Many of you may know that I am a former flight attendant. What you may not know is that I was in the air on September 11th, working a flight leaving New York City going to Florida. I worked for an airline that has live TV's in every seat, so we were some of the few people in the air that actually watched the horrors of that day unfold live.
It all started normally enough. The crew of 6 (four flight attendants and two pilots) met for the early morning flight, expecting a short trip to Tampa and back. The plane was full of people, mostly bleary-eyed from having to make it to the airport on time. We did a quiet, low-key service, chatting with the few passengers who were awake, then went to our respective galleys to rummage up some breakfast for ourselves.
Then it happened.
We heard a murmur pass through the cabin and then dozens of attendant "call-buttons" went off. We ran into the cabin to find people crying and asking us what was going on. The crew had no idea (we don't have TV's in our galleys), so we sat with the passengers and watched in horror as the news came in: a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
The news didn't know what was happening- if it was an accident or something more. I got on the phone with our pilots, who knew only a few small facts from chatter on the radio. We set up a communication line, updating our pilots with news from the TV as it came in. No changes were made at first and we continued on the flight plan. We were almost ready to start our descent into Tampa when the entire plane seemed to scream at one time.
A second plane had hit. This was a terrorist attack.
The crew went into crowd control mode as we were told by the pilots that we were being ordered to land immediately. The plane went into a sharp decent into Tampa as we worked to calm passengers while at the same time arming ourselves with whatever we could find as "weapons" in case we had hijackers on board as well- coffee pots, fire extinguishers, anything we could use to defend ourselves and our plane.
We landed safely in Tampa, where police met the plane to help unload panicked passengers. Our little crew of 6 sat on the empty plane, holding hands and watching in shock as reports came in of other planes going down and crashing. We tried to call friends, to find out if our co-workers were okay or on the planes that went down, but couldn't get through the overcrowded lines. As a New York based airline, we all feared the worst.
We were contacted by flight control and told we were going to be grounded in Tampa indefinitely. They rushed us out (again with police) and sent us to a hotel, where we gathered in a room and watched as more horrible news came in- the towers collapsed, thousands were feared dead, rumors flew that more planes had gone down.
We later found out family had been trying to reach us, but cell phones were useless. All we could do was sit in shocked silence and wait for news.
We ended up being grounded in Tampa for over 10 days, after which we flew an empty plane back to New York. We saw the still smoldering ground-zero site as we came in for a landing. We sat in the quiet airport as we received our briefing on what was happening and what the future of our company and jobs were.
In the days that followed, I went into the city, attended vigils for the victims (including my fellow flight attendants). I cried and waved as first responders and firefighters drove by to help in the recovery effort. I looked for the faces of friends in the thousands of missing persons fliers that were posted around the city. I continued to fly nearly empty planes, the whole time fearing that it could happen again.
To me, 9-11 was a horrible, personal experience. It could have easily have been my plane that was used as a weapon. That is why it sadden and disgusts me as I watch politicians use it as a bumper sticker "call to action" or as a reason to chip away at personal freedoms and rights.
It was a dark day for our country, a tragedy on a national scale. It should be remembered with gravity and respect, not cheapened as a political ad for any candidate or party.
Cross-Posted on the Bilerico Project