WASHINGTON – Yolanda Williams, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) supervisor at Los Angeles International Airport, said passengers were very cooperative with the rules when she started working for the agency.
She joined the TSA in September 2002, a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of 2,977 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.
Fast forward 20 years, Williams said, and many passengers got angry with the TSA.
“Most people quickly forget that a terrorist does not have a particular look,” she said. “We dealt with the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, suicide bombers, bombs placed in printer cartridges and not to mention 9/11.
“My main goal at the end of the day is to make sure my transportation security officers work in a safe environment and return home to their families. “
What many Americans do not know is that prior to the tragic events of September 11, families could accompany their loved ones to the door without any security checks. They could wait at the front doors for minutes or hours before they arrived.
No ID was required, not while they were waiting or departing passengers were checking in. It was not necessary to remove shoes and other clothing. Laptops and other electronic devices could be left in their bags.
Air travel has hardened after four hijacked planes crashed into two World Trade Center towers, a field in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon in Washington.
Things officially changed on November 19, 2001, when President George Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Safety Act. The law demanded screening by federal officials, 100% screening of checked baggage, more federal air commissioners on flights, and reinforced cockpit doors.
President Bush wanted to make sure America would never be attacked this way again, so several other rules have been implemented over the years to keep passengers safe.
Williams said the rules have evolved for the better since 2001. Passenger screening has become the best tool because it restricts those who may have been linked to terrorism and others who have harmed the aviation system.
Williams said she believes the rules could have irritated passengers over time, but airports have also become safer.
“Every time I see a plane take off from the runway, I say to myself, ‘We did this’, knowing that we have stopped a possible danger,” she said.
Yet many air travelers find the TSA’s procedures baffling.
According to a survey of 4,000 travelers by Airline ticket watchdog, an online site for cheap airline tickets and hotel deals, 48.5% said the pre-boarding process, including check-in and security screening, was the most stressful part of air travel.
Black women werecomplaining for years of being forced to undergo intrusive and degrading searches of their hair at airport security checkpoints. After a complaint five years ago, TSA is committed to improving monitoring and training of its employees on hair palpations.
Katrice Offord-Abdallah, senior on-site operations coordinator for a financial analyst firm, said she recently had the experience on a flight from Los Angeles to Houston.
“I have locks and I usually wear my hair in a bun, and they always want to stroke it,” Offord-Abdallah said. “So I tried to solve this problem by wearing my hair down. But it didn’t work. When I used the new system used by LAX it highlighted areas of my body and since my hair is long it highlighted my chest, groin area.
“I was told they had to check these areas. I think the woman thought, because she was going to use the backs of her hands, it was less intrusive.
“I told him, ‘You’re not going to do this here in public. You ask to search me. You ask like I’m a criminal, like someone who fits the description.
“So I had to ask my teenage son to pick up our items from the conveyor belt and wait 10 minutes, then be escorted to a private room. ”
Since September 11, there have been numerous encounters with bomb threats. Just three months after September 11, Richard Reid, later known as the Shoe Bomber, attempted to ignite explosive devices hidden in his shoes on a Paris-Miami flight.
A few years later, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, attempted to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear while on an Amsterdam-Detroit flight. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Security measures have evolved due to the various threats, TSA officials said. As a result, the identification rules have been tightened. Gels and aerosols had to be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less. Shoes and other clothing had to be removed. Laptops and other electronics must have been out of the bags, and the list goes on.
With more rules, queues were longer, which meant passengers had to arrive earlier to catch their flight, in some cases up to two hours earlier.
But there is a reason for all these precautions, the agency said. TSA issued a statement earlier this year saying the number of guns it took from passengers during security checks doubled in 2020 to the highest number in the agency’s history.
TSA said it discovered 3,257 firearms on passengers or in their carry-on baggage at checkpoints. Eighty-three percent of the guns were loaded, the statement said.
Mary Turner, 85, a retiree from Dallas who flew periodically before the pandemic, said long waits at the airport bothered her the most.
“I remember the 80s and 90s,” Turner said. “I didn’t have to take anything out of my bags and I don’t remember waiting two hours. Why should I take off my shoes at an old age?
“I am grateful to the men and women of TSA as there are always threats going on, but I wish the process was smoother as the rules are always changing.”
Due to long wait times, TSA PreCheck was implemented in December 2011. It enables expedited screening of known and trusted travelers at security checkpoints, allowing TSA to focus its resources on passengers at security checkpoints. high risk and unknown, the agency said.
Victor Green, a TSA employee for four years at the Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport, said his training covered many different tactics to stay up to date with today’s terrorist.
“Terrorists don’t have a certain look anymore and they’re not just overseas,” Green said. “No situation is the same. Some passengers are irritated while others appreciate the work we are doing.
“Some passengers complain about the body scanner when the checkpoints are more intense. But in the end, the TSA has made life safer for anyone who travels across the United States. “
To commemorate the 20e anniversary of September 11, the TSA has compiled on its website stories of its officers titled “In your own words.” In these, TSA agents reflect on their whereabouts during the tragic events of that day.