Reflections on 10 Years in the Travel Industry Since 9/11

In 2001, I was just a year-and-a-half into what would ultimately become my career as a travel industry journalist. I worked in New York City, as I still do, but despite the fact that it was my job to understand and report on multitudes of domestic and international travel destinations, I did not actually have a passport. Up to that point, my travel had consisted primarily of North American and Caribbean destinations, where I dutifully exhibited an original copy of my birth certificate and my driver's license to cross the border. I wore my shoes through airport security, tossed full-size shampoo bottles into my carry-on luggage, and I once managed to talk my way through security for a flight from NYC to San Diego after leaving my driver's license in a pants pocket at home.

All of that, and so much more, became relics of a different world after the catastrophic attack on September 11, 2001 of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. The ultimate effects on the travel industry of the 9/11 attacks were not instantaneous. Yes, business and leisure travel took a huge and immediate hit: airlines grounded planes; hotel occupancy levels dug new troughs. Those who did choose to travel were subject to strict new security rules, many of which have become second nature to us now. But the hardships on the U.S. travel industry and travelers have run deeper and we all still feel the ripple effect.

The airline industry has fundamentally changed since 9/11. Struck by the loss of passengers after the September 11 attacks, several major airlines declared bankruptcy. Others laid-off massive numbers of workers after reducing capacity and grounding planes. In a one-two punch, just after the industry began to spread its wings again in 2006 and 2007, fuel prices skyrocketed sending a tentatively recovering industry into a tailspin again.

The ultimate result of higher operations costs for airlines has been the evolution of a new pricing model with which most travelers—however infrequent—are now familiar: unbundled fares and ancillary fees.

Since 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration was created and took over all airport screening operations at 450 U.S. airports, replacing the less regulated private companies that until then were hired by the airports to screen passengers before boarding planes. The list of security measures that have been enacted by the TSA are too numerous to review, but recent developments have been particularly controversial.

Swift reaction to terrorist threats has been a clear focus for the TSA. The latest implementation of backscatter x-ray technology, which can detect hidden objects underneath clothing, has raised the hackles of travelers, politicians, health groups and social advocacy groups, who each have different points of view on the value of the technology. The enhanced x-ray machines were put in place after the so-called "underwear bomber" passed through security in Amsterdam with plastic explosives that he tried to detonate on board a flight to the U.S.

No matter what side of the debate an individual defends, on thing is sure: travel in, to and from the United States has permanently changed—and it's not just the travel industry. Travelers have also changed. The continuous reminders of 9/11 are all around us when we travel; whether for leisure or business, the process has become a much more sober endeavor. Aside from the frustrations, we should remember that we are a part of a global community and that our actions and the actions of others can have very far reaching effect. To all – travel well and be kind to one another.

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