| How Will This Change the Way We Travel?
|How Will This Change the Way We Travel?
By Christopher Elliott
The tragic terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center
in New York and punctured a hole in the Pentagon have changed
the way we will travel forever.
The government froze commercial airline travel as a first response—an
unprecedented measure that practically guaranteed no further
air assaults, but also grounded passengers and hampered an ailing
airline industry. When planes start flying again, everything
is likely to move at a dramatically slower pace. Lines at the
airport will be longer, delays more protracted than before,
and freedoms that we once took for granted may no longer be
available to us.
We know that the U.S. government is bound to take additional
security precautions. Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta,
announced an end to curbside check-ins, for example, and it's
unlikely those will be resumed any time soon—if ever.
That's Just for Starters
Baggage matching, already a common practice in Europe and the
Middle East, is almost certain to be implemented domestically.
The U.S. carriers have for a long time resisted the precaution
of matching each piece of luggage to a passenger because of
its high cost, but they never considered the even higher cost
of not baggage matching.
New high-tech screening equipment—also considered too pricey—has
been opposed by the major airlines, too. The devices scan luggage
and can "see" explosives and other terrorist paraphernalia,
and might have been able to spot the knives used in the attacks.
But continuing to insist that the equipment would cost too much
is practically impossible after four airliners were hijacked
and turned into the rough equivalent of guided missiles.
Look for more professional ground security crews as well. In
the past, U.S. screening personnel have been heavily criticized
for being poorly trained and unprofessional. Indeed, compared
with levels of training in Europe, the U.S. screening personnel
are relatively inexperienced, and, some have argued, incompetent.
It remains to be seen what role, if any, the screening played
in this incident, or, whether a better-trained security crew
could have stopped the attacks.
How Will All of This Affect You?
It will mean air travel will take longer. In the future, you
may have to arrive closer to two hours before your flight leaves
in order to go through the tighter security screen. Expect to
be asked questions at every turn, and not just the standard
queries about strangers imploring you to take their bags onto
When I left Frankfurt, Germany, for the U.S. a few years ago,
I was practically interrogated by a private security firm hired
by the airline. A humorless young man asked me where I was traveling
to, why I was going there, and he demanded to see my itinerary.
When I failed to find a letter of invitation to a conference
I was scheduled to speak at, I told him he'd just have to deny
me boarding. He almost did.
At a time of year like this, when planes aren't flying at full
capacity, it may be difficult to notice the extended lines at
the airport, lengthened by agents who are asking for identification
cards and quizzing passengers about their intentions. But when
the busy stretch between Thanksgiving and New Years Day approaches,
and aircraft start filling up, the difference will be remarkable.
Once you're past the checkpoints and have boarded, expect more
possible delays. Pilots and ground crews who would once shrug
off a minor issue such as a suspicious piece of luggage are
now likely to be all the more vigilant. Expect more frequent
delays as airline employees double- and triple-check their cabins
to make sure their aircraft is completely safe.
Perhaps the most difficult change to adjust to, however, will
be the initial feeling that the airport has been turned into
a military base. I did a double take when I saw uniformed police
officers carrying automatic weapons in some European airports,
and I felt extremely uncomfortable when I was frisked before
boarding a flight in London for the U.S. Chances are, so will
But given the choice between that and a recurrence of the tragic
events of September 11, 2001, the sacrifice will seem small.
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