As dusk swallowed the day on Oct. 15, 2001, I sat in the cockpit of the Piper Warrior I was planning to fly from Lawrence, Massachusetts, to Sanford, Maine. My plan was to perform "touch and gos," basically maneuvers to practice takeoffs and landings. I had done my weight and balance, checked the weather, and found that there was a light crosswind but nothing that should adversely affect the flight. At the time I had about 120 hours logged as pilot in command and was looking forward to my first flight since before 9/11.
The planes for the school that I rented from, Beverly Flight Center, had been moved to Lawrence, as Beverly's airport was within Boston's Class C airspace, which was still under a lockdown due to the tragic events of Sept. 11.
I checked ATIS (the weather and information channel at the airport) and requested permission to taxi to the active runway. Taxiing just shy of the active runway, I stopped at the run-up area and checked all my flight systems and flight surfaces, as I had done many times before. I dialed in the tower on my radio and prepared to request clearance. That's when my finger froze over the mic trigger. I looked down at my hand, and I was visibly shaking. I took my hand off the yoke, engine idling, and I realized that I was scared -- scared to death to get back into the air. A flood of emotions came over me, and I looked at the runway, lights illuminating the beautiful track that would allow me to go wherever my plane could fly. For the first time since I had sat in the cockpit, the magic was gone; there was just sadness. A group of people had taken something that I loved more than anything -- flight -- and they had used it as a weapon, something to kill my own people, thousands of innocent lives, for one purpose: to put fear in the hearts of the people of my country and the world... and it had worked.
That was when I truly realized that nothing would ever be the same.
It would take me another three years before I would sit down and write "Feathers in the Wind" in my book Ruins of the Mind, a story about two fictitious people placed on Flight 11, where I take the reader through the detailed events based on transcripts I had obtained from the NTSB and interviews I had with people. As I was writing the piece, it got into my heart that these people weren't just flight attendants, pilots or passengers. They were human, all part of the same species, all people who loved and had careers, families, children, parents, aunts, uncles and friends who cared so much about them. In those final moments, they were scared, alone and so disconnected from their reality that it must have seemed almost surreal.
It was a wake-up call, not only for us as Americans but for those in many parts of the world. It forced us to open our eyes to a world that had been under our nose for so long, but we'd chosen to ignore it. The Middle East had faced these terrorist acts day in and day out, but it always seemed disconnected, disjointed and never spoken of very much in the United States. That would all change with the events of that Tuesday morning.
Thirteen years later, I believe we have once again become complacent with some issues. The media is once again only showing us what they want us to see rather than what is actually going on.
Here's how our world has changed.
Then: Before 9/11
- We could walk with our loved ones and friends to their gate and watch their planes depart.
- We could show up minutes before a flight and run to make it.
- We could walk freely into stadiums, courthouses and public arenas.
- We could board planes without removing any clothing, shoes or belts.
- Our bags were not searched with a fine-tooth comb by grumpy TSA agents.
- We could carry normal bottles of shampoo instead of struggling to find a way to carry our favorite toiletries in quantities less than 3.4 ounces.
- We could pull up to the curb and wait for passengers without being chased off by security.
- We could show our children the cockpit of a big jet.
- Few people had ever heard of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida.
- It was easier to accept people regardless of their differences.
Now: After 9/11
- We must plan to be at the airport at least an hour before a domestic flight, and two hours before an international flight.
- The TSA was created with the mission to protect all passenger and freight transportation.
- Solid bulletproof doors protect the cockpit of all commercial aircraft.
- Only ticketed passengers may pass through security.
- No liquids (with the exception of juices for children) are permitted through security.
- Shoes must be taken off to be scanned at most airports worldwide.
- The entire world has learned to beef up security, from phones to computers to buildings, to homes.
- We can't afford to be innocent anymore.
- Postal workers now always ask, "Does this parcel contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?" (as if a terrorist will chime up, "Why, yes, ma'am, there's a bomb in there").
- According to Psychology Today, fears and anxiety have risen with a feeling of loss of safety and security.
- Politicians and political activists have found the new fears to be a solid platform for attempting to take away the rights of American citizens in the name of security.
- I believe this is the worst trait: We can't help but look at everyone with a skeptical eye. Racial profiling has become commonplace, whether we want to admit it or not.