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Terror's Aftermath

On a horrible day to fly, a victory over evil

 

Daily Business Review

September 12, 2002

 

By: Neil Reisner 

  Continental Airlines Flight 1000, Fort Lauderdale to Newark.

41,000 feet, somewhere over northern Florida or southern Georgia.

9-11-2002. 8:46 a.m.

  American Airlines Flight 11, bound from Boston to Los Angeles, smashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower at this minute one year ago.

  I sit on the aisle in 4-F, silently mouthing Kaddish, whose rhythmic cadences comfort Jewish mourners by glorifying G-d.

Yit-gadal v’yitkadash sh’may rabah…

  I don’t know exactly when I decided to fly on 9-11.

  It was probably some time during the summer as the nation began to focus on the coming anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks. It must have been then that a year-ago conversation with my then-4-year-old daughter, Jolie, came wafting from memory.

  It was 9-11-01 and we were eating dinner at Deli Den in Hollywood, a Tuesday-night ritual. I needed to learn what Jolie knew, how she felt and to answer what concerns she might have.

  Yes, she knew that bad guys had flown two airliners into the Twin Towers and that many people died. She vaguely fears that the same bad guys might crash into her school or her house; Daddy’s reassurance puts her at ease.

  Jolie knows about flying, she’s a veteran of countless trips to grandparents’ homes in California and New Jersey.

  She thinks for a minute and pronounces: “I guess we can’t fly anymore.”

  I disagree. “We can’t stop flying. If we do that, the bad guys win.”

  Says Jolie: “And we can’t let the bad guys win!”

  So this flight, then, must be my very small — and in the overall scheme of things quite meaningless — attempt to show Jolie, myself and whoever else is listening that the bad guys haven’t won.

  But that doesn’t mean everything’s normal.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s Terminal One is bereft of people.

  Security is tight, though no precautions outside of the ordinary are apparent. There are the usual two deputies from the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the ordinary number of screeners inspecting carry-on luggage and their owners.

  Maybe it’s my press identification or maybe it’s the purple cast on my right wrist, but I make them anxious.

  A screener wands me for an eternity as other passengers — many wearing some version of red, white and blue — head toward their planes. He tells me to take off my belt and when the zipper on my Levis sets the wand to squeals and whistles, he tells me to open my fly. He peers into my shoes while another guard uses an electronic sniffer to make sure my laptop computer can produce nothing more explosive than words.

  When I’m finally deemed harmless, he acknowledges that the process today is extra diligent.

  And traffic is slow.

  A Continental representative waiting at the gate says Flight 1000 usually takes off at 85 percent to 90 percent capacity. It would likely carry half of that this morning. A flight attendant says later that the flight carried 80 passengers, including a handful of crew members commuting to New Jersey. The Boeing 757-200 can carry 159.

  One of them is Elliot R. Jacobs, managing director at Boca Raton-based First Fidelity Capital Markets Inc. He was heading to a meeting in New York. Jacobs traveled today by happenstance; the meeting only came up Tuesday. But he was glad to be aboard and wore a bright American flag-themed tie for the occasion.

  “I’m pleased to be flying today,” he says. “After last 9-11, I intentionally kept all my meetings … it was my way of showing that we’re not going to stop doing business.”

  On the other hand, there are George and Era Espinel of Aventura, who left their 1-month-old baby with George’s mother so they could get to Newark for an important immigration court appearance by Russian-born Era.

  “We had a lot of qualms. We’re flying over Washington and the anti-aircraft there is fully armed. All we need is for some mistake to happen,” says George, manager of advanced network solutions for Worldcom’s Miami office, who had nightmares about the flight on Tuesday. “I dreamed the aircraft exploded and I felt myself going down. It’s a horrible day to fly.”

  Nightmares aside, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about Flight 1000. Most folks who are flying today, after all, decided at some point that it was safe.

  Flight attendants patrolling the aisles say they are not nervous and nothing about them says anything different. They acknowledge thinking about the anniversary, but one says flying today was a matter of convenience — it keeps her weekend free.

  And they say that passengers are uncommonly quiet, putting their belongings in overhead bins and getting settled without the usual chatter.

Travel is not quiet only today, if three passes through FLL and EWR in the last week — the family went North for Rosh Hashana — are any indication. Both airports were eerily silent and more so today.

  How silent?

  The Sbarro’s restaurant in the food court at Newark’s ordinarily bustling Terminal C was closed. A vendor selling natural snacks from a kiosk outside Gate 97 says just before 11 a.m. that she has served only five customers compared with 50 on an ordinary morning.

  Published reports confirm the obvious.

  The Washington Post says leisure bookings at Travelocity, an Internet travel firm, were likely to drop 16 percent, a large number, though less than the 29 percent it predicted last month.

  CNN, meanwhile, reported that an airport survey by the Official Airline Guide, OAG Worldwide, found passenger traffic down 13 percent compared with last Wednesday.

  Newark is down 32 percent, according to the survey.

  And FLL spokesman Jim Reynolds says traffic there may be down by half.

  Last week, Reynolds said officials expected passenger loads to fall 10 percent to 20 percent Wednesday. The airport planned to use the hiatus to do maintenance on the airport’s main runway.

  But he says that at 2 p.m. Wednesday there were only about 250 people in Terminal Three and there was no wait at security.

  “I’ve never seen so few people in the airport,” he says. “This has to be the slowest day of the year.”

  But, at the end of the day, George Espinel is probably right. Today is a horrible day to fly. Which is why I did.

  To show the bad guys that they didn’t win.

 

 

 

 

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