Are People Still Afraid To Fly on 9/11?

America’s air travelers try to shake off their anniversary anxiety.

Are Americans less likely to fly on 9/11?

Given warnings of a 10th-anniversary terrorist attack this weekend, some travelers may opt to book their airline departures for a less infamous date—say, Sept. 10 or Sept. 12. Others could try for a Sept. 11 flight in the hopes of getting a bargain rate. Is it really true that fewer people fly on 9/11 every year, and that tickets are cheaper on that day as a result?

No. People were hesitant to fly on Sept. 11 for a year or two after the attacks. In 2002, airlines cut already reduced flight schedules in anticipation of the anniversary, and some airports reported that traffic was down as much as 50 percent on the day itself. The low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines went so far as to offer free flights to those brave or stingy enough to take a chance. More planes took off on Sept. 11, 2003, but still not as many as usual.

There’s more evidence that the statute of limitations on paralyzing fear expired a few years after the attacks. The ninth month is always a slow one for U.S. airlines, but data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show that the September dip in passenger numbers was steeper than usual in 2002 and 2003. By 2005, however, it was back to where it had been in the years before the hijackings.

On the other hand, the online travel agency Expedia.com reports that reduced demand for travel on Sept. 11 has indeed forced down ticket prices on that particular day. The cost of 9/11 travel didn’t make its way back up to normal levels until 2009 or 2010. This year’s anniversary, the company says, is already slated to be the month’s most popular Sunday for air travel. Meanwhile, the independent website FareCompare.com analyzed the top 50 domestic routes and found no difference between the prices for this coming Sunday and the Sunday before or after. So fliers hoping to capitalize on their fellow citizens’ irrational fears with a last-minute deal are probably out of luck.

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Explainer thanks Rick Seaney of FareCompare, Tammy Jones of the Federal Aviation Administration, and Expedia.com.