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 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.

But How?

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 the plane.

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 you.

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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