All Alone — in the wake of Sept 11, 2001

Washington DCIn 2001, I was doing a lot of commercial air travel.   This would probably be a statement of little consequence, except for September 11 and its aftermath.

At that point I had been retired from the Air Force for about 12 years after a career of military flying, which encompassed about 1,400 hours in jets.   I never really enjoyed being a passenger on a commercial flight, sort of like being on a bus in my mind.   To be honest it is a type of flying over which I  felt I had very little control.

As 2001 began I had a full schedule of trips planned for my work.   The ones in the summer went pretty much as planned.

Then September 11th happened.

The events of that day brought home more than anything else to a professional flyer how helpless all those folks must have felt.   Air travel in the United States was in turmoil as many people feared to fly.  I was not too thrilled about the prospect either, but there was no way around it.

I had scheduled a trip to Portland Maine and it was impossible to postpone.   In case you don’t remember,  that was the airport where many of the hijackers began their flights of bloody destruction.   On the morning of September 11, the men boarded a commuter flight that took them to Boston and the rest of the story is well known.

My trip to Portland required me to fly Albany, New York and then change planes.   The trip to Albany went ok, then things began to get stranger.  The Albany airport was filled with armed military men.  It was a very unusual sight, one of many that day.

When I boarded the commuter plane for Portland,  the second unusual site  quickly became evident.   I was the only passenger.

Not only, was I the only passenger, there were no flight  attendants.

The pilots showed me to my seat, walked to the front of the aircraft and shut and locked the door to the flight deck. The flight took about an hour, I sat in the darkened cabin and read.  All alone.

It is hard to describe what this felt like; to say it filled me with a bit of unease would be an understatement.  Even in the thick of air combat during the Vietnam War I was never so seemingly alone in the air.

The cabin was dark and quiet.    VERY DARK AND VERY, VERY QUIET.

It was to say the least a flight that I will never forget.

 

 

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About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
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