SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Airports looked different on 9/11 and several days after. For the Springfield-Branson National Airport, the next flight out was 4 days after the attack. Many describe those 4 days at the airport as a ghost town.
“It just went from a full blown commercial airport busy to nothing,” Former Director of Aviation Gary Cyr said. “Those four days were attention getting that there was just nothing going on across the whole country.”
Cyr was the Assistant Director of Aviation at the time of the attacks. He was the most senior member at the airport. All Airport directors were at a conference in Montreal.
“We had a mid-morning bank, afternoon bank and evening bank at the time,” Cyr said. “That means aircrafts coming in and landing and departing, and passengers taking off. In the morning, we didn’t have aircraft there. The aircraft that was supposed to come to us got diverted to other locations, or they locked them down where they were. So for us, we did our morning activity, all the aircraft left and departed and then it started getting quiet.”
The Springfield-Branson airport started flying limited service 4 days after the attack. But, passengers were still hesitant to fly in the month of September. In In August of 2001, there was 63,502 total passengers. In September, that numbers dropped to 39,641.
“After 9/11, it took about two and a half to three years for the industry – meaning the airline industry – to recover and for folks to come back,” Springfield-Branson National Airport Public Information Officer Kent Boyd said. “It was a long, slow process.”
Passengers started flying again in October 2001, but the airport didn’t reach 63,000 passengers until July 2002. As travelers returned to the skies, things on the ground looked different.
“The military temporarily moved into a lot of airports for security,” Boy said. “That was before the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was set up. People gradually started to come back as security increased, and people started to feel more confident about traveling.”
Boyd said there was security before TSA checkpoints, but not to the degree it is now,
“The new [Springfield-Branson] terminal opened in 2009,” Boyd said.” It was one of the first brand new terminals that was built after 9/11. A lot of things are different about this building because of 9/11. The huge checkpoint wouldn’t be nearly as big as it is and wouldn’t have the power requirements that it has because of all the security equipment that it has. It wouldn’t have offices for all the federal employees that run the checkpoint.”
This was a different scene than what travelers were used to. Boyd said it takes 20 minutes on average to get through the TSA Security Checkpoint. Some days, it can take up to an hour.
“Flying [back] then was you showed up at the airport, and went through minimal screening,” Cyr said. “You didn’t have to show up an hour and a half and stand in line to go through X-ray and and raise your hands up.”
Yet, security starts the moment you purchase a plane ticket.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize as soon as their name goes into the reservation system the security process starts,” Boyd said. “Their name is run against the terrorist watchlist. When you get to the checkpoint, the TSA already knows who you are or at least their computer does.””
“[TSA] created a no fly list,” Cyr said. “If they had a list of people that were being watched, or suspect, they were added to the no fly list where they could not buy a ticket and go fly. There are some people that it got burdened with that it had a name, similar to another name,”
Security made some people feel safe about flying, but others wanted things to go back to what they used to be.
“I think there are some people who think that at an airport in Springfield, Missouri, you shouldn’t have to worry about [security] at all,” Boyd said. “But what they don’t realize is that if you can get through this checkpoint with a handgun, you then have access to the entire National Airport system. You can say, fly from this airport to Los Angeles, and you’d be inside security at the Los Angeles airport with that handgun. Conceivably, you could then fly somewhere else in the country or perhaps even overseas and not be screened again. So this check-point in Springfield Missouri is just as important as a check-point in say Chicago or New York.”
The airline industry took a major hit economically after the 9/11 attacks. Many airports started using regional jets to fly passengers in and out. But, the use of regional jets also had to do with a labor contracts with pilots.
“The industry started shifting for a host of economic reasons to smaller airplanes that carry about 50 people rather than 100 plus,” Boyd said.
Now, airlines are starting to move back to larger planes. But one thing that is here to stay is security.
“The technology has helped expedite the screening of passengers,” Cyr said. “Perhaps, as we move in the future, there’ll be even more technology that will streamline the screening process and make it quicker than than what we have now. But now, we’re not going back.”