September 11, 2011

10 Years Later…

Ten years ago today I woke up from a nap in Paris at 2:00 in the afternoon (8:00 am in New York). At the time I was working as an American Airlines Boeing 757 and 767 pilot based out of Boston, MA. The night before I had been the relief pilot on a flight from Boston to Paris. We had landed at Charles de Gaulle airport just as the sun was coming over the horizon.

September 11th, 2001 was a beautiful day in Paris – bright, clear, blue skies and crisp fall air. I went out for a walk with one of the other pilots. We wandered through the streets and neighborhoods of the Left Bank, stopping for a café crème at a small café. We were unaware of the events that were unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – it was just another day on the job, another layover in a city in Europe.

That was about to change. Our waiter came over and asked if we were American. He told us that the World Trade Center in New York had been bombed by Iraq. He said he heard the news on Radio France and invited us to listen with him, but the reporting was in French. Neither of us spoke French, so we politely declined. And I did not believe him; it seemed improbable. We finished our café crèmes and returned to wandering the streets. Eventually we arrived at the apartment of the other pilot’s friend. He rushed us in inside and sat us in front of the television.

I watched the images on the screen – the World Trade Center Towers in New York burning, smoke rising from the Pentagon, reporters talking, people running through the streets of New York City and Washington, DC, American Airlines and United Airlines airplanes. It seemed surreal, like special effects created an action movie. Was it real?

Minutes past and seemed like hours... It was real. There was a lot of confusion, but the initial facts started to become clear. Terrorists had hijacked two of our flights and two United flights, killed the pilots, and intentionally crashed the airplanes. Thousands of people were dead. The World Trade Center in New York City was collapsing in flames, the Pentagon was burning, one airplane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania… One of the American Airlines flights was from Boston and it was a Boeing 757. I was handed a phone – call home. I dialed the phone numbers of my family for half an hour before a call finally went through. It was my dad. The sheer gravity and sadness of the day started to weigh on me. I began realizing this day – this one day – would most likely change how my life forever.

After watching the news, talking to family, and checking online for email messages, it was time to go back out into the streets of Paris. We met the rest of our crew at a restaurant for dinner. People were crying. We talked about our fellow American Airlines crew members who were now dead – our friends. Over dinner we learned that all flights in the United States had been grounded and it was uncertain when we would be able to fly home. I went to bed that night exhausted and cried.

We ended up staying in Paris for almost a week. Every day our crew met at 10:00am in the hotel lobby to talk. After that my days were spent out in the city. I walked a lot, I took photographs of the city streets, I went shopping for clothes at Galleries Lafayette, I ate at cafes, I took a train to Giverny, I kept busy, and I drank a lot of French wine. Throughout the week I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of the Parisian people. Waiters, store clerks, and people I sat next to at cafes all gave their sympathies and tried to make those of me feel comfortable and welcome. On September 16th, we were finally able to fly back home to Boston.

Today – 10 years later – I remember that day. I was correct that afternoon, September 11th, 2001 did change my life forever. Security in my country and the way we travel changed since that day. Politics in the United States have become more polarized. Some people became afraid and there has been discrimination. The world has also changed. There have been wars and other terrorist attacks in the last ten years. Osama bin Laden has been killed.

My life is very different today. I no longer work as a pilot, but I still love to travel. I recently returned to Paris with my husband on vacation and walked the same streets.

I ask you – my readers – to never forget the victims that died on September 11th, 2001. And remember that through travel we can learn about the different people, cultures, and religions around the world. By gaining a better understanding of others hopefully we can work towards peace.


Bethany said...

This is chilling, Jessie. Beautiful words pay a brilliant tribute. I'm sure your American Airlines brothers and sisters, heros for sure, are in peace. What a day that changed the industry, the country and the world.

Renee Muldowney said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I didn't know that you had been flying on that day/period although I do remember that you were a pilot for American Airlines. For me, I was on a business trip and had flown half the day before on Sept 10th to reach my destination. I woke up that morning and saw the first tower burning, the 2nd tower hit, and then Pentagon hit, and then the Twin Towers collapsing (if memory of sequencing serves me correct.) It was shocking and horrific. We were stranded in Montana/Utah through Saturday morning until we got a flight back out of SLC. We had a minute of silence on the plane and the entire plane and crew were silent like I'd never heard silence before. Such a loss and such a wake up call about loss and our safety. Again, thank you for sharing your post and I hope you and your husband are now happy and well.

Loree said...

It was a day that changed the world and none of us that that were alive when it all happened will ever forget it.

Judy said...

My heart will always hold those lost to hatred that day. I am simultaneously thankful that you were safe. I agree that travel (real travel, interaction with real people) enforces the fact that we are citizens of this planet, regardless of our so-called nationality. I love you. Mom

Jessica said...

Thank you to all for sharing! I always enjoy reading the thoughts and experiences of my readers. I hope you continue to share!