I worked for an airline on 9/11; Here’s what it was like on that terrible day
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
It was a beautiful morning in Phoenix on Sept. 11, 2001. I was three months into my job as the director of communications and community relations at Mesa Air Group, a regional airline that, at the time, flew as America West Express and US Airways Express.
I had fallen asleep during the Monday Night Football game between the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants (Denver won), so when I woke up that morning, I turned the channel to ESPN to get the final score. I also did some last-minute packing for a work trip to Washington, D.C.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Because Phoenix doesn’t observe daylight saving time, we were three hours behind the East Coast. My phone rang and a Mesa board member asked me if I knew what was going on. While he explained, I turned the channel to CNN just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center Twin Towers.
Shocked, I grabbed my suitcase and drove to Mesa’s offices, minutes away from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). On the way to work, my dad, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, called me in a panic. He told me I could not fly anywhere that day. We argued, with me saying, “I have to tell my boss I can’t go to D.C. because my dad won’t let me?” My dad answered, saying, “Give me his phone number.”
It turned out my dad didn’t have to worry since the U.S. and Canadian airspace systems had been closed. By the time I arrived at our office, it was crazy. There were televisions positioned around the office and people watched things unfold. We had a group of flight dispatchers stranded in Las Vegas and we scrambled to rent a van to get them back.
We also had flight crews stranded all over the country in places that we didn’t serve, so we had to get them hotels. Those of us with corporate American Express Business Green Rewards Cards were working the phones to guarantee rooms for our employees. I also took a few press calls.
We sent nonessential staff home because there was nothing for them to do. Food was ordered for those who were still in the office since the situation was still developing and we had no idea how long we’d be there. My office had a view of Sky Harbor and it was eerie to see all the planes grounded. There were also fighter jets from Luke Air Force Base flying around.
The rest of the day passed in a haze. I ended up leaving around 8 p.m. I got a call from Brett “Cranky Flyer” Snyder, who was then a pricing analyst for America West Airlines. He asked if I was OK and if I wanted to go to a bar. I hadn’t really had time to make friends in Phoenix yet, and I knew him from one of our aviation geek chat groups, so I accepted.
We spent the evening at the bar, discussing what happened and the future of the U.S. commercial aviation industry. All televisions were on the news and when the bartender changed all the channels, we all cheered. I will always be grateful to Snyder for that invitation on that fateful day.
A few weeks later, I ended up going on that work trip to Washington, D.C., on one of the first flights back in the air. I won’t lie — it was eerie. One, because the flight was almost empty. Two, people were visibly praying from the time we took off until when we landed. The whole thing, even 20 years later, is still surreal to me.
A mere 12 days after 9/11, Congress passed an appropriation bill for $15 billion — and President George W. Bush signed it — giving the airline industry a much-needed boost. Of those funds, $5 billion went straight to airlines.
In the immediate of that day, travel demand in the U.S. fell by more than 30 percent and more than 62,000 airline jobs. It took about six years for the airlines to recover capacity after 9/11, according to the Airline Passenger Experience Association.
Passengers who took to the skies after 9/11 saw how the newly created Transportation Security Administration (TSA) put tools in place, including officer patrols and a laser focus on government IDs, along with upgraded X-ray machines, new magnetometers, Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units and explosive detection equipment to screen luggage.
Despite the tragedy that was 9/11, passengers took to the skies again because they felt it was safe to do so. I didn’t hesitate to fly to Washington, D.C., for my work trip. My airline colleagues — and the American public — also began booking flights because, in the end, we are optimistic and resilient people.
Featured photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees