SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Someday, it may sound like make-believe.
Checked luggage on domestic flights that weren’t searched before being put on the airplane. Ten-ounce bottles of shampoo that could be carried on the plane. Minimal requirements to check-in before a flight.
All of that was common before two commercial airplanes hit the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Air travel changed that day as security increased. The changes familiar today at airports didn’t all start right after 9/11 but the date was a catalyst for the new way of air travel.
“It used to be you could wait for grandma to come off her plane (in the concourse/gate area) or if someone was returning from overseas, where you used to wait at the gate, now that welcome home needs to wait for down in the lobby. That’s a big change, that aspect,” said Dan Letellier, the executive director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.
Only passengers who have been through all the security checks make it to the gate area now.
The federal government created the Transportation Security Administration under the new U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Both were created after Sept. 11, 2001.
Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration were responsible for airport security before the TSA was created.
“The agency was created to improve the safety of our transportation system,” said Jessica Mayle, a public affairs specialist with the TSA Great Lakes Region.
The Watertown regional airport has about 1,350 flights per year which is fewer than the 293,892 passenger deplanements at Sioux Falls and much less than Minneapolis/St. Paul or Chicago, for example. But the TSA and other rules still apply there.
“Since 9/11 we have TSA,” Watertown regional airport manager Todd Syhre said. “We have all the rules and regulations that come along with that as a commercial airport.”
“We want the same standards for the benefit of passengers,” Mayle said of any airport. “They need to know how to pack their bag properly and take all the steps to come prepared to the airport.”
Changes came with 9/11
Carry-on bags and items were limited and increased screening was required for passengers who did not have government-issued identification.
The TSA began to do all passenger screens in late 2001.
No-fly lists were established.
“A person in general, vetted before they even get to the airport,” Letellier said of security measures.
Sept. 11 was the start of additional security in airports. Incidents that followed caused more security measures at airports.
A December 2001 attempt by a man to use a shoe bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami prompted airports to require passengers to remove shoes in security.
Additional measures were added after 2001 including the removal of coats and the banning for any liquid containers with more than 3.4 ounces.
Passengers need to remove belts, coats and items from their pockets. Carry-on bags are scanned and checked.
Security lines at airports stretched throughout terminals and the time needed to check-in before boarding increased from minutes to hours in the months and years following Sept. 11, 2001.
The time and lines have all decreased as the measures are more familiar and more technology has been added to the process.
Hand swabs and CT scans
Mayle said the TSA uses risk-based strategy and improves its use of technology and tools to stay ahead of threats because the tools used “by bad guys” are always evolving.
Searches of bags and scans of bodies are now the norm in airports but how those security measures are conducted has changed.
TSA staff can swab a hand to check for traces of explosive material, she said.
An airport may also have computer tomography or a CT scan for bags. The CT scan reveals much more of a bag’s contents than an X-ray, Mayle said.
Automated credential technology is also used by the TSA. “A passenger can insert their ID at a travel check-in station,” Mayle said. “Not only does it verify that it is a valid ID it verifies that the person is supposed to fly out on that day.”
The automated system is an option to handing a TSA employee identification.
The TSA upgrades equipment on a roll-out plan, she said.
“Not every single airport is going to have every single machine,” Mayle said of the distribution of the latest technology.
The technology that is more familiar at larger airports isn’t typically found at airports such as Watertown.
“We don’t have some the high-tech equipment,” Syhre said. “And with us being a smaller airport, we don’t have the designated staff to do one thing. One staff member may have two or three different jobs.”
Since Watertown TSA does not have a machine that can scan/search bags, “We actually do a hand search, someone digs through the bag. It might take a little longer…,” Syhre said.
Security measures used at airports such as Watertown are thorough with safety is as the top priority, Mayle said.
Although there are additional restrictions at airports and on flights, there have been some lessening of certain restrictions, Syhre said. “They didn’t allow any pocketknives but now they do but they need to be under a certain length,” he said of one example.
Restrictions can also be responsive to particular situations in the world, Syhre said.
The TSA has a web page where passengers can check on the items they want to bring on a flight.
Increased security doesn’t always add hours to flight plan
Letellier said passing through security in Sioux Falls doesn’t take as long as it did in the years just after Sept. 11, 2001.
The airport remodeled the terminal about 10 years ago which created better spaces for security and the lobby, he said.
Now, security actions such as searching check bags happen in a dedicated space.
The airport still recommends that people arrive about an hour before their flights in Sioux Falls, he said.
Mayle said the CT equipment and the automated check-in saves passengers’ time.
The TSA also recommends the TSA pre-check system which significantly reduces a passenger’s time at the airport.
Passengers pay a fee to participate for five years. They must provide personal information including a fingerprint for a background check. When the passenger checks in for a flight, a security check is conducted using the information and background check already available.
Mayle said the pre-check streamlines the security process for the passenger. It also allows TSA to pay more attention on assessing risks, she said.
“We want to focus on people we know the least about,” Mayle said. “We want to focus on the risks and the source of the greatest risk.”
Was pre-9/11 the good old days of flying?
Syhre and Lettelier said the security measures added since 2001 protect the passengers and make flights and airports safer.
“It doesn’t seem like it was 20 years ago,” Letellier said. “A lot of people have gotten used to how things have changed.”
“I think for some people, they think back with nostalgia. I think they was a certain innocence and 911 took that away,” Mayle said. “Now, for the benefit of security and safety, you give up a little piece of that freedom of movement around the airport.”