Flying on September 11th

I spent September 11, 2011 on a Boeing 757 flying from San Francisco to Boston. Given that I was attending a business meeting scheduled for the 12th, I didn’t think much about the fact that I would be flying on September 11th until I started making my reservations. I
don’t think I would have noticed any other September 11th, but this one, as the ten-year anniversary of that wicked day, I did, especially since it was a transcontinental flight, just as all of the hijacked planes were.

Not surprisingly, it brought back memories of that fall day. In the afternoon, I was supposed to fly to San Diego to attend a telecommunications convention. My boss had given me the option to fly Monday or Tuesday, and after a decade of Comdexes and Macworlds and PC Expos, I was more than happy to spend as little time there as possible.

Because I rarely turn on the television in the morning, it wasn’t until I was driving to my office in San Francisco and turned on the radio that I knew anything was wrong – and I knew it immediately. There was a catch in the announcer’s voice that told me something was going on, even before I grasped the enormity. About two-thirds of the way there, I heard the quickly dispelled report that the State Department had been bombed, and that was enough to dissuade me from heading into any urban area. I turned around and drove
home.

When flights were grounded in the following days, we watched carefully to see when the ban might be lifted. My wife’s uncle was celebrating his 70th birthday in the German village outside of Bad Kreuznach where he was born and still lived. My wife and several members of her family were scheduled to join him on September 22nd. As our departure date grew
closer and it became clear we were still going, someone asked my father-in-law if he was concerned about terrorism. “I grew up under the Nazis,” he said. “Terrorists don’t scare me.”

So what was it like flying yesterday? In a way, it wasn’t much different than flying before September 11th. If anything, it seemed to be more popular. No one seemed to be cognizant of it being an anniversary of any kind. If anything, the security line was longer, and the plane was only a couple of seats short of full. Indeed, it seems like too many people have already forgotten that harrowing day.

We were on a transcontinental flight not too many years after September 11th, when quite unexpectedly, someone speaking an unrecognizable foreign language commandeered the loudspeaker system for several minutes. I signaled the flight attendant, who told me that the person speaking was the leader of a Chinese tour group asking its members not to block the aisles. “Did you ever think it might alarm people to have a foreign language
come over the PA system without some sort of explanation?” I asked her. She looked at me blankly. “Not really,” she said.

Really, sometimes I wonder why we go through all the security precautions we do. We took an Alaska cruise a few years ago, on a ship whose crew was primarily from Indonesia and the Philippines. Members of that crew transferred our luggage from the ship to the Vancouver airport. As part of her well-established script, the counter agent asked us if our luggage had been out of our control for any time. I replied, “Yes, and it’s been in the hands of people from countries with a high proportion of Muslim population.” She smiled
cheerily and said, “Oh, you were on a cruise.”

A terrorist wouldn’t even need to infiltrate a cruise ship line to gain access to an aircraft. They could simply recruit one of the minimum wage restaurant or janitorial workers who work in the terminals to smuggle something in when they report to work – or simply steal one of their ID badges. How complicated could that be?

But nothing happened, not on my flight, not on anyone else’s. We endured the indignity of being wedged in with a bunch of strangers, with the monotony broken only by bad food and worse movies, and landed safely. There isn’t that much that’s different about flying now versus flying then, but I still wonder if there’s something we’ve forgotten that we should be remembering.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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