The Jet Age (1958 - Today)

Airline Security

Security measures to protect airliners from hijacking and terrorism began in the 1960s and increased to unprecedented levels after September 11, 2001.

As flying grew increasingly popular, airlines became attractive targets for hijackers and terrorists. The hijacking of a National Airlines jet to Havana, Cuba, in 1961 sparked a decade-long rash of similar acts. By the late 1960s, political terrorists had attacked airliners and airports to draw attention to their causes.

In response, the FAA placed armed sky marshals aboard airliners. In 1973 it began using metal detectors and x-ray machines to search for weapons and explosives. Despite such measures, airlines remained vulnerable.

Baggage Search
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Combating Hijackings and Terrorism

In the 1980s, the FAA and the airlines instituted further security measures:

  • Searching the interior of every of airliner before the first flight each day.
  • Guarding aircraft while on the ground.
  • Inspecting the property of all maintenance and support personnel.
  • Matching checked baggage with the names of passengers.

Questioning passengers to ensure they have not accepted packages from strangers.

September 11, 2001

On September 11, terrorists hijacked four airliners and used them to kill more than 3,000 people. Two airliners destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York, a third slammed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and the fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania after its passengers courageously fought back.

These terrorist attacks, the most deadly in U.S. history, caused even more extensive security measures to be imposed upon airports, airlines, and air travelers.

Department of Homeland Security Logo
Department of Homeland Security

In response to September 11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of November 2001. TSA soon took over airport security and installed a new federal workforce to screen passengers and baggage. TSA became part of the newly formed Department of Homeland Security in 2003.