Where were you on 9/11/2001?
This is a question that many people know the answer to.
The tragedy of 9/11 was a defining event in our society. So much has changed since that time.
So where was I on 9/11?
I started the day off waiting for a flight at Heathrow Airport in London after flying all night from Capetown, South Africa. While waiting for my flight I took pictures of different planes and also saw a Concorde taxing out to take off. I later found out that it was the first flight with passengers after the July 2000 crash that had grounded the Concorde fleet.
I boarded my flight for San Francisco looking forward to a smooth flight home and a chance to catch up on my sleep.
I was in the air over Greenland when the events happened. I did not even know they had happened until hours later when the Captain of the airplane announced over the intercom that we were landing in Edmonton because of flight restrictions into San Francisco.
Once we landed the pilot came on apologizing for not telling us the entire reason why we were landing in Canada. He told us only that airplanes had flown into buildings in the US, and that the airspace was closed.
In my mind I pictured Cesna’s into the side of a warehouse. The pilot told us that we could use our cell-phones. Luckily one of the two that I was carrying worked in Canada and I called my office. I then learned what had happened.
You could hear the gasps of the other passengers as they also learned the details of the terrible tragedy.
I also called my Sister Erika so that she could notify all my family that I was OK. My Mom was really worried as she knew that I was flying but not my route and schedule. At work, there was also much worry about me, as I was the last of the known travelers to check in.
Then the saga began for me. I was flying on British Airways.
They brought buses out to the plane which was parked at a remote section of the airport. They did not want to bring the plane near the terminal.
We were quickly driven to the terminal and rushed through lines for hotel assignments and straight into waiting cabs which took us to our assigned location. We were not even given a chance to pick up luggage. We could only take what we had with us.
We were instructed to check back by calling an 800 number on a regular basis and the next day they summoned us back to the airport.
They informed us that they wanted to take their 747 back to London as they did not have any facilities in Edmonton and didn’t know when they would be able to enter the US.
They gave us the option of going back to London or leaving us in Edmonton to fend for ourselves. If we went back to London they promised to house and feed us until flights resumed to the US. I called my boss and he said he would see me when I got home and have a great stay in London.
We then went through the strictest security that I have every been through. All of our carry on bags were gone over with a fine tooth comb.
I still remember the little old lady in line ahead of me breaking into tears when her knitting needles were confiscated. She finally convinced the security workers to let her go back to the customer service area and arrange to have them put in her checked luggage. She explained that they had belonged to her grandmother and had great sentimental value.
Unfortunately, I only have a few digital pictures of the experience. I had a film camera with me that I took lots of pictures with, but found out that the shutter was not closing fully and all the pictures were overexposed. 😦
After about four hours of waiting for everyone to clear security, we were in the air again heading back to London.
The airline had somehow made other arrangements for most of the First Class and Business Class customers, so select passengers from Economy were moved up to Business Class after the flight took off. I was one of the lucky ones. Lie Flat beds and 15 inch personal video screens along with better food made for a comfortable flight .
When we arrived back in London it was chaos. We all had to stand in line to get hotel vouchers and find out where to go.
For some reason I gained a following of about a dozen passengers who were having difficulty understanding what was going on. I helped them out by becoming a spokesman for the group and dealing with the customer service agents for them.
We were finally off to a hotel and got settled in. One of the couples wanted to have dinner with me. It was nice to not be alone that evening. We used our vouchers in the hotel restaurant and it was a nice dinner of Calf Liver for me. One thing that the English know how to cook well. Then it was off to my room to watch CNN for the remainder of the evening.
You can imagine how it felt to not be home with everything that was happening. The next morning most of the people in my small group received notice from the hotel that we would have to move out before 3:00 in the afternoon as they had other commitments, so it was back to Heathrow again with all of our baggage to get new hotel assignments.
It was chaos again all over, but luckily one of the agents remembered me from the day before and pulled me aside and helped me make arrangements for my group which at this time had also gained several blind people that were traveling together with a travel guide. We then trooped of to the new hotel and settled in again to wait for notification of when we would get to go home.
Finally after the second night in London I received a call that we would be flying to SFO late that afternoon. I rounded up my group and helped those who had received seats get to the airport. Again the same agent saw me and helped get everyone checked in.
I was pleasantly surprised by getting an upgrade to World Traveler which is a similar class to Business Class on Domestic flights. I at least had a bit of comfort on the way home. We finally landed in San Francisco after an exhausting journey. I had traveled all the way from Cape Town Africa on September 10th to finally arrive home on September 15th. I spent three nights in hotels, three nights on the plane and flew more than 40 hours to get home.
I arrived back home to find a different America. Driving home I was amazed at all the flags that I saw. It was just totally amazing how patriotic everyone had become. It was heart breaking to hear the stories of some of my friends and colleagues as they related how they were affected by 9/11.
One friend from church had driven half way across the country after being grounded.
Another friend had lost a relative on one of the flights.
I later found out that one of my cousins was in the Pentagon and received a Purple Heart for injuries that he sustained while helping others evacuate the building. He later appeared on Opra to talk about his experience.
Looking back on the events, makes me realize how much the World has changed in my lifetime. I am reassured that we have the promise for a much greater future beyond this temporary home that we live in.
The text of the above post was written about 4-5 years ago. I have made a few minor grammar and formatting changes as well as added some new pictures in this posting.