At the height of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the occasion of his first inaugural address to remind Americans of their common enemy: fear.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.
These hallowed words ring true 73 years later as we face a faceless terror that works in the dark exploiting humankind's greatest, most powerful emotion.
Radical ideologists who hate the American way of life and free democracies of all kinds have clearly figured out how to disrupt our most sacred freedom -- freedom of mobility -- without using any weapons other than psychological warfare.
As Americans, we hold dear the ability to freely move about without threat or harm, and yet we have been paralyzed by terrorist threats to our air travel infrastructure. I submit that we must not hold ourselves hostage to threats and fear. To do so would only serve the terrorists' interests.
Maintaining a commitment to travel is a way of demonstrating your patriotism. Some serve in the armed forces, others support the troops with time and money, or give speeches, or fly the flag. Traveling also tells the terrorists that you will not be deterred.
Why do I issue a call to travel? For starters, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the travel industry is the second-largest economic engine of the U.S. economy. A reluctance to travel jeopardizes more than $646 billion of economic activity, 7.4 million jobs and $167.3 billion in payroll income for Americans. Disrupting our economy would please the terrorists no end -- something we simply cannot let happen. Moreover, travel is important to our social institutions; it connects social groups and exposes citizens to new people, new places and different points of view. It also provides recreation and social rejuvenation. For example, the other day on a flight to Salt Lake City, I met a family traveling to Sun Valley, Idaho, to meet with other relatives for a week of family bonding. I ask, "What can be more American than a family on summer vacation?"
My call to travel is not based on some pundit's view from a desk. I have been in the trenches these past five years -- standing in the security lines, taking off my shoes, opening my luggage and checking out my fellow passengers every time I fly. And I fly a lot: 166,000 miles this year alone.
So forgive me if I sound preachy. But I do speak from a position of experience and that experience tells me that we need the courage of national unity. We need to trust in our democratic ideals, and we need to trust those leaders working diligently to protect us. We need to stand firm against those radicals who wish to disrupt our freedom of mobility, one of the foundations of our society.
Certainly there is a lot of concern about air travel these days. It is caused by terrorist plots and perpetuated by a fear-mongering media seeking sensational headlines. The recent headlines are certainly enough to scare wavering travelers off a plane. In the past week, we saw United Airlines Flight 923 diverted from Washington, D.C., to Boston when a petite, 59-year-old woman suffering a panic attack made passengers and crew nervous. A West Virginia airport was evacuated when items in a woman's carry-on bag tested positive for explosives -- wrongly, as it turned out. In yet another case, a flight from London to Egypt was diverted to Italy after a bomb scare that later proved groundless.
Such incidents are no doubt alarming to the passengers involved and perhaps worrying to other people contemplating future air travel. But what these incidents should do is generate confidence in air travel. Hyper-vigilance is increasing security. Indeed, as my colleague Charlie Leocha has recently written, security improvements since 9/11 have made air travel more secure now than ever in aviation history.
When news of the London bomb plot broke, I had just arrived in Budapest. Days later I returned to the United States, not knowing what to expect at the airport. To the credit of the professionals working the security clearing process, I transitioned the airport fairly seamlessly; the experience was little different from my six other departures from Europe this year. Subsequent security checks at JFK, Salt Lake City and Santa Ana were similarly uneventful.
Upon my return from Budapest, my inbox was filled with questions from travelers about canceling upcoming trips. My response to each and every one of them was: Fly and be free.
In my view, anyone who is fearful of boarding a plane is scoring a win for the terrorists. If you truly want to be patriotic, get out and travel.