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9/11 terrorist attacks changed the face of airport security in U.S., Montana

The 9/11 attacks completely and likely permanently changed how we fly. And as we found out, there’s no going back.
Missoula TSA Checkpoint
Posted at 5:32 PM, Sep 11, 2023

MISSOULA - Americans are marking 22 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and forever changed this country.

Even if you weren’t alive back then, that day completely and likely permanently changed how we fly. And as we found out, there’s no going back.

Missoula Montana Airport Director Brian Ellestad was a dispatcher for a small airline when the 9/11 attacks occurred and one of his planes was in New York.

“We actually had a plane on approach to LaGuardia that day at exactly the same time, and they saw the plane go into the tower. And we don't have the tech then like we have today, so we were frantically searching for the plane but luckily, we found it safe on the ground in LaGuardia."

Brian Ellestad
Missoula Montana Airport Director Brian Ellestad was a dispatcher for a small airline when the 9/11 attacks occurred and one of his planes was in New York.

That moment didn’t deter him from a career in aviation. He’s now he’s in charge of Missoula’s airport with its newly designed terminal with the latest security measures that screen for dangers — te kind that didn't seem necessary 22 years ago.

“It used to be box cutters and small knives can go on board. And security was more behind the scenes,” Ellestad explained. “Anybody could go through security whether they had a ticket or not. And that all changed that day.”

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokeswoman Lorie Dankers says she knows some travelers get frustrated with all the rules before boarding a plane. But today is the day to remember why.

“And we actually have a shared common interest and goal and that is to get everyone safely and securely,” Dankers. “We know that the people on 9/11 who boarded those planes intended to have that happen. And it didn’t.”

Lorie Dankers
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lorie Dankers says that the technology behind security at the nation's airports will continue to evolve.

Dankers notes that technology will continue to evolve with things that could include mobile IDs, or facial recognition to keep threats out of the air by making sure they never get off the ground.

"Every day, when we come to work, every TSA agent is greeted with the phrase “not on our watch”. And that essentially means that as we’re working, we come with the commitment and a sense of mission every day that not on our watch — that there won’t be an attack.”

“The best partners in security are actually the travelers. They see more, they report more and that is extremely helpful. And one of the things we’re grateful for is the role they play. And we count on them to be great partners in security," Dankers concluded.