September 11, will always be a day of remembrance. I was an American Airlines flight attendant at the time. It is a particular day that would always sit heavy in my heart. I was based in New York, where this tragedy occurred, and I had flown with some of the crew who perished that day. Flight attendants and 9/11 will forever be intertwined.
Along with the trauma that the world has experienced, flight attendants experienced dramatic changes in their work environment. Along with these changes, the job description has remained the same yet has changed. The career of a flight attendant is more than serving snacks and drinks on an airplane. Flight attendants have always been responsible for travelers’ safety, security, and comfort. Their duties are similar to first responders. They are trained to fight fires, handle medical emergencies, and are retrained and recertified every year by the FAA.
At this time of year, we are bombarded with the phrase “never forget.” For many flight attendants, it’s almost impossible not to do so. New safety rules about congregating in the aisles, galleys, or near the lavatories were implemented worldwide. Everyone who flies is reminded of those rules. But flight attendants are daily assaulted for trying to enforce those rules. These rules, which may seem trite to travelers, are a daily reminder of 9/11 to flight crews. Somehow when travelers are on board, many seem to conveniently forget the reason for these rules.
9/11 saw changes that did not happen over time but overnight. Airplanes were grounded, and airport procedures forever changed. These security changes not only occurred in the airport but in businesses and public places all over. The world was on alert to be vigilant, and flight attendants needed to be more observant. A passenger’s trip to the bathroom was no longer routine; we had to subconsciously note how many times and how long they stayed in the lavatory. We had to wonder if the souvenir picture passengers were taking was simply that and no more. So, while passengers think the flight attendant’s job is routine, know that they have a lot more on their minds.
For travelers, the changes 9/11 brought included security screenings that can be intrusive at times. Passengers now had to take off shoes, belts, and odd pieces of clothing. Everyday items are currently judged for their ability to be used as weapons and confiscated. Travelers can no longer take liquids beyond security. Even breast milk or baby formulas became suspect. Airlines stopped serving food, and airport options are less plentiful and more expensive. Travel, in general, has gotten harder for travelers.
I’d like us to remember that while the events of 9/11 are not always on the minds of the public. They are forever on the minds of flight crews, and they will “never forget.” I hope this post has given you pause for thought this day, the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I hope you remember it the next time you travel and give grace to your flight crews who never can forget.