An Entire Generation of Americans Has No Idea How Easy Air Travel Used to Be

By Janet Bednarek, Professor of History, University of Dayton. Originally published at The Conversation.

During the mid-1990s I traveled between Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., twice a month during the school year as half of a commuting couple. I could leave Dayton by 5:15 p.m., drive nearly 80 miles to the Columbus airport during rush hour, park my car in the economy lot, and still get to my gate in plenty of time for a 7:30 p.m. departure.

Then 9/11 happened.

The terrorist attacks brought swift and lasting changes to the air travel experience in the United States. And after 20 years of ever-more-elaborate airport security protocols, many air travelers have no knowledge of – or only vague memories of – what air travel was like before 9/11.

As someone who has studied the history of airports in the United States – and someone old enough to remember air travel before 9/11 – I find it striking, on the one hand, how reluctant the federal government, the airlines, and airports were to adopt early security measures.

On the other hand, it’s been jarring to watch how abruptly the sprawling Transportation Security Agency system was created – and how quickly American air travelers came to accept those security measures as both normal and seemingly permanent features of all U.S. airports.

Security Kabuki

In the early decades of air travel, airport security – beyond basic policing – was essentially nonexistent. Getting on a plane was no different from getting on a bus or train.

But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a wave of hijackings, terrorist attacks and extortion attempts – the most infamous being that of the man known as D.B. Cooper, who commandeered a Boeing 727, demanded US$200,000 and, upon securing the case, dramatically parachuted from the plane, never to be found.

Attacks on U.S. flights usually prompted another new security measure, whether it was the formation of the air marshal program, which placed armed federal agents on U.S. commercial aircraft; the development of a hijacker profile, aimed at identifying people deemed likely to threaten an aircraft; or the screening of all passengers.

By 1973, under the new protocols, air travelers had to pass through a metal detector and have any bags X-rayed to check for weapons or suspicious objects.

For the most part, however, these measures were intended to reassure nervous flyers – security theater that sought to minimally impede easy passage from check-in to gate. For domestic travel, it was possible to arrive at the airport terminal 20 to 30 minutes before your flight and still be able to reach the gate in time to board. Families and friends could easily accompany a traveler to their gate for take-off and meet them at the gate upon their return.

Above all, airlines didn’t want to inconvenience passengers, and airports were reluctant to lose the extra revenue from family and friends who might frequent airport restaurants, bars and shops when dropping off or picking up those passengers.

In addition, these security measures, though called for by the Federal Aviation Administration, were the responsibility of not the federal government, but the airlines. And to keep costs down, the airlines tended to contract private companies to conduct security screenings that used minimally trained low-paid employees.

The Clampdown

All that changed with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Once the airlines returned to the skies on Sept. 14, 2001, it was immediately apparent that flying was going to be different. Passengers arriving at airports were greeted by armed military personnel, as governors throughout the country had mobilized the National Guard to protect the nation’s airports. They remained on patrol for several months.

Security measures only increased in December 2001, when Richard Reid, the so-called “Shoe Bomber,” attempted to set off explosives in his shoes on an international flight from Paris to Miami. Taking off your shoes before passing through security quickly became a requirement.

Then, in 2006, British officials intercepted an attempt to carry liquid explosives aboard a flight, resulting in a ban on all liquids. This was later modified to restricting passengers to liquids of no more than 3.4 ounces. By 2010, the full-body scanner had become a familiar sight at airports throughout the U.S.

A 2019 study indicated that the average time to get through security at some of the nation’s busiest airports varied from just over 23 minutes at Newark Liberty to 16.3 minutes at Seattle-Tacoma, but could go as high as 60 minutes and 34 minutes, respectively, at those same two airports during peak times.

These new security measures became the responsibility of the federal government to enforce. In November 2001, Congress created the Transportation Security Agency, and by the early months of 2002, their employees had become the face of transportation security throughout the United States – at airports as well as railroads, subways and other forms of transportation.

Today, the TSA employs over 50,000 agents.

No End in Sight

In the first decade after 9/11, the federal government spent over $62 billion on airport security in total, as annual spending for the TSA increased from $4.34 billion in 2002 to $7.23 billion in 2011, and has only grown since then.

In many ways, the post-9/11 scramble by airport officials to address security concerns was similar to the impulse to address public health concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when plastic barriers, hand sanitizers and floor markings encouraging social distancing appeared at airports throughout the U.S.

How long the COVID-19 measures will need to stay in place remains to be seen. However, the security measures adopted after 9/11 have proved permanent enough that they have become incorporated into recent airport terminal renovations.

For example, when Reagan National Airport’s new terminal opened in 1997, passengers could move freely between the shop- and restaurant-filled National Hall and the gates in Terminals B and C. After 9/11, airport officials placed security checkpoints at the entrances to Terminals B and C, effectively making shops and restaurants no longer accessible to passengers who had passed through security.

Now, the almost-completed $1 billion redesign will move the security checkpoints to a new building constructed above the airport’s roadway and open up access among National Hall, Terminals B and C and a new commuter terminal.

Nearly a generation has passed since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Even those of us old enough to remember air travel before that fateful date have grown accustomed to the new normal. And while passengers today might quite happily mark the eventual end of the COVID-19 public health security measures, they’re far less likely to see a return to pre-9/11 security levels at the airport anytime soon

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  1. Basil Pesto

    I hope this thread doesn’t devolve into a “who cares?! we need to consign air travel to the dustbin of history!” discussion again. Yes, we probably do, but we’ve had that conversation here a million times before and I don’t think we’re breaking any new ground with it.

    I have relatively recent experience of the craziness of US air travel and, yeah, it is pretty obscene. Security theatre really does do it justice. Domestic travel in Australia is absolutely breezy by comparison.

    What I find most interesting about the article, though, is the kind of tone deafness vis à vis Covid, which is almost an afterthought. People still don’t really seem to understand the depth of the crisis we’re in the midst of, and that commercial aviation is going to be changed profoundly, forever. I mean, I can’t predict exactly how, but am I wrong?

    If an admittedly spectacular (in a dispassionate sense of the word) terrorist attack had a long tail effect on US air travel, what do you think an out-of-control highly contagious respiratory pandemic spread predominantly, if not exclusively, by air travellers is going to do? yikes.

    1. vlade

      There are two different things here.

      One is the security kabuki – which was bad in Europe, and I’m told the US is way way worse. The only reason for this is so that CYA for pols, it has relatively small impact on the outcomes (although one could write “do you remember, how easy air travel was in 1960s?”, and the security stuff that went on after the numerous kidnappings, so there is reason to have _some_ security).

      The other one is that the air travel is way too cheap. That is not something that should come back, at least not until we can fly on something better than fossil fuels (if we ever can). The mass movement of people with cheap air tickets is really not sustainable on so many levels.

      1. Howard Beale IV

        I remember flying into Amsterdam in the 1980s, and Schipol had guards walking around with machine guns – something I almost never saw in domestic US airports. One time when I made a connecting flight that landed at Heathrow in 1992, I had brought along my Sony portable DAT recorder that I had in my carry-on luggage, and Heathrow security had me take out the DAT from the carry-on and I had to tell them what it was (guess they never saw one before) – powered it up to show them that it wasn’t some explosive device, I guess.

        1. Leftcoastindie

          Similar situation on our trip to Rome in 1984. 12-15 people all in different uniforms standing up against a wall directly in front of the gate with sub-machine guns. Kinda got our attention when we exited the jetway needless to say.

      2. HoneyBear

        The only time I’ve seen auto firearms/soldiers in an airport was once at Fiumicino near Rome although such a display is normal in train stations in Paris. I wouldn’t say European security theater is much different from the US’. Germany puts on the most thorough show, I remember a security line once in Munich that was brutal, everyone getting the full performance.

      3. HotFlash

        Ha! Typical process as opposed to results (CYA again). Decades ago, I was stopped at the US/CDN border with my (then state of the art) Compaq portable, they demanded that I open the case and explained they had to see the screen to let me pass. As if I couldn’t have stashed drugs or explosives or anything else behind the screen! We are governed by idiots.

    2. ambrit

      So far, all I can see in regards to the air travel dimension of the Pandemic is the occasional ‘observation’ by an ‘interested’ academic. The “Business as usual” crowd looks to be trying their hardest to obscure and negate the air travel as virus spreader idea.
      One thing that both the air travel “security theatre” and “Dreaded Pathogen” experiences have shown us is the absolutely irrational decision making processes of todays ‘elites.’

    3. PlutoniumKun

      There does seem to be a collossal disconnect between the likely economic impacts of Covid and the decision making by the airline and related industries.

      My guess is that many senior decision makers simply can’t contemplate a world where their industry will be in significant long term contraction, so they are clinging to every forecast that predicts a major post-Covid rebound. I think they genuinely do believe that everything will be back to ‘normal’ in 2023 and are simply refusing to comtemplate any other alternative.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I suspect the top management is busy feathering their nests and adding thicker platting to their golden parachutes. The forecasts that predict a major post-Covid rebound help maintain stock prices. Younger senior but lower level managers are clinging to hope, and the older ones are hoping things will hold together until they can retire and cash out their ‘chips’. I doubt the topmost management is quite so dim as to believe their own tall tales, but perhaps I credit them with more insight than they actually possess.

        1. HotFlash

          I also credit them with an unshakable faith in their own immunity, as Those Things only happen to Those People. I see it in a lot of PMC and above’s AGW reaction, too. My climate-change denying engineer neighbour finally saw the light a couple of years ago, I know b/c he installed central air.

    4. drumlin woodchuckles

      As long as there are some people who don’t care to be in milling crowds of potential virus emitters, there will be ” just that much fewer” people interested in air travel.

      Likewise for people not wishing to be jammed into ” your friendly subway in the sky” with potential virus emitters.

      Even if all “rules” are lifted, there will be just that many fewer people who would rather not ever again have to fly somewhere.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      And the Deep State anthrax tax.

      Why does everybody always forget about the anthrax attacks which happened shortly AFter 9/11?
      With anthrax dried and milled to milspec germwar quality? Stuff which no creep in a basement or a cave could ever make hermself?

  2. ObjectiveFunction

    Haven’t flown since March 2020, but for the nostalgic, Taipei Taiyuan (TPE) is the Airport That Time Forgot when it comes to security. Almost nothing, staff are mainly bored senior citizens. But there’s pretty much no violent crime in the country, so yeah.

    Again, this is all pre-Covid, but air travel in Asia has always been pretty easy compared to North America or Europe, even ‘national disgraces’ like Manila or the old Jakarta terminal. The secret? plenty of staff.

    On-time flight departures? Well, thaaaat’s a different issue.

    1. amused_in_sf

      Yes, security screening in Japan is a breeze, but it’s not just less intrusive screenings and the fact that the Japanese don’t like to lug big bags as carry-ons. It’s that they have enough lanes and staff to accommodate the volume.

      This contrast is also visible at check-in counters, where you can’t blame any security measures for the lines at US airports.

      1. MonkeyBusiness

        I think in Japan, trains are always an option. Most foreigners don’t know that they can always utilize a luggage forwarding service to send their luggages ahead to hotels, etc. That’s how a lot of Japanese would travel.

        Also Asia is the biggest continent in the world. Flights in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, capable East Asian countries are usually on time. South East Asia (other than Singapore) not so much. Can’t say anything about Mainland China since I’ve never taken a flight there. Took the bullet train once from Beijing to Shanghai and that was exquisite.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          The last time I visited Japan we sent our luggage ahead from our Tokyo hotel to our Kyoto one and vice versa. Made taking the Shinkansen easy peasy.

          And Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, and Japanese airports are indeed pleasant to travel through.

  3. Another Scott

    When discussing the jobs at the TSA, it’s also important to remember the large equipment that the agency purchases (or likely leases) to screen all the passengers and bags. When I last flew, I saw the names of some rather large government contractors on them, and those contractors won’t let a revenue source like that go away.

    1. The Historian

      Ah, yes. Remember Michael Chertoff’s radiation machines that were safe (turns out they weren’t) and the puff machines to find explosives (turns out they couldn’t) that are now stored in a warehouse somewhere?

  4. marieann

    The security theatre is bad enough, but all that waiting around for cancelled or delayed flights, the miles of walking to get anywhere(dragging a suitcase or two) and oh! those line ups.

    My last flight was 2019 for a wedding and that was my last…a cancelled flight and an extra overnight stay, hauling baggage around the airport…. twice.

    My last flight to Scotland was 2018….I said goodbye to all my family knowing I planned never to make the journey again.They all wondered why I was crying so much, I didn’t say I don’t plan to come back.
    Air travel is horrible now!!! I also remember when it wasn’t

    1. Big River Bandido

      Don’t forget the constant assault on eyes and especially ears: gate announcements, no “phone booths” where phone users can keep from disturbing others, constant blaring of teevee (CNN) that no one watches, 4 different speakers blasting 4 different pieces of “music”…and not a single square millimeter of space not plastered with advertising. (At O’Hare even the beams and columns of the buildings are “ad space”. I flew weekly between NYC and Boston for five years — words cannot describe the insulting conditions of Logan and the NYC airports. It was the worst part of the job, by far.

      The PanAm and TWA terminals at JFK were architectural icons of an era when travel was civilized. The PanAm terminal was demolished and the TWA terminal turned into a hotel. Tells you all you need to know about what the experience of air travel in the USA has become.

        1. Sue inSoCal

          Oh lord, I haven’t thought of those weird puff machines in ages. One of those things was to detect gun residue, and then if found, then your handbag could be searched. I suspect my “gunpowder residue” was from heavy metals from chemotherapy if it, as you say, worked at all.

          Let’s just say I’m flat done with domestic air travel. The airport insanity is unbearable if one has a medical condition that results in the inability to walk or use one’s legs reliably. (And I’m old enough to recall flying from San Diego to Sacramento on PSA for $17. Never dreamed, of course, of ever being in this situation!) But! I used to be able to take off a bit early, walk to a gate with a cane, even often use points to get on first class (that was still doable before domestic sardine tins) and this was a relatively simple process. Now, I’m reduced to a blasted wheelchair or I’d never make a flight. I have run into TSA, uh, agents that appear to want you to miss your flight, even though you’ve checked in over 2 hours ahead.

          And, I’ve found flights are hardly inexpensive, unless one has the physical fortitude to extend a 2 hour flight to a 6 hour plus milk run adventure. Those are the “bargains.”

          Oh for bullet trains!

          (As for nostalgia, when one of my kids was 15, we watched, iirc, The Graduate, and she asked “did airplanes really look like that??”)

        2. Trent

          Back then, still plenty of combat hardened American men from both wars who wouldn’t put up with any usurpation of their hard earned privileges and would have probably killed anyone who tried to pull what is today considered effective resource extraction from the public in health care, finance and politics.

          How the Sacklers or PG&E officials, for example, can go out in public without armed guards protecting them and their families is surprising.

    2. petal

      Oh marieann, that is so sad. I’m very sorry. Can’t even imagine! Have been doing genealogy lately and diving into the Scottish branches. Had always hoped to visit some day, but wanting to now more than ever. If flying has gotten that rotten, maybe not!
      The last air trip I took was 10 years ago to Switzerland. It was a giant pain but eventually worth it overall once we got there and back. There was a yucky delay in Philly(I hope to never pass through there again), and my partner had a problem getting his expensive, specialised work tools onboard on the way home due to security issues. Went to Sydney in ’99 and it was so ridiculously easy and pleasant-back before everything changed. Have been invited to a wedding south of Sydney but the thought of flying that far …I don’t think I could bring myself to do it now, no matter how badly I want to be there. There’s no way they’d let us do the things these days that we did back in ’99 to help the time pass, plus the security theatre, covid, how delays and cancellations are handled, etc. Someone needs to hurry up with a Star Trek-style transporter.

      1. ambrit

        “Star Trek style transporter.”
        The writers of the show didn’t develop that concept fully. One major ‘side-effect’ of such a technology would be as a medical “repair” device. Take someone with an incurable or unoperable condition, dissolve them into shiny mist, and reassemble them, minus the offending parts. If medical technology was advanced enough, dissolve the ‘customer’ into shiny mist, and store the template in the buffer program. Later, if customer was badly injured, or even recently killed, crank out a replica person and maybe start again or download later memories. I believe that one of the sixties science fiction writers had a book based on such a plot; Spinrad, or Sheckley, I’m not certain who.
        Hope you are doing better.

  5. The Rev Kev

    It is not only “security” that has been “enhanced” over the past few decades but the umpteen billions of dollars spent to maintain this “security.” Maybe every passenger should just be issued with their own personal taser for real security. Anybody giving trouble or wanting to open a door or hijack the plane, then multiple TZZZTTs!!

    I am given to understand that flying in the US is done by people who have no other practical choice. But over the past few decades, conditions for flying aboard an airliner have deteriorated. What do I mean by that? Check out the following two pages to see what flying was like once. ‘Not as clumsy or random as a modern airliner experience; an elegant airliner for a more civilized age.’

    And you try to tell young people what it was like, and they don’t believe you.

    1. MonkeyBusiness

      Well given the sharing economy and all, it would not be long before a passenger will be randomly designated as the air marshal for a given flight. After all, passengers sitting next to the emergency exit are already expected to assist during an evacuation. Looking forward to getting my own water gun.

    2. QuicksilverMessenger

      Thank you Obi Wan. I think your mentioning the “umpteen billions of dollars spent to maintain this ‘security'” is of course the core of it. The business of America is business, the almighty American dollar. So all of this ‘security’ has everything to do with money and little to do with security, just as our covid policy has everything to do with money and little to do with public health. This is our maxim- it’s always all about the dollars

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      In those days flying was very expensive. Only the upper middle class and above could afford it. So it was exclusive and it was nice. Was there any utility air travel in those days? Any at all? I don’t even know.

      But the “jet set” got called that for a reason.

      Later, as air travel got more affordable and less nice, somebody decided to create a whole new expensive SST for a whole new upper-middle-class and above jet set. It was nice for them while it lasted.

      The very first time I flew was in 1963 I think, as a child with my mother and two brothers to see our dying grandmother in another state. All I remember about the plane was that it was 4 engine propellor, not jet.

  6. Tinky

    I’m not even that old, yet can recall, as a child, having flown on planes that had smoking sections. At least that was done away with!

    More on topic, I would always prefer to ride on good trains (ah, Switzerland…) to contemporary cattle call, tension filled air travel.

      1. Keith Newman

        Yes I remember that too. 7am flying from Montreal to a meeting in Toronto and getting suffocated by the smoke wafting in frorm the rest of the plane. I’m very thankful for all the anti-smoking rules.

      2. HotFlash

        An old boss of mine, wife of an aeronautics engineer, told us that aircraft mechanics used to spot leaks in the fuselage by the nicotine stains around them.

      3. Wukchumni

        I flew around a million miles all over the world in the 1980’s chasing aged metal discs, and the smoking section was my ace in the hole, in that i’d make a beeline from my economy seat and snag a middle row of 5 seats there, and seeing as smoking was going away by that time, it NEVER failed, and i’d be able to sleep on a 10 hour flight.

        I wasn’t a smoker, but had endured enough smog growing up in LA in the 60’s & 70’s, that it was no big deal.

    1. upstater

      The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) provides excellent conventional passenger rail service. Cantonal railways provide local service, some the the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) is truly world class service and scenery. Postal bus services link towns without railways. The whole system is integrated and travel is a breeze.

      If only the US had something similar… but at least we have the F-35!

      1. Tom Bradford

        I’ve become an avid follower of the Norwegian train-driver (Engineer?) ‘Cowgirl’s’ live YouTube videos* from the cab of her trains through Norway’s stunning landscapes. Norway is a large country with a small population and geography that could hardly be less suited to rail yet it has built and maintains an astonishing rail network with countless tunnels kilometres long through mountains at a cost that must far exceed any commercial return.

        Of course apart from bullet-train country you can ‘save time’ by flying, if you equate time with money. But to me sitting watching the world go by – especially when it’s as beautiful as Norway’s – with time to think and reflect is worth far more than money.


  7. Oh

    After 9/11, airlines have been quick to cash in:
    1. You can’t transfer a ticket to another person
    2. They charge for changes to a reservations
    3. No refunds of tickets
    4. Airlines have been able merge without any restriction
    5. Airlines share prices so that they have a monopoly
    what do these have to do with security?
    6. Now they charge for seats, provide less food and drink

    I don’t think flights have gotten cheaper. Inconvenience and ripoffs have increased.

    1. Big River Bandido

      Now most airlines have adopted the sort of pricing scam that is the modus operandi of Spirit Airlines: the flight is dirt cheap. But if you want to carry a bag or sit where you want, that’s all “extra”.

  8. Blended

    The ratchet effect. Or if you prefer, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Politicians will always use crises, whether real or imagined, to increase power and control, and once they ratchet up, they never ratchet down. In addition to the examples provided, consider that we are still have emergency financial measures in place since 2008.

    COVID is too valuable a crisis for pols to ignore the possibility of decades of invasive power plays. The cynic in me sees lockdowns, masks, plexiglas, and whatever new horror they can invent are just not going away. History tells us that the measures being invented now will be around for decades at a minimum. Just like TSA and GFC, there will not be a return to the old ways.

    1. Mikel

      Guarantee there will be more pandemics than 9/11s.
      And I think the opposite. Clown country won’t take necessary precautions or make sweeping changes to the healthcare system.
      Let H5N1 seriously break out and weep while peiple complain about masks.

  9. p fitzsimons

    From air travel during the 60s what I remember most is arriving early or late for my scheduled flight and simply going to the terminal of another airline, and using the same ticket hopping on board, sometimes just a few minutes before takeoff.

    1. Mikel

      Yep, they could even have a luggage commercial featuring O.J. Simpson running through the airport with luggage to catch a flight and people could relate.

      1. ambrit

        I have yet to see the obvious send up of that ad. O.J. Simpson running through the airport terminal, with a gaggle of Keystone Kops chasing him.

  10. saywhat?

    Being jammed in like sardines instead of human beings is apparently dangerous:

    In 2019, Malis, who is also the government affairs representative at the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union representing American Airlines air crew, spoke to CNN Travel about the decrease of personal seat space. She said her union believed it is “strongly correlated and in a large part to blame” for the rise in [violent] incidents. from Dread at 30,000 ft: Inside the increasingly violent world of US flight attendants

    It’s way past time to mandate decent passenger seating.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If people want a decent-size seat, they may have to pay a decent size price for it. Such a mandate could send us back to flying for the upper-middle-class and above only.

      Which could lead to a whole new birth of passenger rail.

      Therefor, I approve such a mandate.

  11. LawnDart

    Commercial air travel is miserable to experience in USA, unless at business class or better, though even still…

    Since the beginning of covid, my company has not required me to fly to assignments, which is a godsend: I would much rather drive for 10-11 hours than take a 3-hour flight and deal with all that entails. Or days. I’d drive for days rather than put up with any amount of commercial air travel.

    Airline execs should be forced to fly economy for all work-related travel.

  12. Cranky

    I remember when You could go to sfo buy a ticket and go to la for dinner and return home for 27.50. Price controlled then but thanks to capitalism Reagan removed them. All the other price increases are just leeches.
    I no longer wish to participate in flying as it just does not feel safe, very time consuming, and is way to pricey. I’ll continue my boycott of flying until the elimination of TSA and all the other failed attempts to find those terrorists. In addition, the addition of so many seats make it absolutely uncomfortable and unsanitary. I’ll take a train or drive. Probably less fossil fuel.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Airline deregulation was bi-partisan, and began under Carter in 1978. Teddy Kennedy was one of its prime legislative movers.

  13. JohnA

    Also after the Lockerbie bomb, if someone checks in luggage but for whatever reason, misses final boarding, all the checked luggage has to be taken out to find that particular suitcase, in case it contains a bomb. A very time consuming procedure that results in a delayed flight. Before then lost luggage was a frequent complaint and when you waited at the carousel in vain, they said they would put the bag on the next flight or retrieve it from some other country it had inadvertently been routed to.

    1. Peerke

      Yes as far as I remember it was Lockerbie that changed everything for the worse. The first time I travelled to the US was not long after that. At Glasgow airport a temporary terminal had been constructed to handle US bound departures. Strict security and questioning about luggage etc. I remember the day after I arrived in US pulling a pair of jeans out of my case and finding a “security checked” sticker inside the leg thereof. It was all messaging and it worked more or less until 9/11.

  14. Gregorio

    I’m just hoping no one ever sets off a truck bomb at the passenger drop off/pick up area of a major airport, because forever after, we will have to clear security and board a bus with our luggage a mile from the airport.

    1. sd

      LAX has implemented a Taxi terminal reached by bus. It’s actually very efficient. The markings could be much better though.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      If truck bombs or suicide bombs ever become a serious affliction for passengers milling around before getting to “the next step” along the trail of boarding the plane, and the reform you mention is implemented, then the suicide bombers will begin targetting the milling crowds waiting for that secured bus to the airport.

      All we can do is hope that very few people take a grievance or a grudge that far.

  15. Ep3

    Amazing that we hate govt doing anything, govt is a failure at everything, etc. But we sure do love signing up govt to employ, police, and monitor a private business’s security concerns. 50,000 agents that will require pensions & retiree health care after retirement. 50k agents hired because airlines weren’t doing their jobs of policing their passengers & preventing their passengers from overtaking their property & using that property as a weapon.
    But heaven forbid we hire 50,000 IRS agents to police our financial system.

    1. hunkerdown

      To the contrary, it’s not at all amazing that a class whose job it is to reproduce capitalist relations, which are the antithesis of a public interest, is doing exactly what it was created, has a mandate, and is paid to do. IRS agents, if hired, would only serve to reproduce capitalist relations. As few as possible will be deployed against those friendly to the regime. The Iron Law of Institutions overrides all childish “leadership” narratives.

    2. redleg

      People need to work, even those who hate gubmint, and if the government jobs pay better and/or have better working conditions than the local private sector jobs, of course they’ll take them.
      Airports are also the focus of public transportation systems, so people (especially of working class/poor) who work at airports don’t need to drive or own a car.
      I detest the ridiculousness of airport security theater, the TSA in general, and think that the IRS should audit the wealthy *first and foremost*, but criticising the TSA labor pool for doing what’s best for themselves is not okay.

      1. Jeff

        The TSA, like most government agencies, is there to sustain itself. Other than the post office, emergency services and the courts, I cant think of one government agency that’s effective at it’s core mission while not being a leach on society. That includes the TSA.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          How about the National Park Service?

          How about USDA meat inspectors in the good old days before Reagan and Clinton when they actually inspected meat?

          1. Jeff

            National park service is spotty here in California. USDA example from over 40 years ago? Kind of proves the point.

          2. Wukchumni

            I’ve noticed more NPS law enforcement officers dressed in the same guise of interpreters, and a lot less of the latter.

            When i go to the bathroom in the main part of Sequoia NP my choices are either 1940’s or 1960’s era buildings, there being not much money for needed new infrastructure.

        2. hunkerdown

          All institutions have reproductive costs. Most of them exist in support of elite interests over mass interests. Perhaps you misread core mission as headline mission, and the vast majority of bourgeois institutions are really just lordships sliced vertically, along the natural features of what we currently call private property just as they were in England’s soil. And they, along with the sociopathic meme of Homo œconomicus that you cite and the ideology of neoliberalism in general, are arrogations that need to be crushed out of society, certainly not upheld.

  16. XXYY

    In the first decade after 9/11, the federal government spent over $62 billion on airport security in total

    What was the total profit of US airlines during this period?

  17. Jokerstein

    It was also the case that you didn’t need ID for domestic flights in the US, at least when I was flying 3-4 times a week in 1989-90.

    Because of this the classifieds used to be full of tickets for sale, from people who had bought a round trip – almost always cheaper than one-way – and didn’t want the return leg. All you had to worry about was whether the ticker said Mr, Mrs, or Ms for the passenger name.

  18. Jeremy Grimm

    As I recall the 9/11 terrorists used box cutters as their weapons. The doors to the pilot’s cabin in u.s. airplanes was thin and easy to break through — and as far as I know they still are. Terrorists armed with box cutters were able to take control of an aircraft because at that time the guidance from above was that passengers and crew should not challenge terrorists, to avoid death or injury — which could be much more expensive to settle than the demands of the terrorists. Hijackers before 9/11 extorted money or directed flights to new destinations. I do not believe the passengers on flights after 9/11 would quietly sit waiting to join terrorists in exploring a death wish.

    I wonder whether the security theater really deserves to be called security theater. Security farce is more fitting. At this late date, do passengers really believe the Transportation Security Authority helps make flying safe from terrorism? This post makes a point of “…how quickly American air travelers came to accept those security measures as both normal and seemingly permanent features of all U.S. airports.” “Accept?” … has the author of this post ever tried to make a fuss or even joke about the security farce? While wondering about the ‘acceptance’ and durability of security farce at u.s. airports I must wonder about the ‘acceptance’ and durability of the Patriot Act, rendition, and Government sponsored assassinations … to mention a few of the wonders wrought by the Government in recent decades. We live in deeply troubling times — troubling along so many dimensions.

  19. jo6pac

    I haven’t flown in over 30 years. Then you could walk in buy a ticket an hour before the flight with cash and no baggage. Your friends could come all the way to the waiting area. The flights were on time except during winter. The later the fight at night the less people so you could move about to other seats and the food wasn’t bad and drinks flowed. I flew 3 to4 days a week at night and got new the crews on most of my flights. I never saw a bad customer or crew member. I use to fly from San Jose to Fresno every week end and one time I was seating in the bar with friends and I missed several flights until the pilots stopped by and told me it was the last flight so on to the plane and some how they lost my bag but was delivered the next day to construction site I was working at. It sad how bad it’s gotten for crews and passengers.

  20. Mikerw0

    Thought 1: this is another great example of the corrosive nature of wealth inequality. The uber wealthy bypass public airports entirely and likely have no idea what we are talking about. The income rich pay fees for better treatment by TSA; e.g., TSA Precheck. Additionally, our airports were never architected for how we currently use them. They were built when we had short, if any, waits at gates. There was no need to have masses of people sitting around.

    Thought 2: I am old enough to have frequently flown the Eastern Shuttle between NY and Boston. You lined up alongside a fence and they kept adding flights until everyone was accommodated. You paid on the plane — literally a cash register walking down the aisle.

    Thought 3: In my heavy business travel days, late 80s to 9/11, I could arrive 15 minutes before an international flight walk through everything to the plane — the only id I showed was my ticket.

    Thought 4: shortly after 9/11 I was in Da Vinci, in Rome, returning from a business trip. I turned to the person in line behind me and said watch, one could easily get any weapon through the joke of security. It was young women basically flirting and not paying any attention. As with most crimes the criminals will go to where the hassles are lowest. For all the BS post 9/11, we are not actually serious to anyone paying attention.

  21. David

    Up until roughly the turn of the millennium, air travel was not that stressful, and the quality and choice of airlines had increased substantially in the previous decade, at least in Europe. I don’t think I would ever have described being in a tin can travelling at 800km/hr as “fun”, but a long flight in the front of, say, a Virgin Atlantic A340 was about as hassle-free and pleasant a way of passing the time as was possible within the constraints.

    It went downhill from there, and I had become so used to climbing onto the plane, slumping into my seat and thinking “the worst is over now” that when international plane travel stopped last year, I can’t say I was sorry. But it’s not just security: the standard of service on most airlines has gone down sharply in the last thirty years, and airlines now use the smallest planes they can get away with, even if that means packing you in like sardines. In the old days, planes were seldom more than three quarters full, even in economy, and you could at least breath. Now, they charge extra for breathing.

  22. Trent

    1968, I leaped off a bus, ran nonstop through the terminal and ran onto a Pacific Southwest Airlines plane at San Francisco just as they were pulling the jetway away from the door about to be closed, I leapt into an empty seat then the 727 taxied out and then took off for Ontario, California. Halfway through the flight, the stewardess rolled a cart up to our row, offered me a softdrink, and collected my $20 bill, then handed me a ticket for the flight.

    Our men died in World War Two so their children could suffer the parasitical looting of our liberties, our economy and the destruction of our country?

  23. Synoia

    Flying in the cheap seats has always meant being treated like Cattle.
    I have flown over 3 million miles.
    Starting at the Age of 2.

  24. John

    For the cattle in economy, air travel is a bus with wings. Being an old guy, I no longer have to remove my shoes.

    I remember walking through the terminal at Logan in Boston on to the tarmac up the stairs on to the plane. A very few minutes later we were taxiing for take off. That was in 1959.

    I long for decent train travel.

  25. Alex

    To play the devil’s advocate role, how can we be sure it’s really theatre? I mean that you can’t just count caught terrorists (presumably zero) and say that this is the effectiveness. In a dynamic system the deterrence is the main point.

    Has anyone really tried to assess how the frequency of successful attacks has changed under the new regime?

    1. hunkerdown

      Without a proposed method of action, and a comprehensive, diligent accounting of side effects, that would be just the sort of unscientific, alt-right gamer thinking I see in YouTube comments and think-tank output alike, from kids trying to claim property in a conversation where their real interests are zero-sum and private. I certainly hope you don’t think of real estate that way!

  26. Jeff

    Outside of a few trips I intend to take, I’m done with casual air travel and have been for years. It’s not worth it. Airlines need to fold, and under the weight of the lack of business travel, they likely will.

    If I can get to a destination within a 12 hour drive, I’m driving. Between the crappy service, crappy attitude, lines, hassle, wasted time and disorganization, airlines took what was once a fun experience and turned it into the equivalent of waiting in a 3 hour long at Disneyland in August.

    I know the US carriers suck. It’s just another Monopoly long overdue for a shakeup that’ll likely not happen.

  27. Wukchumni

    I used to utilize ‘bucket shops’ in the UK in the 1980’s, airlines would give a block of unsold seats to them and they’d sell em’ dirt cheap. It was better to get something for an otherwise empty seat.

    Think I paid 49 Pounds for a 1-way Gatwick to LA ticket, to give you an idea.

  28. Wukchumni

    I was hiking hut to hut with friends in the French Alps when 9/11 happened, and we weren’t coming home until late September, so we didn’t have any issues as far as flights go aside from having to take a flight from Paris-Dallas-LA, and they went over our luggage with a fine tooth comb in Paris, and then again in Dallas for the next flight to LA, which I thought was weird, as it had been in the hold of the airplane the whole time.

    I soon learned to hate flying under the new security theater aegis, and have a total of 3 domestic journeys up in the ether since, I prefer driving as long as it isn’t any further than the Rockies.

  29. Bill Wald

    Our first 3 grade school kids flew solo between Seattle and Newark Airport. Never had a problem. That was the the middle 1960’s.

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