I was working for Delta Airlines at the time, a crew lead at DFW in charge of a crew of ramp agents. Before that day, this was one of the most fun jobs in the world! But i really wanted to work on motorcycles. It was my day off, and i had plans to use one of the best benefits that comes with working for an airline… Non-Rev travel! I had an appointment to visit a motorcycle mechanic’s school in Phoenix, AZ, my flight was set to depart at 8:45am (Central Time). In those days, as a Delta employee at least, it should have been no problem rolling up to the airport 20 minutes before departure time, parking at the terminal, and running in to jump on the flight. I could just swipe my AOA badge that unlocked any one of 3 or 4 “employee entrance” doors by the ticket counter and walk right to my gate without even thinking about going through the security screener.
But none of that happened that day…
I got into my car to head to the airport, I was excited about the possibility of starting a new life working on motorcycles. I turned on the radio to jam out to some tunes as i sped towards DFW, instead i heard my local morning DJs talking about a plane that had just hit the north tower of the world trade center. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, i figured another small plane with an inexperienced student pilot. A sad thought, sure, but not that uncommon an occurrence. I will never forget seeing the time 8:04 lit in green digits on the display of my car radio. That’s when the DJs got very serious, and told me about the second plane and the south tower. But these are my wacky shock-jocks! i thought they must be making the whole thing up! Still i had an unsettling feeling, and when i got to the airport i decided to go ahead and park at the employee lot instead of at the terminal, I’m still not sure why i did that. I got on the employee train that takes you to the terminal. There was myself, an aircraft catering company employee and 2 pilots on the train. The caterer did not speak English, but had a look on her face that showed worry and anxiety. The pilots spoke to each other about the events that had transpired, and i couldn’t hear much of their conversation, but i heard enough to know that it was not a radio stunt, that it was real. And then, in a speculative tone, i heard a phrase from one of the pilots that stood out and made my stomach drop and the hairs on my neck stand up… “It could have been terrorists”
With that, everything became very real, and as soon as the train reached the terminal i was in Delta Employee mode. I hopped of the train and made a beeline for the office, trying to find my supervisor to see if there was anything that needed to be done. That day, i parked planes and unloaded them just in time to move the empty planes off the ramp and parking them out of the way so that we could do the same to more planes. Once all of the passengers were off, i and my fellow employees spent the rest of the day and night standing guard of each and every aircraft, someone at the nose and someone at the tail. After more details emerged about what had happened, our next job was to search every inch of every aircraft for knives, box cutters, anything that may have been hidden by would-be terrorists. and then throughout the length of the North American Airspace ground stop, we took shifts standing on that ramp guarding aircraft around the clock.
After working at a busy airport for several years leading up to September 11, 2001, it’s extremely hard to explain the eerie silence that comes with zero air traffic. Who Knew Silence In The Sky Could Be So Silent? indescribable, and unforgettable.
I did make it to Phoenix a couple of months later, and i did leave my job at Delta to become a motorcycle mechanic. Working for an airline was certainly not the same after that day….