Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

Switching to more of an aviation theme for this post, I thought I'd write about what I was doing on 9/11, which I don't think I've ever mentioned here before in any kind of detail. When 9/11 occurred, I was living in the Las Vegas area, working for a startup called National Airlines. The original National Airlines, based in Miami, had been bought out by PanAm in the 1970's...this version just bought the naming rights. It was a pretty good airline, but for a variety of factors it ended up going out of business in late 2002. However, the details about that are a story for another day.

I was not at work when the terrorist attacks and hijackings occurred. Curiously enough, National had suffered a hijacking attempt the previous year, and I was on duty for that one. I'll provide more details about that at some time in the future, but it was pretty nerve-wracking. In that case, though, the plane never pushed back from the gate, although the hijacker did make it into the cockpit with a gun. As the article I linked to indicates, it ended up being resolved peacefully.

On 9/10/2001, I had worked one of our weird shifts that started at 4 PM and ended at 2 AM on the 11th. I didn't mind the 10-hour shifts, though, since we had pretty generous days off there...4 days on, 4 days off. Anyhow, I went to bed around 3 AM or so, which was my usual habit when I was working that shift, and slept until 9 or 10. When I woke up, I had a message from my mother on my answering machine wanting to check in with me and make sure I was OK, but that she figured I was at work. That was pretty odd, I thought, so I went into my computer room/office (actually it was just a small bedroom but that's what I used it for) and first learned of the attacks that way, I believe on CNN.com.

The first article I saw didn't list flight numbers, but it did say that Boeing 757's were involved. Since that was all we flew at National, I went ahead and called in to make sure none of our planes were involved, and I was relieved to find out they weren't. One of my co-workers told me that everyone was safely on the ground, although all the planes enroute had had to land at airports we didn't normally serve.

I remember I had an appointment that day to do refinancing paperwork on my house. I'd just bought it in March of that year but interest rates had dropped about a point since then, so I went ahead and did the refinancing. As it turns out, I probably should have held off on it, but I ultimately did make out OK when I sold the house in 2004 (even though I had to rent it out for about a year after National went under and I moved to Wisconsin.) It was kind of a surreal experience signing forms at the title company while the news was on.

I went ahead and went into work that afternoon as I was scheduled to do. The way things normally worked, I would park at the corporate offices near the airport, and take a shuttle bus that National operated to the airport, where the dispatch office was located. However, since all flights had been canceled, the shuttle bus wasn't running. I talked to my boss's boss for a little while and he said everything was going as well as could be expected, considering. Our "emergency room" had been set up with representatives from all the airlines' divisions deciding what to do next. A flight attendant I knew who happened to be at the headquarters for some reason offered to give me a ride to the airport, which I accepted.

The airport itself was very surreal...it was almost completely deserted, although the trains that ran between terminals were still running. Planes were parked everywhere, including many airlines that didn't normally fly to Las Vegas. I wish I'd taken some pictures, but this was in the days before cellphone cameras existed, and I hadn't brought my regular camera with me. I took the train to our terminal with one of my co-workers. We were the only ones on the train, or in the security line...which I think did have one post still open, just to tell people the airport was closed. We got through security since we were going to work and had airport badges.

While it was deserted upstairs, our offices downstairs were quite busy. We had a TINY workspace with two desks for dispatchers, one for an operations manager, and one for a customer service coordinator. I was the only dispatcher on duty that night, and since all our planes were on the ground, I didn't really have anything to do other than to take phone calls from various people about how things were going. Our stranded pilots and flight attendants were fortunate enough to have all gotten hotel rooms, so nobody had to sleep on airplanes (although I heard at many other airlines, the crews were not so lucky.) The FAA representative for National was in the office the whole day and for several days afterward. He was a pretty nice guy, though, and mainly just sat back and watched us do our jobs.

Eventually, of course, our planes parked in odd locations all flew back to Las Vegas, and we resumed normal operations (or as normal as things ever get in the airline industry.) We were already in the midst of a Chapter 11 reorganization when 9/11 happened, and as you may have guessed, it's one we never emerged from (although things did look hopeful for a while.) I remember that on the first anniversary of 9/11, in 2002, we offered a promotion to offer flights for $1 not including fees...only the leg on 9/11/02 was covered, though, and the return ticket was full price. It got us some good publicity. I don't know if we would have made it an annual thing had the airline survived although I kind of doubt it.

National still has an annual reunion in Las Vegas in November, on the day we went out of business. I haven't been for a couple years and I'm not sure if my schedule will allow for me to attend this year or not, but I'm sure I'll make it back eventually. While National obviously did have its problems, it was a really fun place to work.

I have imitated a couple of aviation blogs that I read, and published below the names of all the airline employees killed in the terrorist attacks that day. Please keep them in your thoughts today, along with all the other victims of that terrible violence.

American 11 (Boston to Los Angeles)
Crashed into World Trade Center
John Ogonowski, Dracut, Mass., Captain; Thomas McGuinness, Portsmouth, N.H., First Officer; Barbara Arestegui, flight attendant; Jeffrey Collman, flight attendant; Sara Low, flight attendant; Karen Martin, flight attendant; Kathleen Nicosia, flight attendant; Betty Ong, flight attendant; Jean Roger, flight attendant; Dianne Snyder, flight attendant; Madeline Sweeney, flight attendant

United 175 (Boston to Los Angeles)
Crashed into World Trade Center
Victor J. Saracini, Lower Makefield Township, Pa., Captain; Michael Horrocks, First Officer; Amy Jarret, flight attendant; Al Marchand, flight attendant; Amy King, flight attendant; Kathryn Laborie, flight attendant; Michael Tarrou, flight attendant; Alicia Titus, flight attendant

American 77 (Washington/Dulles to Los Angeles)
Crashed into the Pentagon
Charles Burlingame, Captain; David Charlebois, First Officer; Michele Heidenberger, flight attendant; Jennifer Lewis, flight attendant; Kenneth Lewis, flight attendant; and Renee May, flight attendant

United 93 (Newark to San Francisco)
Crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania
Jason Dahl, Colorado, Captain; Leroy Homer, Marlton, N.J., First Officer; Sandy Bradshaw, flight attendant; CeeCee Lyles, flight attendant; Lorraine Bay, flight attendant; Wanda Green, flight attendant; Deborah Welsh, flight attendant

3 comments:

Heather Meadows said...

Thank you for sharing. It's interesting to hear about the tragedy from an airline perspective.

Thimbelle said...

TW works for one of the two airlines most affected by 9/11.

I can't even begin to describe that day as it unfolded for us. I have sat every year before the computer, trying to put it into words, trying to make coherent sentences. The pain, the fear, the anger are all still too real.

Suldog said...

Very interesting take on the day's events. I've often wondered what my Dad might have done and thought on that day, since he was an airline guy before he died. I suspect some of his thoughts might have mirrored those you've given here.