No business traveler wants to experience delays. When flying out of Washington D.C. on Monday, April 15, those of us shuffling into the TSA security line at 3:24 p.m. miraculously breezed through. It wasn't until the flat-panel TV screens, which dangle above rows of chairs at departure gates like frozen mistletoe, began displaying the horrifying images from Boylston Street. Considering the military lockdown on D.C. post 9/11 I couldn't believe I got through security. And I couldn't believe more people weren't joining me in staring at the images on the screen. What had just happened? Was my flight going to depart on time? Am I horrible for even wondering about these things at a time like this?
The FAA ordered a no-fly zone within 3.5 miles of that fated Boston street, so our Virgin America flight to San Francisco, did indeed take off on time. Traveling during national tragedy is a surreal experience. Flying on transcontinental flights with Virgin is one of my favorite experiences, like girls' night out or snow on New Year's Eve. But this trip was bookmarked with the start of a dark day in our nation's history, and it ended with the capture and killing of the ones responsible as I landed safely in Philadelphia on April 19.
Every back-of-the-seat screen on flight 2 that day was tuned to news networks looping coverage of the not one, but two bombs exploding. I was watching everyone else watching Boylston Street. I thought of all those family members who might have been trying to contact each other in the chaos and remembered the day I tried desperately to reach my sister, who was supposed to be at the Pentagon on 9/11. Once in flight, one by one, our screens changed to other in-flight entertainment. Seeing that an 8-year-old boy had lost his life only made me miss my 18-month-old boy at home. As I reached my Marriott Courtyard hotel room that evening, all I wanted was to hug my loved ones. Like many travelers that evening, I could only say prayers for mine, and theirs.
About 24 hours later, my travels took me from SFO to SEA, Seattle's rain-covered international airport. Racing from my arrival gate to my connecting flight on Alaska Air, I caught a quick glimpse of the stalemate news coverage. The news reporters looked just as tired as I felt. No suspects had been identified but the FBI was working with local police diligently and the on-site medical teams were being praised for their life-saving efforts.
The tiny Horizon Air-operated DHC-8-400 puddle jumper landed in Bellingham, Wash., around midnight. As the 12 of us waited for the very tall 19-year-old girl to finish dumping our bags onto a short metal slide, I heard the woman behind me tell someone she just came from the Boston Marathon with her two sons. I turned around and stared at her double-wide stroller cuddling two toddler boys. "We were supposed to be at the finish line," she told the women. "But we decided at the last minute that the crowds would not be good for the boys so we decided to go to the Cape instead."
By the next day, as I ended a long business meeting by drinking a $4 bottle of hotel water, I fell asleep in the Quality Inn's stiff white sheets listening to the descriptions of Suspect 1 and Suspect 2. I couldn't wait to get home to my family the next day. I also wasn't surprised in the least that by day four, officials had images of almost every second of that day. I couldn't go out into the hotel lobby in desperate search of coffee in my pajamas without appearing on six different security cameras.
While getting out of Bellingham turned out to be much more difficult than getting in, thanks to mechanical problems, I will never forget watching the mistletoe screens in the ski lodge-like airport. Our flight was delayed about two hours, but you didn't hear a single complaint. In all my years of covering travel, that's never happened. It went unspoken that we were all glad to be alive and feel safe. And as I landed in Philadelphia we watched with my husband and son as the day-long stand-off with police came to an end with the joyous capture of Suspect 2.