How 9/11 changed the aviation industry

On September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers took control of four Boeing planes, two operated by American Airlines and two by United, and used them to carry out acts of terrorism that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Two of the airliners crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Another crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The attacks of September 11 had profound economic repercussions, in particular on the aeronautical industry. The upheavals among major players in commercial aviation, along with new and enhanced security procedures, have completely changed the landscape of the industry. Today, many aspects of the air travel experience would be unrecognizable to travelers before September 11, 2001.


Unprecedented financial turmoil

The commercial aviation industry in the United States had weathered economic downturns and predictable revenue declines associated with the seasonal nature of leisure travel, but had not experienced a crisis of the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks. september. According to the International Air Transport Association, United States passenger airlines suffered a net loss of $8.0 billion in 2001 and revenues did not exceed 2000 figures until 2004.

Unfortunately, the industry’s rebound was short-lived. The onset of the Great Recession in 2008 in the United States dealt a further blow to commercial aviation. Severe financial turmoil led some of the biggest airlines to file for bankruptcy, including Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways. The fallout would result in the winnowing of several major carriers to just four.

The 2008 merger between Delta and Northwest Airlines was the first major act of consolidation during this period. The United and Continental merger followed in 2010, with Southwest and AirTran merging soon after in 2011. Finally, in 2013, American Airlines merged with US Airways. In 2018, American, United, Delta and Southwest Airlines controlled 75% of the US commercial airline market.

Airlines have identified new sources of sustainable revenue in the wake of the upheaval. Many have started charging for meals and checked baggage, and have split the economy cabin into subclasses with paid perks, such as priority boarding. They also added more seats to maximize revenue from each flight, which resulted in reduced passenger comfort.

Overhaul of security procedures

There had been no major changes in airport security procedures between 1973 and 2001. Security was provided by private contractors who were hired by the airlines. Travelers passed through simple metal detectors and baggage screening was minimal. Passengers could walk to the gate without showing a boarding pass or even ID.

But in November 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, establishing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Passenger screening then became the jurisdiction of the federal government.

A multitude of new safety rules were implemented over the following years. In response to an attempted shoe bombing in December 2001, passengers had to remove their shoes so they could be screened separately. No sharp objects were allowed in the cabin, including items such as nail files and penknives. Basic metal detectors were eventually replaced by high resolution body scanners.

After the 2006 Transatlantic Bomb Plot, the TSA imposed new rules stating that any liquid or gel carried on the plane must be limited to 3.4 ounces and must fit in a single clear, resealable bag no larger than not more than one litre. Laptops and other electronics had to be removed from carry-on baggage when going through the new 3D imaging X-ray machines.

Beginning in March 2008, passengers could see TSA canine teams assisting with baggage and even passenger screening at major airports across the United States. In December 2011, the TSA introduced the Precheck program, which allowed screened travelers to skip long security lines in exchange for a five-year $85 fee.

The effects of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 will likely forever define the air travel experience, both in the United States and around the world, as governments seek to prevent acts of terrorism.

Source: International Air Transport Association