Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I thought I'd use today's post to talk about 9/11 a bit...because I am very overdue for a blog post and if today's anniversary doesn't get me off my butt to write something, I don't know what will.

Planebuzz has a good memorial entry today commemorating the airline employees killed in the attack. I'm sure there are many memorials happening today, both live and online (I believe Dariush is covering some of them for his paper) but I thought I would present my own memories of that day.

I wish I had an exciting story to tell you of what it was like when all the aircraft in the US were forced to suddenly land and everything that happened in the dispatch office during the event...but the fact is, I had worked an odd shift on the 10th, from 4PM until 2AM on the 11th, and then I went home and went to bed around 4AM. By the time the attacks happened, I was sound asleep.

My mother called and left a message on my machine saying she knew I must be busy but she wanted to call and see how I was doing, which I thought was odd. I went into my computer room/office and pulled up the internet, which is how I first found out what happened. Since my old airline in Vegas (National Airlines) had a flight out of JFK numbered Flight 11, and since we flew 757's, I was especially freaked out by the news. I called work, and they told me that all our planes were landed and safe, which was a relief. I felt really sorry for the huge loss of life though...but I don't think it really sunk in that day...I was just more numb than anything.

I had to go into work that afternoon, although we didn't have any flights in the air, obviously. I worked at the airport itself, and normally there was a shuttle bus running between our office just off the airport and the airport ramp itself, but service that day was canceled. After wandering around headquarters for a bit, I ran into a flight attendant I knew who offered to give me a ride to the airport, which I accepted.

The airport was indeed a ghost town that day. Planes parked everywhere, some of them from airlines I'd never heard of. I went ahead and walked into our tiny office, which had the first signs of life I'd encountered since walking into the terminal. Our FAA representative was present, and my boss, and his boss. We didn't really have much to do, though. A couple of our planes were parked in Indianapolis, another couple outside of Chicago in Rockford, and the rest hadn't taken off. We were a pretty small operation; at the time I think we had maybe 16 planes total. All of our stranded crew members had hotel rooms, which was fortunate since nobody would be flying anywhere for several more days. Basically, we just answered phone calls that day, and the next day, and sat around waiting to see when we could fly again.

My airline was already in Chapter 11 before that day, and looking to emerge soon, but the events of that awful day kind of helped seal our fate. I don't know, we may have gone out of business eventually anyhow...the business model was based on cheap oil, which probably would have gone away soon enough, 9/11 or no 9/11, but as I'm sure everyone is aware, the airline industry was rocked hard by this tragedy.

National also wasn't helped by the fact that the government wouldn't grant us a federally backed post-9/11 loan, despite having set aside ten billion dollars for such loans. They granted our main competitor one of those loans, though. Oh well. We did continue flying until November of 2002, when we ceased operations very suddenly, while I was on vacation in Dallas. I fortunately had some Southwest passes that enabled me to fly home without buying a full fare ticket.

Looking back before 9/11, I did sometimes think security was kind of a joke at the airport. For instance, many of the custodial staff that cleaned our planes primarily spoke Spanish...they may have all been legal immigrants, but I kind of doubt it. That, and it was just really easy to get through security. I think things have improved somewhat since then, but there are still holes. However, in a free society, I think that no security system designed to screen vast numbers of people will ever be perfect.

While I felt really sorry for all the people's families who were killed that day, I confess to getting sick of the news coverage about the event in the months immediately afterwards. Perhaps it was my attempt at trying to live in denial and hope things would turn out OK where I was working at.

Things worked out for me personally all right in the end, of course. When National did shut down, I found another airline job (the one in Wisconsin, where I was at when I started this blog) within a couple months, and it even included a paid move. I rented out my house for a while, and when it became obvious I wouldn't be moving back to Vegas and I sold it, I made a decent profit and sold it quickly due to the then-hot real estate market of 2004. And, just when I was getting really sick of my job in Wisconsin and worrying about being fired, I got hired by the Rather Large Airline. So life has not really been bad. I still sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if 9/11 hadn't ever occured, but sometimes you just have to take what life throws at you (even when it's a bag of cow manure) and keep on moving.

My own little memorial to those whose lives were lost that day can be found here. at the gratefullness.org Light A Candle site. My candle there will only stay lit for 48 hours, but I'll never forget.


Suldog said...

Very interesting viewpoint, Chuck. It must have been a bit weird to be flying in the days following.

I think the government did a hideous job, insofar as the airline industry was concerned. So many were driven out of jobs needlessly, because of funding issues or other fallout from the attacks.

Life As a Single Mom said...

I enjoy reading your blog...I found it looking through the other aircraft dispatchers. I was not yet in aviation when 9/11 occured, however I was a 911 dispatcher, amazing how 9/11 effected 911 operations in Kansas.

We will never forget...

Chuck said...

Suldog - I agree, the government did a pretty bad job helping out the industry. Oh well...life goes on.

Single Mom - Wow, you entered into aviation after 9/11? You are a brave soul! :) Hope you have enjoyed the industry so far. It is fun at times. Thanks for visiting!

Stu said...

I am still haunted by this memory: Back in the late 90s, I was traveling a lot for business. A useful gift from my sister was a Leatherman. It became a prized possession, and I took it everywhere, including business trips.

As I didn't want airport security to mess with me, I would put it in the mesh-covered front pocket of my backpack. Every time the bag went through screening, nothing happened.

One trip, and I can still see it in my mind, after my bag came through screening without so much as a blink from security, I thought to myself, "Y'know, that's gotta be dumb. I could probably take over a plane with the blades of my Leatherman. I should make a big deal out of this, I should tell someone."

But I never did.

Haunts me to this very day.