Evaluating the Long-Run Impacts of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks on US Domestic Airline Travel

Scott Blunk, Marquette University
David Clark, Marquette University
James McGibany, Marquette University

This is the accepted, peer-reviewed, corrected version before publisher formatting.

Applied Economics, Volume 38, No. 4 (March 2006), DOI: 10.1080/00036840500367930.


Although the US airline industry began 2001 with 24 consecutive profitable quarters, including net profits in 2000 totaling $7.9 billion, the impact of the 9/11 event on the industry was substantial. Whereas the recession that began in early 2001 signaled the end of profitability, the 9/11 terrorist attacks pushed the industry into financial crisis after air travel dropped 20% over the September–December 2001 period compared to the same period in 2000. Given the decline in domestic air travel, an important question is whether the detrimental impact of the attacks was temporary or permanent. That is, did airline travel return to the trend that existed prior to the terrorist attacks? There are theoretical reasons to the believe that it would not. Economists have long viewed travel-mode choices as the outcome of a comparison of opportunity costs and benefits. Thus, anything that permanently raises the opportunity cost of travel, holding benefits constant, should reduce the level of travel volume. To determine whether air travel was permanently reduced, we use econometric and time-series forecasting models to generate a counter-factual forecast of air travel volume in the absence of the terrorist attacks. These dynamic forecasts are compared to actual air travel levels to determine the impact of the terrorist attacks. The findings suggest that domestic air travel did not return to the levels that would have existed in the absence of the attack.