JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Lynn Dudish, of Johnstown, had been operating a successful travel agency for more than 10 years when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sent shockwaves through the nation and the airline industry.
“It turned our business upside down,” Dudish recalled this week in a telephone interview. “The government shut us down for two to three weeks. Nobody was allowed to travel.”
In addition to processing refunds for those whose upcoming trips were canceled, Dudish and her staff at the former Carlson Wagonlit Good News Travel Agency were busy dealing with people who were stranded away from home by the shutdown.
“We are trying to rent them cars – anything to get them home,” she said. “They wanted to be with family, which was understandable.”
At the same time, Dudish was chairwoman of the American Red Cross Keystone Chapter.
“A lot of the time, I was in Shanksville,” she said. “I was going to my office at night, trying to back up what my staff was unable to finish. They were long days and nights, trying to keep the agency afloat.”
Although airlines gradually resumed operations, the response to 9/11 has had a profound effect on airports, airlines and travelers ever since. New rules at screening checkpoints created further restrictions on what could be carried onto planes.
“Security lines were incredibly long because nobody knew what they were doing,” Dudish recalled. “Passengers were unsure about what you could bring on board.”
‘Allow more time’
Local business leaders Ed Sheehan Jr. and William Polacek have seen the transition through their own frequent trips, but also through the logistics of company employee travel.
Sheehan is president and CEO of Concurrent Technologies Corp. and Polacek is president and CEO of JWF Industries. Both were interviewed during breaks at this week’s Showcase for Commerce in Johnstown.
“It took a good two years for people to even feel comfortable flying,” Polacek said. “Most were driving instead of flying.”
Security delays sometimes required businesspeople to leave meetings early to catch their flights, he said.
“You had to allow more time,” Polacek said. “There is no such thing as holding a flight anymore.”
Most people were patient with the increased surveillance in the months following 9/11, Sheehan said.
“As time moved forward, people became less patient,” he said. “They become more anxious.”
Passengers have become more aware of what can go through screening, reducing some of the delays.
“The public has just gotten used to it,” said Raymond Porsch, Johnstown businessman and former member of the Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority.
In addition, the Transportation Security Administration’s TSA PreCheck and the U.S. Customs Service Global Entry program allow frequent fliers to bypass the lines, “speeding things up for everyone,” Porsch said.
A five-year membership costs $85 for TSA PreCheck or $100 for Global Entry. Either membership allows travelers to use the PreCheck screening line, while Global Entry helps international travelers reduce the time in customs.
“That gets me in and out of the country really fast,” Porsch said. “I am through customs in about 10 to 15 minutes.”
‘Name of safety’
Screening processes represent a fundamental change in the approach to security. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks described the flaws that allowed 19 terrorists to board four commercial aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Federal rules required air carriers ‘to conduct screening … to prevent or deter the carriage aboard airplanes of any explosive, incendiary, or a deadly or dangerous weapon on or about each individual’s person or accessible property, and the carriage of any explosive or incendiary in check baggage,’ ” the commission’s preliminary findings read.
“At the (passenger) checkpoint, metal detectors were calibrated to detect guns and large knives … In most instances, these screening operations were conducted by security companies under contract with the responsible air carrier.”
“All they were worried about was guns,” Polacek said. “It has created a whole new dynamic.”
Business leaders and most travelers have accepted the changes as necessary to protect the public and the nation, Sheehan said.
“It was all in the name of safety,” he said.