Sunday, September 11, 2011

I was a footnote in 9/11 history

Like you, I will never forget where I was on 9/11.  I was a flight attendant, and was in the air when the first tower was struck. I had recently gone through an extensive 6 week training program in Pittsburg at US Airways training center.  I woke up on that fateful morning at 3:30am for a 5:45am departure from Boston’s Logan Airport.  I was living in a hotel on Winthrop beach, across from the airport. 
When you first begin flying you’re placed on reserve, and could be called at any time. I was called at 9p the day before this trip. I hadn’t worked in 2 weeks and had spent every day on the rocky beach in Winthrop watching the planes fly out of the airport.
While on the plane that morning the dawn of day was breaking. The sun was filtering through the cabin, and I knew it was going to be a beautiful day.  The passengers were cozied in on the 3 hours flight, most were sleeping.  The snack service went smoothly, with no turbulence.  We were well into the flight when the captain rang the cabin.  The news he would deliver would send a chill down my spine, and still does to this day.  “There has been a terror attack on the WTC using a plane, look out for suspicious people on the flight, and report back to me”  
Who were I and the flight crew to look for?  What did suspicious look like? I remember me and two other Flight attendants walking up and down the aisle numerous times, just looking at people, mainly down at their feet.  We had only 63 passengers on board. A majority of the passengers were woman; I was most concerned about the men on board. Though, no one stuck out as suspicious. Then the three bells sounded, signifying we were landing at our destination, Orlando.
I remember sitting in my jump seat upon decent into Orlando, and how terrified I was inside about the possibility that someone might sabotage the plane, all the while remaining calm, so as not to frighten the passengers.  When the wheels touched the tarmac a sense of relief swept over me, we made it!  I made the arrival announcement.  It was 73 degrees and 9:10am.  
I remember hurrying the passengers off the flight that day. When they were all off, we were told by the captain that both towers had been hit, and that the country was under attack. When all passengers had deplaned I and another flight attendant walked down the jet way stairs following ground crew into one of their break rooms.  This was definitely against the rules, but I needed to see what was going on.
On the TV in the break room they kept replaying the images of the two planes hitting the towers.  I remember seeing the people jumping from the windows. We were all letting out gasps and saying “OMG, OMG, OMG”.
 Just as it was in New York City in Orlando it too was that 9/11 blue sky we’d all come to remember.  After about 10 minutes I was summoned back to the plane.  We were to begin boarding passengers for or next leg up to Philadelphia.  What?! Really?!? I couldn’t believe that we were boarding passengers and that we were set for an on-time departure. 
By the time we had boarded all the passengers the pilot came on to say that we were under a national emergency and that every airport in the country was shut down.  As passengers were deplaning they were feeling the gamut of emotions; from a crying woman, who was flying to Philadelphia for her Dad’s funeral, to a man who couldn’t stop cussing; most were just so distraught and besides themselves; confused with the look of fear and dismay on their face.  Everyone was trying to call their loved ones but with spotty cell coverage it was hard to reach people.
I could only imagine what my whole family was going through.  Original reports talked of a US Airways plane that was involved.  I tried calling my parents in Upstate, NY, but for an hour received the message “all circuits are busy”.   After the passengers deplaned the flight crew and I quickly made our way to ground transportation, and the captain was miraculously able to secure rooms for the entire flight crew.
We made our way to the hotel right next to Disney World, the name of the hotel escapes my mind.  I was finally able to reach my family to tell them I was safe.  The next day was my 23rd birthday,  it was not worth celebrating, but the captain and crew insisted, and took me out to the restaurant across the street and treated me to a nice meal a couple cocktails.
Three days later when the airspace opened I worked my last flight from Orlando to Philadelphia and dead-headed from PHL to BOS.  That would be my last flight on the clock for US Airways.  A week later the crippling financial effects of 9/11 were rippling throughout the entire airline industry, and I was laid off.  I was the last training class to graduate from US Airways flight attendant training program, and the first to be let go. 
I was devastated to say the least.  I was beginning what I thought could be a great career.  I stayed on in Boston, and was luckily able to find a job working for STA travel in Harvard Square.  I wound up moving to Central Square in Cambridge and walked to work every day.
For 6 months after the layoff I had unlimited free flight benefits.  At the time those benefits were running out a new CEO took over US Airways, and extended flight benefits for all laid off workers for 5 years.  Five years happened to be the amount of time I was on the furlough list, meaning I could be called back when they started re-hiring. Nearing the end of the 5 years I was in-fact recalled, but by this time I had moved to Fort Lauderdale where I took a higher paying job with American Express working in corporate travel and thus began my career with American Express.
As I take this day to write into history what has been in my mind for 10 years I keep in mind the 25 flight attendants who lost their lives on this day and the nearly 3,000 individuals who perished in the attacks on the WTC Towers, at the Pentagon, and in the field of Shanksville, PA.  Further I remember our brave men and woman in uniform who have been fighting in two wars for 10 years.  I reflect on the 4,477 Americans who lost their life in Iraq, and the 1,762 who have died in Afghanistan.  
As I drift back to that 9/11 blue sky I wonder how different America and I would be today had those terrorists not succeeded in their mission.  Where were you when the World stopped spinning on that September day?  
Proud to be an American living with HIV!
Kevin Maloney

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