ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardAboutSearch
Show and Features | Deal of the Week-Travel Update |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

9/11 and Flying
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

You may have heard that several airlines have been canceling some Sept. 11th flights, citing a lack of demand for tickets. So, we thought now might be a good time to revisit some of the flying issues that have cropped up since 9/11. Are security changes making flying safer, or only more difficult? What can an anxious flyer to do relieve worries about taking to the air? And will the country's major airlines ever return to profitability? We asked The Savvy Traveler's Rudy Maxa for some help.

If you've flown lately, you might wonder what the airlines are complaining about, since an empty middle seat is about as rare as a frequent-flyer award ticket to Paris. But that's because airlines have cut back on schedules to increase the number of passengers on each plane. In the first 6 months of last year, for example, United carried more than 40 million passengers; in the first 6 months of this year, the number was less than 33 million. A lot of that is due to last Sept. 11, but the economy has led to a reduction in business travel, too, and those tickets produce the revenue that allow airlines to make money.

Since late last September, I've flown exactly 91 flights, and I argue that the inconvenience factor of new security rules has been grossly exaggerated, especially in the last 9 months. By one important measure, flying is easier now: the cutback in the number of flights has improved the on-time performance of all airlines.

    Let's run a checklist:
  • Is security better than it was a year ago?
    Yes, carry-on luggage screeners are paying more attention to what's on their screen. But as investigators have found, obvious stuff, like knives and guns, still slips through. Some of the restrictions on carry-on items are silly -- a bad guy can do as much damage with a sturdy, sharp pen as with a corkscrew. There are sky marshals aboard less than 3 percent of the nation's flights, and not much checked luggage is screened due to lack of equipment. Passengers, however, are more attuned to security issues, as evidenced by the thwarting of the shoe bomber on that American Airlines trans-Atlantic flight.

  • Is a "trusted flyer" card the answer for speeding some passengers through security?
    Not if it can be as easily duplicated as a driver's license...Biometrics or fingerprint matching would be better, but we're a long way away from that.

  • What if your airplane is idling on a tarmac and you're suddenly seized with a panic attack, and want to disembark?
    There's no rule saying a plane must return to the gate, but if you're really a wreck, the captain may authorize it. Keep in mind, though: you may be met by police when you get off the plane.

  • What can you do to put your mind at ease if you're wary of flying, but find it's unavoidable?
    Even considering the deaths on the four planes commandeered by hijackers last September, commercial flying is statistically safer than it has ever been. And, I always keep this in mind: I'm statistically more likely to perish by slipping in a bathtub, getting struck by lightning, or by getting kicked in the head by a donkey than by flying aboard a commercial plane.

There are courses that aim to conquer the fear of flying, or "aviophobia," and I'll list a couple below. Most folks, though, are just mildly nervous, and for them I prescribe a dose of common sense. As for the question of when airline profits will return, remember: The airline industry never encountered a disaster like it did on Sept. 11, so making that kind of prediction is futile. But given that the world has come to depend on airplanes, at some point, profitability must return.

From The Savvy Traveler, I'm Rudy Maxa for Marketplace.

To Read More of The Savvy Traveler On Marketplace

Web sources to combat fear of flying:

"Flight To Freedom": http://www.fearofflying.net

"Fearless Flying": http://fearlessflying.com

The "SOAR" course: http://www.fearofflying.com

You can read - and hear - more from Rudy and company at SavvyTraveler.org!

Search Savvy Traveler

| E-mail | Privacy | © Copyright 2001, Minnesota Public Radio