travelin man
Posts: 3198
Joined: Tue Mar 14, 2000 10:04 am

Flying Last Friday

Fri Sep 21, 2001 4:20 pm

I just wanted to share my post-attack flying experience. I had the misfortune of being stuck in Denver last week trying to get home to Los Angeles. I got a seat on UA #1549, one of the few flights scheduled to go out last Friday (the first day of operations for United since before the attack).

First of all, I got to the airport 3 hours before my scheduled departure at 12:30. However, since so few flights were actually leaving that day, the check-in was not too terrible (for United, at least. The other airlines' check-in lines ran throughout the East terminal into the West terminal). I checked in ALL my luggage, because I didn't want to have to deal with the searches at security.

The line for security only was about 5 minutes long. I went through 2 metal detectors and then they used that wand-type metal detector all over me. After I boarded the train and went to Concourse B, it seemed like the Twilight Zone. Usually DEN is super-busy with connecting passengers, etc.

When I got into the Concourse, most of the shops were closed (except for the newsstands and the food court). You could have rolled a bowling ball down the entire length of the concourse and not hit anybody. It seemed like a ghost town. Only about 20% or so of the scheduled flights were leaving that day (judging by the number of "cancelled" signs on the departure board). They didn't even open the bar/smoking lounge until 11am or so, and usually it is always open.

Around 11:30, they said my 12:30 departure would not leave until 2pm, because the flight was coming from Los Angeles and then would be turned around. At noon, the loudspeaker said everyone should observe a minute of silence. I have never heard an airport that quiet EVER. Then what sounded like some airport employees sang the Star Spangled Banner, and the people in the airport clapped when it was done.

Our plane arrived from LA, disgorging what looked like VERY relieved passengers. Ironically, it was a 767 (but a -300 version, not the -200 like the one that crashed). We boarded around 2pm. I didn't care about the delay, I just wanted to be home. When we boarded, everyone was very quiet. They finally shut the door, and the captain came on the intercom. He thanked us for flying at this difficult time. Then, the FA came on. He was trying VERY hard to put us at ease, making small jokes. I appreciated that flight attendant VERY much. Whomever you were, purser of flight #1549 on Friday the 14th, thank you for your humor.

We pushed back, and there was not ONE other single plane moving on the tarmac at DIA. I listened to channel 9 (which I was afraid United was going to pull the plug on after the attack). We were pretty much the only traffic moving at that time. We were cleared for take-off on the west facing runway. I suddenly tensed up. I am never afraid to fly, but I have to admit I was gripping the seat pretty hard. We took off and kind of banked to the right, and everyone sort of went "uhhhh". But, we straightened out, and climbed out over the Rockies.

The flight itself was unremarkable except for how quiet it was. I mean, there was hardly a word spoken. 1 interesting note: As we passed over the Grand Canyon (on a beautiful clear day), the Captain pointed it out on the left side of the aircraft. Then he told us he was going to bank to the left so people could get a good view. This he did. Then he said he was going to bank to the right so those of us on the right side could get a good view. It was spectacular, and although I've flown LAX-DEN countless times on United, no pilot had ever done this. People smiled, and some even took pictures, and it was a very uplifting experience for a tense flight. Maybe that's why he did it, but I don't know.

Coming into LA, we were the only aircraft that I heard LA Approach talking too (still listening to Channel 9, of course). We were given permission to land on 25R (usually the departure runway), because nobody else was really taking off or landing at that time.

We had a good (a bit hard, as the funny F/A noted) landing at LAX, and you could hear the sigh of relief escape about 160 passengers. I got my luggage right away (that never happens at LAX), and walked out to catch my parking lot shuttle. Something was weird, but I didn't figure it out until we left the airport: There were NO cars in the terminal area. They had blocked all traffic except for commercial vehicles. And in LA, when there's no traffic, you KNOW it's a big deal.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my flying experience. Yes, I had to come back to Denver this past Monday, and I will be returning to LA tomorrow. I am not afraid to fly, and I will not allow those terrorist bastards to run my life. I urge everyone to do the same. Go on the trip you were planning. Go on that vacation to wherever. Don't let them win.

And thanks to a spectacularly good United flight crew. In the face of what your company has gone through, I can only wonder at your professionalism, humor, and security that you gave all the passengers this past Friday (and this past Monday as well).