Travelers forced to comply with tightened security
Two displays at the Grand Junction Regional Airport offer a visual on what travelers can and can’t pack in their carry-on bags. The “yes” bin shows a 3.4-ounce container of liquid in a quart-sized, clear plastic bag. The “no” bin is packed with items most likely confiscated from travelers: a container of jam, a bottle of Gatorade, and large containers of perfume and sunscreen. Pocket knives and other sharp objects also are forbidden.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, airline travelers have been forced to comply with an increasing amount of security measures. Shoes, coats, belts and anything metal must be removed, prompting passengers to practically get dressed again after navigating security lines. Laptop computers must be taken out of their cases, and all carry-on bags are scrutinized by agents peering at the contents on scanner screens.
“It’s like the hour from hell if you’re flying with your children,” said Alana Ammons of Grand Junction.
Ammons recently boarded a flight to Texas with her children, ages 2 and 4. Getting some of their outer clothing on and off again, as well as her own, was tricky, she said.
“Getting to the gate is worse than the flight,” she said.
It was in direct response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that the Transportation Security Administration was created as an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and tasked with tightening and standardizing security nationally at commercial airports.
Security also was bolstered on airplanes to include bulletproof cockpit doors and an increased number of air marshals on flights. For about a year after 9/11, armed members of the National Guard were stationed at airports across the country, including in Grand Junction. They were trained to look for bombs and suspicious activity, airport employees recall.
Rex Tippetts, now manager of Grand Junction’s airport, worked as manager of Gunnison County Airport in 2001.
After the attacks, the Gunnison airport installed a blast fence the length of the terminal in an attempt to defray a possible bomb blast. The airport closed for about a week directly following the attacks to give officials time to access the security for all passengers and workers.
“We were pretty much working around the clock before we could open again,” Tippetts said. “Nobody really knew what to do. We’ve seen so many changes over the last 10 years. Since 9/11 the whole world’s changed.”
About 50 TSA employees work out of the Grand Junction airport, but those employees also work at other airports across the Western Slope, Tippetts said.
Members of the Airport Authority Board said they were required to increase security and had a plan approved by the TSA to build a wildlife fence around most of the airport’s perimeter, hangars and businesses in the general-aviation section.
Employees and general-aviation tenants now must wear badges to access secure areas.
The airport also is expected to receive a full-body scanner to screen passengers. Tippetts said he doesn’t know the timeline on when it will arrive, but the airport’s security section will have to be remodeled to account for the machine.
Requiring passengers to jump through more hoops to board a commercial flight has been a mixed bag, Tippetts said.
“Right after 9/11, we hardly heard any complaints. People were pretty patient in security lines,” he said. “I think the business traveler has learned to adapt to it. Are they happy with it? No. The infrequent traveler is horrified by what’s going on.”