Nine years of 9/11s – a September 11th retrospective

Am I the only journalist who hasn’t penned a Sept. 11 retrospective this morning? Or, at the very least, posted some memorable 9/11 quotes or photos online?

No, I’m sure there are others out there. What else can be said about terrorism, travel, the 9/11 memorial, that hasn’t already been said?

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Maybe it’s an unspoken desire for Sept. 11 to become just another day, for everything to go back to the way it was before. (Not likely to happen next year, which will be the 10th anniversary of the terrorist event.)

I haven’t written anything profound this year, but I wanted to point you to someone who has. My colleague Charlie Leocha has updated his unsung heroes tribute, which argues that flight attendants and, to some extent, airline passengers have been silent victims of 9/11. It’s worth a read.

But I’ve written about 9/11 in the past.

A year after the 9/11 attacks, I penned a controversial column that argued the event had actually saved business travel.

Before Sept. 11, travel represented the second-largest controllable expense behind payroll for companies. Businesses struggled to contain costs — airfares, lodging and meals — as the economy receded, even when employees complained that the overall travel experience was becoming intolerable.

Today, businesses have successfully cut costs while the travel industry is reducing prices and improving service. A recent survey by the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) found that 65% of companies had reduced expenses from 2000 levels. One-third said they spent 10% less than they did two years ago.

In other words, the disasters of Sept. 11 forced a series of important concessions from a travel industry that had previously proved unwilling to budge.

Looking back, that was probably true, but coming just a year after the tragedy, it was a message no one wanted to hear. I can’t blame them.

The 9/11 anniversary has also given me an opportunity to look ahead. Here’s what I wrote back in 2006. It’s a forward-looking piece that predicts what we’ll be doing on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Two predictions ring particularly true:

Everything — I mean everything — will be extra. Want to check in a bag on your next flight? That’ll be $20. Oh, wait, it’s over 50 pounds? That’ll be $50. Soft drinks: $5 a pop. Aisle seats? Another $20. Want advance seat assignments? That’ll be another $20. Bottom line: Airlines will charge extra for anything they can. Pillows, blankets, magazines — you name it. Hard times have turned airlines into penny-pinching Grinches.

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And here’s the other one.

There will be only three “major” airlines. There’s been talk of industry consolidation for ages now, but the next five years could finally see it happen. The number of so-called “major” carriers — not including Southwest — currently stands at six. Two are flying under bankruptcy protection. But let’s not credit terrorists for that. The airlines were just badly managed.

By 2008, I was done with the tributes and memorializing. I told all those exploiting the holiday to shut up.

“To those of you turning 9/11 into a sequel to Shark Week, I say: shut up,” I wrote. Then I went after the Air Transport Association (a favorite target of mine) Perez Hilton and I even threw in a conspiracy theory.

Perhaps that was a little harsh.

Last year, my 9/11 retrospective simply asked What if?

What if 9/11 never happened?

What if the terrorists were stopped at the airport that day? What kind of a world would we live in now?

How would we travel?

Would the travel industry be in crisis eight years later?

What do you think? What does 9/11 mean to you?