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It’s not just convenience in an airport, 9/11 changed our relationships to place and other people.

THOSE OF US BORN BEFORE 1990 or so know that travel didn’t always feel like it does now. It’s not as evident with ground transportation, but if you fly from any major airport in the US, or anytime you fly internationally, it’s as if everything has become charged. There’s this matrix of fear and blame and guilt that didn’t exist before. Some people read about what’s happened with the TSA, people getting their shit groped, and think “that’s it, I’m not flying anymore.” Others look at what’s happened and say, “We have [insert race / nationality / foreign policy here] to blame for this.”

It seems like travel has become almost a political act in itself.

The point of recounting then, isn’t about nostalgia or romanticism or hope that things will ever return the way they were. It’s about memory. The US has a short national memory. This is about fighting a little bit against forgetting.

Things we miss about travel before 9/11*

    1. Not needing a passport just to go to visit Canada from the US, and vice versa.

    2. Not having to remove your laptop.

    3. Leaving your shoes on when going through security.

    4. Not having to worry about your stuff getting stolen while it’s all spread out during security.

    5. Not having notes left by TSA in your luggage advising you that they’d done a hand-inspection because they saw something suspicious.

    6. Not having to get to the airport three hours before an international flight whenever it touches the United States, even if it’s a layover.

    7. Not having TSA agents yelling directions as if you were a schoolkid or inmate.

    8. Being able to use the airplane bathroom on flights between NY and Washington, DC.

    9. Not being prompted to think “nothing could go wrong on this flight, right?”

    10. Not having to worry about being pulled off a flight for having a “suspicious conversation” in a boarding queue.

    11. Not having to use TSA-approved locks (which are unavailable in many places outside of the US).

    12. Not having to balance a kid on your hip while trying to put your shoes / your child’s shoes on, then stuffing your laptop and stuff back into your carry-on, so you can then uncap all your kid’s bottles so the TSA agent can wave a piece of paper over them to test for illicit substances.

    13. Not having to worry if the body scanner is giving you brain cancer.

    14. Not having to watch as some elderly person in a wheelchair, probably a WWII veteran, has footwear removed for him, then his ass rolled through the scanners by TSA inspectors who don’t fall over and die from shame.

    15. Not having my family sit with your at the gate and wave you off as you board.

    16. Not having to stand by helplessly while your darker-skinned travel companion gets “randomly selected” to have her belongings searched.

    17. Not having to hear her calmly say “it’s okay, it’s okay” when her best friend, who has seen this happen to her multiple times over the last 3 months, starts to loudly question the randomness of their selection.

    18. Not hearing endless loops of security warnings about terror threat levels, unattended bags being destroyed, etc.

    19. Having your partner’s family members from Argentina, Uruguay “allowed” to visit you in the US without a (now nearly impossible to get) travel visa.

    20. Not having immigrations officials question you exhaustively upon reentry to the US about the whereabouts and “purposes” of your travels abroad.

    21. Not having to sit in a host family’s living room and attempt to explain US foreign policy.

    22. Not feeling an urge to conceal your identity as an American traveler.

___________

*compiled by Matador editors.

What do you miss about travel before 9/11? Please share in the comments below.

World Events

 

About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • Peter

    Being able to bring a full size tube of toothpaste or toiletries with you on a long trip while not having to pay to bring it along.

  • Elaine Summerhill

    1) I miss my husband meeting me after a long flight at the gate.
    2) I miss keeping my shoes on
    3) I miss the civility that people used to have
    4) I miss my privacy & dignity, which is constantly violated by the Federal government’s agents: TSA, etc.
    5) I miss the lack of fear, much of which is a direct result of the Federal government’s actions post 9-11.

    As far as I’m concerned, the terrorists have won based upon the government’s actions post 9-11.   

    • Hector

      Exactly.

    • Kyle

      Actually I found out from an airline forum reading posts from the year 2000 that people were being harassed by the rent a cops for just taking their camera out in the Terminal to photograph an airplane doing it’s landing procedures.

      Also right before 9/11 many airports mysteriously closed their doors to the observation decks so you couldn’t go outside for *security reasons* which is rather vauge.

      • lizzie

        wow.

  • TripsTravel

    Not having to get a full body search because the underwire in your bra set off the metal detector.

  • Zoopickle

    I miss empty seats so I could lie down on long-hauls..also miss nice flight attendants, who couldn’t do enough to make your short or long journey more comfortable…no one cares about the passengers anymore…everyone is rude, and the trips are all about gorging the paying public

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506560697 Michael Trussler

    As an infrequent, but grateful and happy traveler I’m always anxious that I won’t be on the receiving end of any of the worst TSA inspections, but – particularly in the last 2 or 3 years, I’ve invariably found the agents very friendly. Of course when traveling I always make a practice of being on my absolute best behavior – go out of my way to be kind and polite and gracious and above all make a genuine connection with the people involved in my passage – from check-in desk to flight crew to security people – greet and treat people as if they’re an old friend and you rarely get rebuked. That’s something I’ve learned from living in the midwest of the US – a certain old-world casualness to interacting with strangers. Take a flight from a midwest airport and some genuine friendliness and a relaxed and happy attitude gets you everywhere. It’s a real antidote to how everyone expects everyone else to behave, and I find it comes easy. Air travel still thrills me, even when it’s complicated and difficult and draining – a sunny morning in a bright airy departure lounge with a few minutes til boarding is heaven for me; if you can keep that child-like delight at knowing you’ll soon be above the clouds then the inconveniences of the security line fade and their over-worked staff are then dealing with happy, easy people.

    Things’ll never be how they were – the only response is to be all you can and make an extra effort to be the change you want to see – calm, happy, helpful and friendly, looking to make everyone’s day a little better. 

    • Jessica

      While friendliness can most definitely get you friendliness in return it’s always much easier being white in the US, even more so when flying in/out of the US.  If you happen to be white I think you’re deluding yourself if you believe that it’s only your friendliness and great manners that are according you a more comfortable airport experience.  It’s hard for me to want to maintain friendliness towards a government and people (the ones that choose not to be friendly or professional while doing their job) working for them  when I see people “randomly” selected for more intrusive searches and the majority selected seem to be “randomly” not white.  So while I agree that the world overall could benefit from strangers treating one another with more friendliness and politeness I do not agree that we should just remain silent about the wrongs of our country. 

      For the record I am white and American and thus been afforded the luxury of only being witness to “random” searches even thought I travel fairly regularly.  I agree things will never be how they were but that doesn’t mean we should give our government a free pass to continue to erode our rights and privacy under the guise of making us safer.  I believe we are doing ourselves and our country a disservice by striving to remain polite in the face of so many things that are wrong and improper.  Like Niemöller said, first they came for “insert not you here” and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t…  

  • Troubled

    I agree with #15, but the rest of them, and especially #22, are sad. No matter what Bush and Obama have done to tarnish our image abroad you should never be ashamed to be an American. And if you are, I feel sorry for you because you obviously are not grateful for everything we have been blessed with here.

    • http://miller-david.com david miller

      agree.

      never think of it as ‘shame’.

      it’s more just like confusion.

      • Troubled

        Actions speak louder than words. I have worked with hundreds of people in foreign countries and changed their minds about the US because of my compassion and positive actions. We can’t repair our image abroad by concealing our nationality. You have to lack a conscience, or at the very least a heart, to deny where you came from.

        • http://miller-david.com david miller

          the scenario of trying to bring some stoke / perspective to ppl from other cultures that americans ‘aren’t all bad’, that we’re ppl just like everyone else – is very familiar to me. i’ve done it for years as well.

          i don’t deny where i’m from.

          and yet i honestly feel that for many young americans, sense of one’s identity has little to do with place.

          place / ‘heritage’ will have less and less meaning over time.

          i don’t view this as right or wrong, it’s just the reality of ppl living, essentially, ‘on the internet.’

          • Troubled

            So you don’t deny being an American, but you just feel like you should (because America is inherently evil). Yeah, I get it.

      • Jensen

        What is there to be confused or ashamed about as American? Is it the fact that we have done more good (both in wartime efforts or in charity) in the world since its inception? The fact that anyone with a strong work ethic and desire can make it big through America’s economic opportunities? How about the freedom of speech and unreasonable searches and seizures. David and Charlie’s comments are not only progressive, but childish and just flat our false.

    • Charlie

      You have to be oblivious or lack a conscience to not be ashamed.

      • Exosus Areus

        I’m not ashamed. I recognize the stupidity of a lot of things we do and have done, and I think it’s important to acknowledge our fallibility, but shame? Hardly.

    • Bryon

      Not ashamed of my Country, just sad in the way we do certain things. Its the pride that keeps me moving through the lines, no matter how many times I get pulled for the screening. Vote to change the people that make these things happen not complain to the company that enforces it.  The obvious resentment that so many people have for the TSA, I feel makes it more traumatic for children. 

    • MG

      “Troubled” is probably a perfect description, if you think that being American is something to be proud of. Perhaps you should travel to other parts of the world and see how the world views this country. It’s not without cause. Wake up.

      • Troubled

        If you had taken the time to read my posts you would know that I have traveled to other parts of the world, probably more than you. And I don’t go there to get drunk in ex-pat bars, I actually work with local people. Of course I know the world hates America. But just because we are hated doesn’t mean we can’t be proud. Don’t worry I’ll stand up for the both of us and show them some Americans are good, since you are obviously gutless.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Berliner/1155678134 Dan Berliner

      Agreed. It seems to be a common trend to dislike being from America when you yourself are an American. If you hate being an American there are other countries you can live in.

  • Bill H.

    David, you are so right about the ‘random’ searches. My Polish wife gets searched nearly every time. Even though she took my (American) last name, I guess they still see the K in her first name where it would be a C. And now traveling with our son, who also has a Polish first name, gets us flagged every time. I have never been randomly selected when traveling alone. Funny.

  • http://www.abhiroopbasu.com/ Abhiroop Basu

    It’s funny, but most people of my colour and with my passport always had to go through such stringent searches. The only difference after 9/11 was the fact that it was a great equaliser in terms of security screening and questioning

    .”Not having to stand by helplessly while your darker-skinned travel companion gets “randomly selected” to have her belongings searched.” Nothing has changed for me.

    “Having your partner’s family members from Argentina, Uruguay “allowed” to visit you in the US without a (now nearly impossible to get) travel visa.” Again people only realised that there was such a thing as a “visa” for the rest of us.

  • Noreply

    I used to work for an airline, and I always enjoyed the implicit trust passengers had in us, even when they didn’t know how freely we could circulate in and out of the secured areas. I felt responsible.

    After 9/11, TSA started treating airline employees as potential criminals. We felt like schoolchildren as a result.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Iam-Wendy/100002138363206 Iam Wendy

    I miss not having to choose being molested and/or being coerced into allowing some anonymous Peeping Tom see me naked or flying.  I choose not flying.  Hello auto, hello Amtrak.

  • MG

    I’m an American citizen who has spent most of the past seven years living and travelling through Europe, so I have a bit of a dodgy accent. I get detained and questioned each time I return to the states, solely based on my accent and my desire to travel. This country’s policies are an abolute joke. Because of the way I pronounce my words, I am considered a threat. “Here, let me try to like make that more American like for you like….dude…” Would that let me through easily?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=728613930 Tracy Askew

    I miss not having to make sure I’m not dressed to “ethnically”
    I miss not having to check that I’m acting “normal” even if I’m anxious about missing my flight, sick, nervous about the weather, etc.)
    I miss seeing the lines of people greet their loved ones at the gate
    I miss the TSA agents that actually smiled when you came up to them
    I miss not having to see military with large weapons staring trying to figure out my ethnicity(happens all the time to me)
    I miss not being able to carry my full size hair products (3 oz on my hair!?)
    I miss not having my lipgloss scrutinized.
    I could go on for days.

  • Patrick

    This is easily the worse article I’ve ever read on Matador. While I agree with every point, this article could just as easily be: “Things we miss about traveling before 9/11″
    1) Airports with less hassle.

  • Danielle Conkle Roesmann

    I think #15 “Not having my family sit with you at the gate and wave you off as you board” is a big one. I loved being a part of (and witnessing) the meet and greets when people were arriving and departing.

    • Eric Conkle

      I remember seeing dad off at the airport, waiting with him at the gate, watching the plane pull out, and take off. It’s sad that can’t happen anymore.

  • Roger Gauthier

    I miss not having to read ignorant, misinformed, lunatic rumblings like yours

  • Tim Thomas

    Only in America. Land of the free. What a freaking country.

  • Kyle Hill

    I vote to remove airport security screening period and just have police officers with K-9 dogs stand by only for crowd control and also allow flight stewerds, stewerdess be armed with mace and/or peppry spray so they have a decent chance of taking control of a hostage situation once the nearest suspect provides the SLIGHTEST opening.

    Airports should only have said police officers only for when people get rowdy in long lines like going to the cinemas and also have the offciers armed with mace and pepper spray when fights break out which will happen sooner or later.

    The reason why terrorist haven’t struck again is due to passenger awarness of such tactics which accounts for more then all the security in the world.

  • Kyle Hill

    I vote to remove airport security screening period and just have police officers with K-9 dogs stand by only for crowd control and also allow flight stewerds, stewerdess be armed with mace and/or peppry spray so they have a decent chance of taking control of a hostage situation once the nearest suspect provides the SLIGHTEST opening.

    Airports should only have said police officers only for when people get rowdy in long lines like going to the cinemas and also have the offciers armed with mace and pepper spray when fights break out which will happen sooner or later.

    The reason why terrorist haven’t struck again is due to passenger awarness of such tactics which accounts for more then all the security in the world.

  • Kyle Hill

    Did I mention also to allow pilots to be armed with tasers? If pilots were allowed to be armed with guns back in the 1970s the scary hijackings back then would’ve been stopped short.

    The 1970s were actually a FAR SCARIER time then today for travel as every year had at least one if not more hijackings and plane crashes which government officals were getting concerned on what to do if negotiations were to fail and hijackers gre3w desperate.

    It’s just that the news choose not to hype it up or we would’ve had TSA style security back in the 80s.

    Does anybody know why in the 90s they didn’t slowly roll out keyless cockpit entries? It would’ve been a pilots dream come true where each airline slowly test the new feature out which would store biometric data from their thumbs and the stewardess would not need a key.

    They could make the door open from the inside in case of a power failure since one pilot had to be in at any time.

  • Kyle Hill

    Sorry for triple posting but it’s the only alternative to a long wall of unreadable text. As usual. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

    Does anybody know why in the 90s they didn’t slowly roll out keyless cockpit entries? It would’ve been a pilots dream come true where each airline slowly test the new feature out which would store biometric data from their thumbs and the stewardess would not need a key.

    They could make the door open from the inside in case of a power failure since one pilot had to be in at any time.

  • Kyle

    1. I miss security actually harassing innocent people for photographing on airport property instead of checking people’s baggage as photographing is not illegal in a public access area unless stated otherwise.

    2. I miss how all the US airport’s started blocking access to observation decks for no reason in the year 1999 with notices on the door saying “This area is restricted for security reasons* Makes me wonder if the airports knew something was up but not telling anybody?

    3. I miss how expensive flights were before 9/11.

    4. I miss it when people could actually have a discussion on the internet about conspiracy theories without name calling each other and derailing the topic.

    All that has changed since 9/11 and despite all that from reading other pilot stories there never actually was any official hijack alert.

    The only way pilots knew anything was from the ATC chatter that something big was going on that day.

    Usually during any sort of hijacking the first thing a pilot does is go to the hijack frequency and all pilots will know it. Also turning off the transponders does NOT hide an airplane from radar. Only it’s altitude and heading which will be the only plane without one listed on the map.

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