It’s a solemn day in America, a day that will never be quite the same.
It’s a day filled with emotion; I already teared up listening to a tribute playing of “Imagine” in the car this morning. Seriously, the smallest things can bring back floods of memories of Sept. 11, 2001.
It was a harrowing day for so many, and it’s tragedy feels raw, like it happened yesterday.
So today I encourage you to take some time to remember and truly embrace the idea of “Never Forget.”
I wanted to post what I thought was the most memorable piece I’ve done on 9/11, just to share some thoughts. I wrote it for the 10th anniversary while I was a reporter at the York Daily Record.
Also, today, please hug your loved ones and let them know you care.
Airline industry ‘totally changed’ post 9/11
York, PA – Scott Miller feels awkward whenever people talk about their memories of watching the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. He didn’t watch the towers fall or see the horrifying images coming out of New York that day.
“To this day I still struggle with that,” Miller, director of public relations and marketing for the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which runs Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown, said. “I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to watch it live.”
Miller was just trying to keep up with his new job at the Airport Authority, which he had started the day before.
In fact, Miller didn’t know anything was amiss that September morning as he sat in his office until a news station called to ask about the status of the airport’s flight schedule.
“They asked, ‘Have your flights been canceled?'” he said. “I said, ‘I’m not sure, let me check. I’ll call you back.’ Then I went to get online, but I couldn’t get on. Just then, the security director came in said, ‘Come with me.’ While we were in his golf cart riding to the main terminal building he explained there was an incident in New York. After that, the whole day for me is a blur.”
In the 10 years since that whirlwind day, the way in which Americans travel by air has transformed, Miller said.
“The whole way we travel has changed,” he said. “It used to be pretty hassle-free and convenient to fly. But since (9/11) flying has become a lot more complex and even confusing, especially for leisure travelers.”
At the heart of the changes has been the complete overhaul of security for flights, prompted by the previously unprecedented nature of the attacks.
“One thing many people don’t understand is that the items the hijackers used to take over the airplanes were not prohibited at that time,” Miller said. “Box cutters, razors and things were allowed in the passenger cabin.
“And previously highjacking was used as a tool to get what (the highjacker) wanted. They would have the plane fly from place to place until the money or whatever was delivered and then they would let people go. No one ever anticipated taking over the planes as a pilot and using them as weapons, that’s how different 9/11 was.”
Now, instead of independent security agencies manning the checkpoints, the 45,000 employees of the federal Transportation Security Administration, created in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of November 2001, work to ensure passenger safety.
The Harrisburg airport had been planning a $40 million project to update its terminal building, but in the wake of the new security requirements, ventured on a roughly $75 million terminal update. The finished product, opened in 2004, was the first new terminal airport complex in the country to be designed, built and opened after 9/11, Miller said.
Changes to full-body scanners coming
The most recent additions to the airport security checkpoints, the full-body scanners, caused privacy concerns when they were installed in airports across the country in 2010.
But the machines used at Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown will be upgraded to include software that will further protect travelers’ privacy as they head through checkpoints, according to Ann Davis, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.
Automated Target Recognition software, which transforms the raw, full-body scans now used to scan passengers to stick figure-like images, is being “rolled out” to 241 airports across the country, including Harrisburg.
“There will be a monitor right at the scanner and it will be a like a stick figure, or a general outline of a person,” Davis said. “It will be the same for every man and every woman. The monitor will display a box around any anomaly or it will say OK.”
Davis was not sure when the new software will be added to the scanners at the Harrisburg airport.
No fear of travel
Travelers at Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown said they feel confident the security measures implemented since 9/11 help make the skies safer. Below are some of their thoughts:
“If you travel a lot, you know what you’re doing and can get through (security) pretty quickly . . . You just have to hope (TSA) is catching the stuff they’re supposed to.”
— Ashley Graves, formerly of New Cumberland, now living in Australia with her fiance, while sitting with her parents outside of the security checkpoint at Harrisburg International Airport.
“I fly every week for business. I flew the week after 9/11 to Phoenix and had no problems. I guess I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’. . . The only difference I notice now is with security. There haven’t been any major changes with the flight crew, the attendants, that kind of thing.”
— Van Whitlow, who works for AC Furniture in Axton, Va.
“We breeze through (security) here now, but when they were younger it was a nightmare . . . I’m happy they do the security checks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something got through.”
— Kim Wakefield, formerly of Middletown, was flying with her three young children back to her house in Manhattan Beach, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles.
The baggage basement
One of the most prevalent changes to the security measures — and most expensive, costing the Harrisburg International Airport $17 million — will never be seen by most people traveling throughout the airport.
In a basement below the main terminals, a huge green and yellow conveyor belt system takes all checked bags on a 6-minute trip through scanners and maze of twists and turns on its way to the tarmac.
Prior to 9/11, checked baggage was not scanned, said Scott Miller, director of public relations and marketing for the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which runs the Harrisburg airport. But today, all checked bags must be scanned for suspicious items.
If a bag is cleared by an initial screening, it can proceed to its destination undisturbed. But if flagged as suspicious, the bag makes its way to an area where TSA agents can conduct further scans. All cleared bags eventually make it out of the basement to a conveyer system near the tarmac to be loaded onto the plane.
With Harrisburg planning major renovations to its terminal building, the bag scanning system was not a huge hassle to install, Miller said.
“We had the room to lay all this out the right way,” he said. “In places that were already restricted in terms of space, like Orlando or Chicago, you have this kind of scanning going on in lobbies.”
Hello and goodbye
Another major change to airports is the way in which passengers and the loved one accompanying them to the airport interact.
“Before 9/11, you and I could walk through security together and I could hang out at the gate with you and see you onto the plane,” said Scott Miller, director of public relations and marketing for the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority. “Everyone had access to gates at airports.”
Today, all non-passengers must stay outside of the security checkpoint.
“Now all of that meet and greet takes place here,” said Miller, pointing to the lobby of the main terminal building.
Travelers are also more anxious about getting through security in a timely manner, often rushing through the main lobby and ticketing counters to get the security checkpoint behind them, Miller said.
On a normal day, it takes two to three minutes to get through security at the Harrisburg International Airport in Middletown, Miller said.
“On a busy day, 10 minutes tops,” he said.