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I worked for an airline on 9/11; Here's what it was like on that terrible day

Sept. 09, 2021
5 min read
I worked for an airline on 9/11; Here's what it was like on that terrible day
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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.

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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.

A Mesa Airlines Bombardier CRJ-900ER aircraft parked at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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.”

Related: America remembers 9/11 – photos from across the country

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.

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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.

Related: Honoring 9/11 crew: A former flight attendant on his quest to push a beverage cart from BOS to NYC

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 image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
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  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more