Consider the following anecdote from Felix Hernandez about ordering pizza to get a sense of how drastically different the experience of flying was before September 11, 2001. A Trans World Airlines aircraft from New York’s Kennedy International Airport to Chicago was almost ready to take off when it was forced to return due of bad weather. Mr. Hernandez was the pilot on that flight, which was headed to Chicago. The gate from which the Boeing 727 had taken off had already been full, so Mr. Hernandez was instructed to drive the aircraft to a parking lot and wait out the delay there instead.
The terrorist attacks in the United States resulted in immediate and long-lasting changes to the aviation travel experience in the country. Many air passengers have no recollection of – or just hazy recollections of – what air travel was like before September 11, 2001, as a result of 20 years of ever-more-complicated airport security procedures.
Because I have studied the history of airports in the United States – and because I am of a sufficient age to recall air travel before September 11, 2001 – I find it remarkable, on the one hand, how hesitant the federal government, airlines, and airports were to embrace early security measures.
Observing how suddenly the vast Transportation Security Administration system was put in place – and how fast American air passengers came to embrace those security measures as both regular and apparently permanent aspects of all U.S. airports – has been unsettling to say the least.
Travelers are now often forced to wait in lengthy queues at security checks, with wait times sometimes exceeding an hour. When we arrive at the airport, we remove our shoes, empty our pockets, and remove computers and other electronic devices from our carry-on bags before walking through high-resolution full-body scanners and our luggage passing through 3D imaging X-ray machines. And don’t forget to remove any liquids that are 3.4 ounces or less in volume from your carry-on bag.