How Terrorism Has Changed Air Travel and Security

Terrorist attacks and attempts prompt authorities to adjust airline security.

ByABC News via GMA logo
December 27, 2009, 10:52 AM

Dec. 27, 2009 — -- The security routine has become just another part of flying these days: We take off our shoes, remove our belts and empty our pockets. The TSA inspects our toiletries.

Now, thanks to the latest apparent very close call aboard a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas day, there's more to come.

Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Northwest Airlines bombing suspect, allegedly had explosives sewn into his underwear powerful enough to bring down the aircraft. The materials went undetected by airport security, and it's only because of a failed detonator that the passengers and crew survived.

So they didn't check his underwear.

Well, obviously. They don't check anybody's underwear. At least not the way they check, say, shoes. Even for those many thousands of us who are made to assume the position for random body scan, the TSA inquiry doesn't go fully private. For which all of us, no doubt, are relieved.

Or, at least, we were. Because what if that guy succeeded? Somewhere, right now, someone in authority has got to be considering yet another adjustment to the screening process.

In fact, they already have. Expect more security pat-downs and scrutiny before reaching the plane's gate. International travelers will be confined to their seats for the last hour of flights. They're even going to limit personal items that can be in passengers' laps.

Everyone seems to know about it from the movies and television, but there probably aren't many passengers left anymore who actually experienced air travel when men wore ties and the encumbrances of security were completely non-existent.

"Please fasten your seat belt."

That's as intrusive as it got -- until the hijacking era, when terrorists began leading us through a series of lessons on where the holes are, and we followed.

On Sept. 6, 1970, Palestinian hijackers attempted to take control of three airplanes and land them in the desert in Jordan. Days later, during a tense standoff, the hijackers blew up the aircraft after removing the passengers.

The burned plane was the visual culmination of nearly a decade of gunmen commandeering aircraft as bargaining chips or simply to get somewhere. This is why metal detectors came in to wide use for good.