Travel Essay: The Year of Flying Dangerously

September 13, 2010

in Travel Essays

  • SumoMe

When Evil Flies

It was Tuesday morning. I had four days to catch up on work, pay bills, board the cats, and pack up my bags before departing on a 26-day trip to Italy.  I brushed my teeth. shaved, and showered.  I turned the radio on and tuned in KCBS to catch the “traffic and weather together.”  There was a big transportation problem, but not on the streets and highways of the San Francisco Bay Area, and it had begun in the skies over America earlier that day.

World Trade Center and Skyscaper I went upstairs, still in my pajamas, and turned on the TV.  What looked to be the 1974 Towering Inferno movie came up on the screen.  But it couldn’t have been that movie because as I “channel surfed” I saw that it was being broadcast on every station.  This wasn’t a Hollywood “disaster” movie, it was a real catastrophe of monumental proportions.  As the morning of September 11, 2001 progressed on the West Coast, the details of what had happened on the Eastern Seaboard were revealed.

At approximately 8:45 am EDT, American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 that had departed from Boston bound for Los Angeles, struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York between floors 93 and 99. Four minutes later, the incident was first reported on TV and radio.  At 9:03 am EDT, United Flight 175, another Boeing 767 headed to L.A. from Boston, crashed into the WTC South Tower between floors 77 and 85.

A half-hour or so after the second plane flew into the World Trade Center, American Airlines Flight 77, flying to Los Angeles from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., smashed into the Pentagon.  All flight operations in the U.S. were halted and in-bound international flights to the country were diverted to Canada.

Shortly after 10:00 am EDT, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, and hijackers, passengers, and crew aboard a fourth plane, United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, met their doom in the countryside southeast of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  Then the North Tower of New York’s World Trade Center toppled to the ground.

What Now?

Sometime late Tuesday afternoon I turned off the TV after watching the unbelievable events of the morning play over and over again in continuous news reporting.  My wife and I now faced dilemma:  Even if our Saturday flight to Milan departed as scheduled, should we be aboard that plane?

The passengers and crew on the four ill-fated 9/11 flights had no clue that they were about to make life’s final journey; only the hijackers knew that they would soon be arriving in heaven or hell. We, on the other hand, we acutely aware that our upcoming vacation could be a nerve-wracking experience and that it, along with our lives, could be dramatically cut short if terrorists commandeered the aircraft on which we were flying.

I favored staying home. My wife finally persuaded me to throw caution to the wind:  If our flight to Italy wasn’t cancelled, we should go; if the flight was delayed a day or more, we could change our hotel reservations and still take an abbreviated trip

But our decision to risk our skins or save them was irrelevant; no planes were taking off or landing at U.S. airports, and none would do so in the foreseeable future.  The U.S. government had quickly come up with new airport security measures and only airlines that had proved that they could comply with these new rules would be allowed to fly from anywhere or to anywhere in the United States.

The Days After

We started phoning our airline, Alitalia, on Wednesday, September 12th.  We couldn’t get through most of the time and when we did we could not find a “live” person with whom we could converse about he status of our upcoming flight.  A recorded message (and the airline’s Website) simply said that Alitalia would resume flight operations “as soon as possible.”

News reports confirmed that no flights were operating within, from, or to the U.S.  You couldn’t fly from San Francisco to Sacramento, let alone to Europe.  And no one, but no one, could tell you if and when that would change.

On Thursday, September 13th, we learned that the Alitalia flight from Milan to San Francisco on 9/11 which had been diverted to Canada had been permitted to complete its journey to SFO and fly back to Milan later that day.  But Friday’s flights between Italy and San Francisco had been cancelled, and the status of our scheduled flight on Saturday was still up in the air.

(Dick Jordan’s recollections of the 9/11 attacks and the outcome of his planned trip to Italy will continue next Monday).

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