9/11 Remembered: The Year of Flying Dangerously (Part 2)

9/11 Remembered: The Year of Flying Dangerously (Part 2)

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“9/11 Remembered: The Year of Flying Dangerously” (Part 2)

(The first installment  of Dick Jordan’s recollections of the events of September 11, 2001 appeared yesterday. The story continues today).

Departure Day

I turned on my computer before breakfast on Saturday and went to the Alitalia Website.

Departures to the U.S. had resumed.

A plane from Milan to San Francisco was in the air, although it was three hours behind schedule.

(M McBey Photo)

I called Alitalia’s reservation number and someone answered the phone.

Yes, the return flight from SFO to Milan would depart later that day.

No, we cannot tell you whether you will be on it; passengers whose flights were cancelled earlier in the week will be given preference in boarding.

I was told that we must go to the airport to find out if we will be on the passenger manifest for the flight.

Ghost Town

Normally a late morning to early afternoon airporter bus from near our home to San Francisco International would be at least half-full.

(Twitter Photo)

But on September 15, 2001, there were just four of us headed to the airport: The driver, my wife, myself, and one other passenger.

Vehicle access at SFO has never been that great.

Buses, taxis, limos, shuttles, and passenger cars continually jockey for position on the roadway that fronts the terminals and baggage claim areas.

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

But on this Saturday traffic at the airport was virtually non-existent.

It was like being in Bodie, California, or another “ghost town” once the home of numerous 19th century gold miners, but long-since abandoned by all except for a few, die-hard residents.

We arrived two hours before the scheduled afternoon departure of our non-stop flight to Milan even though we knew that the plane would be late arriving from Italy.

The voices of the few passengers present bounced off the walls of the new International Terminal like echoes reverberating in an empty subterranean cave.

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

At the check-in counter we were assured that we had seats on the flight. Our bags were weighed, tagged, and sent off to be ultimately loaded onto the incoming aircraft.

We had a lot of time to kill, so we wandered around the airport, had something to eat, read our paperback books, checked the TV monitors for the ETA of the inbound Alitalia flight, and twiddled our thumbs.

About 6:30 pm we went through the security checkpoint. The only change we noticed was that now only passengers with boarding passes were allowed to proceed to the departure gates; friends and family no longer could see you off as you boarded the plane.

Police officers were at the gate for our flight. But despite Tuesday’s hijackings, they spent their time “chatting up” the attractive female Alitalia gate agents rather than looking for terrorists who might be lurking among the passengers waiting to board the plane.

Wheels Up

Shortly after 7:30 pm PDT, our wide-body jet pushed back from the gate, circled around the end of the International Terminal, turned right, and rumbled south down the taxiway before swinging its nose toward Oakland, on the other side of San Francisco Bay, before coming to a halt.

(BriYYZ Photo)

The tower instructed the aircraft in front of us to pull forward and hold short of the first of two north-south runways to allow other aircraft to depart and land. Finally, our plane moved into takeoff position.

Throttles forward. Rolling. 90 knots. 120 knots. 150 knots. Rotation. Wheels up. Flaps retracted. Right turn, northeast across San Francisco Bay.

Off to Italy at last.

Flying High

Dusk became darkness as we climbed to cruising altitude, passed over California’s Central Valley, and flew across Nevada.

Dinner was served; the movie started. Everything seemed “normal” about this flight.

The plane was full. Squeezed like sardines into our seats in the first row in “Economy”, we listened in chagrin to a passenger in the Business Class cabin just a few feet ahead of us tell her seatmate that since she was last to check-in she had been “bumped” from “Coach” into the more spacious accommodations just out of our physical and financial reach.

By about 10:00 pm PDT, we must have entered Canadian airspace, probably somewhere over the province of Alberta.

The movie ended.

The cabin lights dimmed.

I nodded off.

I’m not tall, and I was in an aisle seat, but the bulkhead in front of me restricted my leg room. I awoke, left knee throbbing, used the toilet, returned to my seat, and fell back asleep.

Sun glinting off the yet-to-be-melted-to-nothingness Greenland icecap peeked through a window whose shade had not been pulled completely down by a passenger on the left-side of the plane.

(Pixabay Photo)

People began to stir. It was probably about 5-6 a.m., local time.

Cabins lights came up, flight attendants started serving coffee, breakfast was on its way.

A little icon of the aircraft inched its way eastward across the video screen embedded in the bulkhead in front of me.

We crossed Ireland, flew past London, and headed toward Paris.

For two more hours or so I would remain stuck inside of this airborne metal “cigar tube.”

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

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©2010 Dick Jordan and Tales Told From The Road. All Rights Reserved. Reprint, reuse, or republication in any

fashion without the express written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.

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