Take a Ride in the Airline Time Machine

As the grieving continued, air travel was suddenly changing for all of us. On Oct. 1, JetBlue said "We will not let our spirit be broken" while Southwest tackled the underlying issue: "We know that you may be asking the question, 'Should I fly by air?'" After the horrors of 9/11, many stayed home and the airlines felt it. American, which had taken over TWA that April, said a final goodbye to the fabled carrier on Dec. 1. There would be other carrier casualties.

But of immediate concern for passengers was security. TSA didn't even have a website until 2002 (it didn't exist until late Nov. of 2002) so it was up to the airlines to alert travelers to security dos and don'ts on their web pages and they did a pretty good job. JetBlue told its readers "no cutting instruments of any kind and composition" and urged passengers to get to the airport two hours early. Removing our footwear wouldn't take place routinely until well after would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid attempted to bring down an American flight in December of 2001 but it's still with us today.

After 9/11, the airlines limped along for a while with empty seats and falling prices until they hit on capacity cutting as a survival tool, and ultimately the financial sector recovered, too. But over the roar of a revving economy came the sound of a sudden crash. The recession of 2008 was on.

Website headlines, courtesy of another time machine - Washington, D.C.'s Newseum - screamed "Financial Meltdown" and debated the $700 billion bailout. Later WayBack snapshots zeroed in on the automaker bailouts (remember those tone-deaf those CEOs, seeking handouts even as they flew to D.C. on private jets?).

It wasn't long before people started cutting back on vacations prompting airfare steals like that $400 round-trip ticket to Ireland. Crises mean cheap fares, but this time the airlines had another trick up their sleeves: Fees.

American Airlines actually entered this arena a little earlier. Anyone visiting aa.com in May, 2008 saw an innocuous-sounding announcement about "Updated Checked Bag Policies" but that phrase hid a bombshell: American had just become the first major carrier to institute a first checked-bag fee ($15, but it soon went up). Once the recession hit, most of the others joined in and the fee frenzy (think of Frontier's $2 sodas) has continued to this day.

I love time machines. I expect future generations will too. Maybe by the time 2113 rolls around, my great, great grandchildren will be grousing about Virgin Galactic charging $14 million for a flight to Mars. I don't even want to think about the bag fees.

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.

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