Remembering 9/11 Sixteen Years Later

On 9/11 I was sitting in my office. I was fortunate not to be on the road, although several work colleagues were and it was a challenge to help them get home when planes were grounded.

The first news I heard came in the form of an email. It wasn’t on the newswires yet but I received an email from an industry list I was a part of. I still remember the subject line, “Terrorists are bombing us with airplanes.” I thought it was a joke. News was quickly coming in, much of it wrong, speculating on the aircraft types and that there could have been an accident (especially after only one plane had hit).

People cleared out of the office fairly quickly after the news broke, but my boss at the time kept me around wanting to work through budget numbers. Traffic that afternoon was terrible, worse than I’ve ever seen in DC. And the atmosphere in the city was completely surreal. I remember that my performance at work suffered somewhat those next two months.

The days that followed were just sad. I did my share of crying. The city didn’t ‘come together’ in the same way or to the same extent that I remember New York being different at the time. And I didn’t lose anyone very close to me, but friends of friends knew were in the Towers that day.

I’d bring by snacks and chocolates, other little gifts, to the agents I knew at United’s city ticket offices. There were neighborhood offices then and those are the people I knew the best.

Flying in the aftermath of 9/11 was surreal. I remember flight attendants who were genuinely scared. And when the flight attendants are scared passengers are too.

Washington National airport didn’t re-open right away. The approach path is so close to ‘important people’ and important people are always more protected. When anthrax was delivered in the mail on Capitol Hill, Hill staffers all got Cipro but Postal Service employees didn’t.

I had a ticket to fly in and out of National airport days after flights resumed, so United moved me over to Dulles but capacity was limited. I remember flying Miami – Orlando – Washington Dulles since I couldn’t get anything direct.

Average airfares after 9/11 actually rose briefly even though people were avoiding the air. Normally you think empty planes means lower prices. But dropping price wouldn’t have convinced marginal flyers into the skies. The people flying were the ones who really had to and they were less price sensitive.

Airport security was federalized. The TSA was initially part of the Department of Transportation, there was no Germanic-sounding Department of Homeland Security then. We got secondary gate screenings but could still bring liquids through checkpoints for about 5 more years. We didn’t have to take our shoes off yet.

Thanks goodness that there aren’t that many people in the United States trying to bring down aircraft. We’ve hardened airport gates around the world, making pre-security a target in places like Brussels and Instanbul, and making things other than aviation better targets.

Passengers though are our best line of defense. Before 9/11 if a plane was hijacked passengers would remain docile. We’d wait it out until terrorist demands were met, and in all likelihood most people would be ok. The equilibrium shifted and passengers now assume terrorists will bring down planes, so they aren’t going to sit idly by. That may be the most important change in aviation security over the past 16 years.

Cranky Flier shares the names of crew who lost their lives on the 4 planes taken that day. The Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund has helped aspiring pilots and in the process of fundraising created incredible experiences for frequent flyers as well. The passengers on the planes are worth remembering too of course.

We’ve had 16 years of war — both abroad and domestically — resulting from that day. Osama bin Laden is dead. The 19 hijackers died in their attempts. So-called “20th hijackers” Zacarias Moussaoui, Fawaz al-Nashimi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and others are either dead or imprisoned. And we’ve been at war to varying degrees in Afghanistan, Iraq (though there was no real connection to 9/11), and elsewhere ever since.

Each day was a reminder of 9/11 for me until I moved to the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington in 2009, because my daily commute took me right by the Pentagon. I don’t think flying was scary, or most placed I’d travel either, because I went right by the impact of 9/11 twice a day every day already.

9/11 will always be personal for many people, and I’ll forever resent those who used it for their own political or business purposes. Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia for instance, a month after 9/11, declared of the pork opportunities “It’s an open grab bag, so let’s grab.”

It saddens me to see this displayed by TSA as though they somehow own the legacy of 9/11, even if they’re on sad result of it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I was at work in Denver and left quickly to go home. My wife and I were stunned and shocked, as many were, watching things unfold. I was constantly glad that none of my NY family worked in the city any longer, my Uncle had worked for many years just blocks from the WTC.

  2. My guess is those posters are to remind the passengers why TSA is there.
    I don’t mind the presence of them. I do mind whiny passengers in my earshot complaining about every little thing they can for whatever self-serving purpose it serves.

  3. Imagine what may have been if we’d had a smart President instead of the first talk radio Preznit elected by these same nasty redneck baboons who just did it again with Trump.

    He would have listened and acted when the briefer flew to his ranch to urgently present the brief “terrorists about to attack with airplanes.”

    He would have attacked tbe actual perpetrators and not a dictztor we had held in place to keep permanent Holy War terrorism from erupting.

    But as they now teach in.the schools in our allied nations, the stupidest people on.the planet rose to both capture and destoy the US government from within, know-nothing civilization destroyers worse than any Jihadists. And we remain under armed occupation by the farthest right wing ectremists on the planet to this day.

  4. Obama caught Obama Bin Laaden, something which strangely didn’t even interest President Alfred E Neuman.

    All scholars warned that opening that Pandora’s box wouild never be fixable, that it had brought down the British Empire and Soviet Union before us. It was a fatal decision made by schemers and idiots who would never have been in office in the first place had ignorant American rednecks not rose to take power via talk radio and Faux News.

    Every one of our allies now teaches their kids in schools that this was the ruin of the American Empire. We died of stupid. A third of our population are the stupidest people on the planet, and they continue to ruin us again and again until there is soon nothing left but stupid.

  5. TSA doesn’t claim to “own” the legacy of 9/11. They ARE a legacy of 9/11.

    It’s been 16 years. Long past time to put your TSA heartburn to rest. The majority of the people there are Americans doing their part to protect America. And they do, cherry-picked Red Team results notwithstanding.

  6. I always maintained security changes were mostly unnecessary. As you correctly noted, passengers remained docile because they didn’t know what was coming.
    So what exactly was stronger security a response to? Boxcutters?

  7. The one thing that struck me about 9/11 was how the Americans willingly gave up their liberties in response to one isolated incident.
    The fact that this was done by those who the US govt called freedom fighters for many years only served to make some of us feel that this was unfortunate, but just retribution. We in India have suffered from terrorism sponsored by the Pakistanis for years. For all that time the Us govt refused to censure the Pakis and the Saudis who sponsored terrorism.
    No, I don’t condone terrorism, and don’t think that anyone deserves to die. However, a small part of me was glad that the Americans got a taste of what they have put other nations through.
    Also, I was working at the Taj Mahal Palace on 26/11 and was part of the team that cleaned up and made the hotel ready for (partial) reopening in 3 weeks. Colleagues and friends died at the hands of Pakistani, ergo, US supported terrorists
    And seriously guys, a few buildings fell, a few people died. It probably hurt Americans more because the tyranny of distance has been ensured that terrorism in the “homeland” has been domestic in nature.

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