9/11 Remembered: The Year of Flying Dangerously (Part 3)

9/11 Remembered: The Year of Flying Dangerously (Part 3)

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“9/11 Remembered: The Year of Flying Dangerously” (Part 3)

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

Arrival in Italy, At Last!

The weather had been good for flying and only a few puffy clouds floated in the skies ahead of us. We crossed the still snow-clad upper reaches of the Alps, then began our descent towards Milan.

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

I could see rectangular patches of farmland below us.

Somewhere to the south the Po River must have been coursing its way toward the Adriatic.

The pilot banked the plane as we turned onto the final approach. Flaps were extended. Wheels were deployed.

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

The noise of air passing by the fuselage increased.

Touchdown!

The passengers broke out into spontaneous applause; Italians glad to be home, foreign tourists cheering the real beginning of their vacation trip. I was about 2:30 pm, Milan time.

Despite what happened just days earlier, it was quite calm at Malpensa Airport northwest of Milan. We passed through Customs & Immigration and picked up our bags without undue delay.

The airport is a considerable distance from town, but a modern light-rail train quickly whisked us into the city.

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

A taxi took us to our hotel; the cabbie offered his condolences for the loss of American lives on 9/11.

We paid him 13,000 Lire, which included a generous tip for his kind words; he carried our bags into the lobby, saluted us, and wished us “Benvenuti in Italia!”

Sunday Night Out

We walked from our hotel to Milan’s Piazza del Duomo.

It was about 6:00 pm and the sun lit up the face of the spired cathedral, while the buildings on the western side of the piazza cast shadows over the host of locals and visitors gathered in the vast, public square.

(Romain Pontida Flickr Photo)

With Rick Steves’ guidebook in hand, we ambled our way north and west, past the Galleria that fronts the northern edge of the piazza.

It was early Sunday evening and, as residents of this northern Italian metropolis might do, we went on a passeggiata.

After completing a three-quarter circle from our starting point, we entered a restaurant and asked “Chisono due posti?” (“Is there a table for two?“). “Si, prego, signore e signora” said a waiter.

We were seated near a curtained window A British gentleman at an adjoining table had dined there many times and helped us make selections from the menu.

I excused myself to make use of the gabinetto; on the way back to the table I stopped in the lobby to talk to flight attendants from a U.S. airline who had been stranded in Milan since 9/11, waiting for a flight home.

The evening was like a pleasant dream after enduring a nightmare.

Thousands of people had died on Tuesday.

How could Sunday turn out to be such an extraordinarily good day?

Changed Circumstances

A young American woman we met at Lake Como had learned of the 9/11 attacks by watching news reports splashed across the screens of multiple TV sets in the window of a consumer electronics store in Milan.

(Pixabay Photo)

On returning to Milan by train from Lake Como, we planned to leave our bags in the checked-luggage room, then enjoy a leisurely lunch at a restaurant in the city before boarding a mid-afternoon train to Venice.

(Rob Dammers Flickr Photo)

But the process of carefully scrutinizing suitcases to insure they did not contain explosive devices would have left us standing in a long, slow-moving line of passengers wanting to temporarily rid themselves of their luggage, so we dragged our rolling bags into the train station cafeteria and settled for a more plebeian meal than we had in mind.

An older couple from New York City staying at our Venice hotel were heading home to a vastly different view of the Big Apple from the windows of their apartment facing the southern end of Manhattan.

(Rawpixel Ltd Flickr Photo)

Canadians standing in line with us to pick up rental cars on a Saturday morning in Florence hoped that Maple Leaf pins in the lapels of their jackets would set them apart from Yanks in the eyes of any malefactors bent on doing harm to tourists from North America.

Merchants in Venice and Tuscany bemoaned the fact that Americans who flood Italy in September and cart home lots of expensive souvenirs had mostly cancelled their European trips.

Police helicopters chop-chopped their way over Florence; our American tour guide told us that these surveillance flights had only begun after 9/11.

When we turned in our rental car at Parma on the last full day of our trip we thought we could drop our bags at the train station and spend the afternoon touring the town before catching a late-afternoon train to Milan.

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

But the luggage room was being remodeled and, to prevent terrorist from planting bombs, no one was permitted to stash anything in the lockers on the station platform.

We gave up our plans for a final afternoon of touring, ate a modest meal (served by a middle-age Italian waiter who told us how much he loved America) in the station’s cafe, then boarded an earlier train, took a bus from Milan to the Malpensa airport, and went by taxi to a nearby hotel to spend our last evening in Italy.

Heading Home

Halfway into our trip, Alitalia cut its workforce by nearly 20%, announced plans to mothball or sell aircraft, and suspended all service between Milan and to Francisco, cancelling our non-stop return flight in the process.

Like other financially-strapped airlines, Alitalia had been “bleeding” money well before 9/11; the terrorists attacks, and the disruption of air service that followed, had inflicted additional monetary trauma on the company.

(Wikipedia Commons Photo)

On Wednesday, October 10, 2001, we boarded an Alitalia flight to Los Angeles.

We arrived at LAX about twelve-hours later, discovered that we could catch an earlier than planned connecting flight to San Francisco on United, rushed to check our bags, and ran off to the gate.

(Bill Abbott Flickr Photo)

On our first trip to Europe in 1999 we were startled by the sight of gendarmes and soldati carrying automatic weapons at the Paris and Rome airports.

We thought nothing of this when we encountered armed security forces on our next trip to Europe two years later.

But seeing the U.S. military patrolling Los Angeles International Airport in October of 2001 was unexpected and unsettling.

(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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