roberts Airports was one of the last waving galleries in the Caribbean to be closed off.

Much to the dismay of many residents and visitors alike, it was deemed a major security hazard and done away with during the airport upgrade and expansion project. The lumber was repurposed and is now at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.

Global air travel consolidated: According to Yahoo Finance, 9/11 is thought to have cost the airport industry $8 billion in lost airfare revenue and subsequent lawsuits. The result was a wave of bankruptcies that left four airlines in control of 75% of US commercial air travel – American, United, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

Cayman felt impacts in the form of reduced revenue for Cayman Airways Limited, which has had a turbulent financial history. Sir Turtle was able to weather the storm and is viewed as a key instrument in Cayman’s overall tourism product.

A look back at 9/11: A decade ago Cayman Compass looked back at 9/11 and how it directly impacted Cayman. To view that story click here.

- Advertisement -

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now