Ask someone old enough to remember a trip before September 11, 2001, and you will probably have a vague memory of what the flight was like.
There was a security check, but it wasn’t that intrusive. There were no long lines of control. Passengers and their families could walk together to the boarding gate. Overall, an airport experience meant a lot less stress.
It all ended when four hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
The worst terrorist attack on American soil has led to heightened and sometimes strained security measures at airports around the world. The cataclysm also contributed to other changes, big and small, that reshaped the airline industry and, for consumers, made air travel more stressful than ever.
Two months after the attacks, President George W. Bush signed a law creating the Transportation Security Administration, which required all checked baggage to be screened, cockpit doors to be reinforced and more air marshals. feds be put on flights.
There was no other September 11. Nothing even close. But after that day flying changed forever.
Security measures have evolved with new threats, so travelers have been asked to remove their seat belts and remove certain items from the bags to scan them. Things that could clearly be used as weapons, like the box cutters used by the 9/11 hijackers, were banned. After “shoe bomber” Richard Reid attempted to stop a Paris-Miami flight in late 2001, shoes began to come off at security checkpoints.
Each new requirement seemed to lengthen the lines of the checkpoints. For many travelers, other rules were more mystifying, such as limits on liquids as the bad ones could possibly be used to concoct a bomb.
“It’s a much bigger problem than before 9/11 – much bigger – but we got used to it,” said Ronald Briggs as he and his wife, Jeanne, waited at the Dallas International Airport. Fort Worth a flight to London. last month.
The long queues created by post-attack measures gave rise to the PreCheck and Global Entry “trusted traveler programs” in which people who pay a fee and provide certain information about themselves pass through checkpoints without remove their shoes and jackets or remove their laptop from their bag.
But that convenience comes at a price: privacy.
On its app and in brief interviews, PreCheck questions people on basic information such as their work history and place of residence, and they fingerprint and agree to a criminal record check. Privacy advocates are particularly concerned about ideas launched by the TSA to also review social media posts (the agency’s top official says this has been dropped), news stories about people, location data and information from data brokers, including how applicants spend their money.
“It is far from clear that this has anything to do with aviation security,” said Jay Stanley, privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Over 10 million people have signed up for PreCheck. The TSA wants to increase that figure to 25 million, in an effort to allow agents to spend more time on passengers considered to be a greater risk.
Under Congress leadership, the TSA will expand the use of private providers to collect information from PreCheck applicants. He currently uses a company called Idemia and aims to add two more – Telos Identity Management Solutions and Clear Secure Inc.
Clear plans to use PreCheck enrollment to increase membership in its own identity verification product by bundling the two offerings. This will make Clear’s own product more valuable to its customers, which include sports stadiums and concert promoters.
“They are really trying to increase their market share by collecting a lot of very sensitive data on as many people as possible,” says India McKinney, director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group. man. digital rights.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske, however, sees Clear’s strategy as helping TSA: “We allowed vendors to bundle their offerings with the idea that it would entice people to sign up for Trusted Traveler programs. . “
The TSA is testing the use of kiosks equipped with facial recognition technology to verify photo IDs and boarding passes. The kiosks will also retrieve photos taken when the traveler requested PreCheck, McKinney says. This worries her because it would mean connecting kiosks to the internet – the TSA says this is true – and potentially exposing the information to hackers.
Despite the trauma that led to its inception and the intense desire to avert another 9/11, the TSA itself has frequently been the subject of questions about its methods, ideas, and effectiveness.
Critics, including former TSA officers, have ridiculed the agency as a “theater of safety” that gives the false impression of protecting the traveling public. Pekoske dismisses this notion by pointing to the large number of firearms seized at airport checkpoints – more than 3,200 last year, 83% of them loaded – instead of putting them on planes.
Pekoske also ticked off other TSA duties including checking passengers, screening checked baggage with 3-D technology, inspecting cargo, and placing federal air marshals on flights. .
“Rest assured: this is not a theater of security,” Pekoske says. “It’s real security.
Many independent experts agree with Pekoske’s assessment, although they generally see areas where CST needs improvement.
This summer, an average of nearly 2 million people per day passed through TSA checkpoints. Most travelers accept any inconvenience such as the price of security in an uncertain world.
“They are not there to harass me,” said Paula Gathings, who was waiting for a flight from DFW to Qatar, then another to Kenya. “Anytime someone asks me to do something, I can see the reason for it.”
Several incidents highlight a threat the TSA needs to be concerned about – people who work for airlines or airports and have security clearance to avoid regular checks. Some examples:
■ In 2016, a bomb left a hole in a Daallo Airlines plane, killing the bomber, but 80 other passengers and crew survived. Somali authorities released a video they claimed showed the man a laptop containing the bomb.
■ In 2018, a Delta Air Lines baggage handler in Atlanta was convicted of using his security pass to smuggle more than 100 firearms on flights.
■ The following year, an American Airlines mechanic with Islamic State videos on his phone pleaded guilty to sabotaging a plane full of passengers. The pilots aborted the flight during takeoff.
“All these people who have a (security) badge, you’re right, a lot of them have unescorted access to an airport, but they also go through a very rigorous screening process before they are even hired,” Pekoske explains.
With all the different ways that deadly chaos may have happened on planes after 9/11, the fact remains: Most of the time, it doesn’t. And while the post-9/11 global airport security apparatus has grown to proportions that some consider unreasonable, it will never neutralize all threats – or even be able to enforce the rules it has written.
“You can’t catch it all,” says Nathan Dudney, sales manager for a sporting goods manufacturer in Nashville, who says he sometimes leaves ammo in his carry-on. “They do things to the best of their ability. “