Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of 9-11. Thankfully, we have not experienced that type of hatred and violence on our own soil since that crisp September morning which almost seems to be ancient history. In fact, the event is “history” to this year’s high-school freshman—most of whom were not even born. Of course, like Pearl Harbor, we will never forget. For our industry, despite all of the struggles we face, 9-11 was the day that changed everything forever. Bear with me as I reminisce.
September 11, 2001
Tuesday morning—I had a lot on my plate. Get the kids to school, get into the office, and get a solid days’ work done, get the kids from school, and somehow work in standing in line to vote in our local primary election. No worries—it was a crisp, almost-fall, day. And then it happened.
I was in the office and heard the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Initially, no one was overly concerned. Small planes had crashed into tall buildings in the past. But then when we realized it was a commercial jet, things changed. The Internet was not quite what it is today and I ran out to Circuit City to purchase a small television so we could keep up to speed in the office with the live-coverage. They were sold out—apparently my thought was not unique. I went to Best Buy and all they had left was a 25” behemoth. So that, along with some rabbit ear antennae, I headed back to the office to watch the day unfold. And we all know how that ended.
The aftermath for the travel industry
It took a while to figure out the ramifications of the attack. Meanwhile, we had hundreds of clients across the country and globe who were very concerned and needed to get home to suburban Washington, DC (we are based in Annapolis, MD). When the FAA shut down all airspace, that became a challenge. Our agents, who among others were real assets during these times, sprung into action, literally working through the night. We had clients that were re-accommodated in hotels near where they were forced to land. We had clients booked into rental cars to make the return trip on their own. In a nod to the movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, we secured a Budget truck rental to (illegally) transport one group of clients and several non-client travelers from Atlanta to Washington. We also had a group of executives golfing in Scotland who opted to charter a jet, fly into Canada, and motorcoach the rest of the way home in order to be with their families. My agents went so above and beyond for our clients, and I am sure every agent did as well.
Another group of people that are largely unrecognized is the flight attendants and the support crews of the airlines. They truly were on the front lines having little to no actionable information and planes full of worried travelers. Were they at risk? What is happening? How do we get home? All of these unknowns were fielded by the airlines with professionalism knowing that several hundred people along with their friends had recently perished.
Within days, things began to return to a new normal. Flights began to take off and fill the silence that occupied the skies for days. Cockpit doors were reinforced. New rules were made to make sure airliners were safe. The Department of Homeland Security was established and the TSA was born.
New security was (and still is being) implemented in airports across the country. Federal air marshals took flight and were on many commercial flights to thwart any potential attacks. And America tried to move on as best as we could.
Subsequent attacks were thwarted—Richard Reid tried to ignite a bomb hidden in his shoe and now we are all shoeless in security. Pilots and flight crews have been given a lot of leeway to remove passengers for any behavior they deem suspicious. X-Ray machines that capture your naked body were installed in airports along with machines that puffed air at you, random pat downs, and in some instances, even more invasive searches.
Passports were updated and more difficult to obtain. A Passport card was a Passport-lite that confused many agents. The WHTI was established, further confusing the requirements for travel. Spelling errors on tickets were no longer tolerated or explained away. Yet we moved on.
9-11 was a defining moment in our nation’s history to be sure. However, it was a watershed moment for the industry, more so than any other in the past. Here we are, 15 years later, and operating in a completely different environment. Our careers and tasks have changed. We are safer. We persevered and have moved on. Moved on for sure; but with a keen eye to the past. We must never forget.