David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
9/11 – September 2023
We’re coming up on the twenty-second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I’m not sure how many of you know my story of that day – the non-thrilling, almost close call for me that never was. I’ll reshare my story and then reflect upon where those terrible events have brought us.
If you think back to how we all worked and traveled back before 9/11, I was like many other frequent fliers of the day – focused on maintaining elite status and looking for a bargain wherever I could find one. So 9/11 was going to be like any other travel plan. I would meet some friends for dinner in Los Angeles by flying out of Newark early in the morning. (I believe we had reservations at the Proud Bird – which was once an iconic aviation themed restaurant and since has closed and reopened as a food hall.) I did have a meeting scheduled with colleagues for the World Trade Center for that morning, but it was postponed a couple of weeks earlier. (So maybe that was a close call, maybe not so close – it’s a matter of perspective.) I had found a great fare out of EWR that had me connecting in Miami instead flying direct coast-to-coast. In fact, as I recall, that was the impetus for the trip – a $99 fare sale from MIA to LAX. Adding an inexpensive EWR-MIA ticket in-front of that created a perfect mileage run for dinner with friends. One butterfly flap either way and I could have been flying non-stop to California (another arguably close call.)
In those days, being a gold elite on Continental meant usually getting upgrades – and my EWR-MIA flight was upgraded. As the day began, the flight from EWR-MIA was turning out great. We had an early departure at around 6am, an outstanding breakfast, and a very quiet flight. About an hour before landing my SkyPager started going off. My assistant was asking me “Where are you?” “Are You OK?” I replied I was fine and landing soon and asked what was going on. Her reply was (as I recall) “bombs going off, under attack.” I thought she was pulling my leg, but then my news feed started coming in on the pager as we got closer to the ground, and I was reading the stories about what was happening. Before we landed the captain announced that ‘things were very weird…we’ll find out more after we land…and we should claim our belongings and leave the airport as soon as possible.’ Remember, at that time, the pilots had no idea which flights had terrorists on them and which ones did not.
We landed to an eerie, mostly deserted airport. In those (pre-mobile-phone days) I found an airport payphone and called home. My wife was in tears, because at some point the news reported that every plane still in the air had hijackers on it. It was quite a catharsis for us both. She explained that she had already contacted a friend of our family who lives in Miami (who also happens to be a pilot) and asked him to get to the airport and “get David out of there if he is still alive.” My friend did meet me there, and I wound up staying with him at his house for three days.
As no one had any faith in flights returning safely anytime soon, I booked myself a private cabin with a shower on Amtrak’s Silver Service from Miami to Newark. (One of the many side stories here, Amtrak’s website was ‘broken’ – and I’m being kind here –and I never received the private cabin with the shower – just a tiny private room. I later disputed the charge and got all my money back as a 9/11 gouge that should never have been.) I made it home to a teary family hug five days after taking off.
9/11 changed a lot of things. Initially, it changed the US airlines approach to passengers, offering free changes and very low fares for the following weeks to get people flying again. (In fact, I have a friend who put those two things together and took his extended family of eight to Las Vegas early the following year by buying each of them, one at a time, a near-in ticket to Las Vegas for under a hundred dollars, then calling back and postponing the trip at no charge to their actual, desired date…and then doing that ten times in a row.) But we all know the major changes to come out of that horrific incident: The TSA and the illusion of security; The inability to be at the airport unless you’re flying; Bookings requiring full-names, no longer just first initials; Pre-check; Airline bail-outs on a regular basis; etc. The impact of these changes and how poorly we as a society have managed them are clear indicators that the legacy the terrorists left was significant.
My thoughts on this and every 9/11 are not on my convoluted trip out and home, but rather of the thousands that never got to make it home.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.
Copyright 2023 David Danto
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