September 11, 2001 can be considered as one of the darkest days in American security. Two hijacked planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This act of terrorism blamed on Al Qaeda changed airport security and how we fly.
Airport Security Since 9/11
Before 9/11, airport security only involved a metal detector. Since that terror attack, many changes have been implemented in airports. Security was tightened to make sure that there will be no repeat of the World Trade Center incident that killed tens of thousands of people.
First major change was the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in November 2001. The agency was tasked to take over all the security functions of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airlines, and airports. Here are the changes that the TSA implemented:
One of the biggest changes implemented by the TSA is the installation of bulletproof and locked cockpit doors. Most aircraft doors nowadays are steel reinforced to prevent unauthorized access. Passengers are no longer allowed to enter the cockpit during flight.
In addition, aircraft are now equipped with CCTV cameras allowing the pilots to monitor cabin activity. Another important security improvement in the aircraft is that pilots are now allowed to carry firearms provided that they are trained and licensed. US air marshals have now been assigned in flights to improve security.
Before September 11, 2001, private security companies manned airport screening. With the takeover by TSA, full security checks were introduced. While the TSA wanted immediate implementation, it took 1 to 2 years to implement as some terminals were still not prepared for the new changes.
On the day of the terror attack, hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawal al-Hazmi, and Salem al_hazmi were able to pass through security screening. They were scanned by a metal detector but security camera footage later showed that they had box cutters clipped on their back pockets. Box cutters and small knives were still allowed on board the plane during that time.
Since 2001, airport security screening had significantly improved. Security personnel was also thoroughly trained in weapons or explosive detection. Aside from that, most airports now utilize full-body scanning machines aside from the standard metal detectors. With the new technology, passengers are screened with millimeter wave technology to check for possible hidden weapons or explosives.
At first, these scanners became controversial because the images produced by the machines were deemed graphic and intrusive. Many passengers considered it as an invasion of personal privacy. These machines showed the naked body of each passenger.
The TSA made improvements on these scanners. Now they only alert screeners of areas of the body where an unknown item or substance may be hidden. The passenger will then be inspected manually by security screeners.
During the investigation, it was discovered that some of the hijackers did not have proper identification but were still allowed to board because it was a domestic flight. After 9/11, passengers who are more than 18 years old need to present a valid government-issued identification to be allowed on board. Aircraft may check the ID of passengers at any time to ensure that details on the ID match those on the printed boarding pass.
Only during extreme circumstances will passengers be allowed to fly without an ID. In such cases, the passenger will be subjected to further screening of their personal and carry-on items. However, the TSA has no capability to conduct background checks on passengers at checkpoints. There are sensitive areas in the airport that are restricted to the general public. Known as the Security Identification Display Area (SIDA), these areas require special qualifications to gain entry.