Here's what I was doing on Sept. 11. I was flying from Atlanta to Baltimore that morning. We took off from Atlanta at about 7:30 am. The weather was great and we were just starting together. The engineer (I was a 727 First Officer) was bragging how he never had to spend a night away from home. He drops all of his trips and then volunteers for trips that just go out and back and his done. Just about that time Washington Center starts clearing everybody to other airports. Everyone going to New York holding or being sent someplace else. An American airlines pilots says "Hey, Center, what's going on in New York?"
Center replies "an aircraft has hit the World Trade Center." My Captain and I look at each other with puzzled looks and we both agree it must have been a foreign carrier because no American pilot would do that. "Hey Center, We just heard that TWO aircraft have just hit the towers?" There was a short pause. The controller replied "We've instituted our Bang plan." We have always been told there was a plan to secure the airspace, and airplanes that were in the air, should our nation come under nuclear attack. Not realizing the importance of the moment, the engineer says "Man, this is going to create some major delays,...and I didn't pack an overnight bag." I looked at the floor and prayed for those lost and realized that my world would never be the same again.
Washington Center was so busy they forgot to give us our frequency hand-off to the next controller. Delta contacted us on our company radio with a new frequency. We were passing over Richmond Virginia at the time of the attacks and now were about 60 miles out from BWI. I suggested that we not tell the passengers what had happened because at that time we didn't know that it was a terrorist attack and the best thing would be to get on the ground asap. Once at the gate we completed our checklists and went inside. We were on the ground for about 20 minutes when we saw the Pentagon got hit. My Captain pointed out how close that was to our current location. We went through that same airspace a few minutes ago. I volunteered to stay with the aircraft until we had evacuate.
About a half hour later, the airport police started clearing the airport because another flight was missing (United in PA) and the airport might be a target. We secured the airplane and helped some elderly people clear the terminal.
When things get screwed up in the airline business, they really get screwed up. We could tell we we going to be stranded in Baltimore and the hotel rooms were going fast. Rather than sit on hold while the phone lines jammed at the Accommodations department, we found out which hotels Delta holds contracts from the BWI station manager. One of our flight attendants was starting to freak out. We all put our heads together and figured of the hotels available to us, we should choose an outlying hotel should the situation become Nuclear. The best we could do was a Comfort Inn a few miles from the airport. Fortunately, I was able to leave a message with Kate early in the day.
Now that it is six months behind me, I'm angry. Angry for the hate of others. Angry for the downward turn on my industry, my career and angry for the minimum cost attitude of the airlines when it comes to security. The next four months have been spent trying to figure out how many pilots Delta will furlough and will I keep my job because of a bunch of self-centered extremists. Now, I'm angry for the way the world has become and how my kids will not think twice about strip searched at Disneyland.
I was lucky, the furloughs never got close to me but it's hard to be at work when more junior pilots with families and mortgages are flying their last trip. We will survive. The industry is rebounding slowly and security is getting more attention. I just hope we as a nation honestly ask ourselves; how we let this happen, what are we going to do to not let it happen again.