Wow. Only one week until the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Sometimes, I feel like it just happened last week. Other times, it seems like it was forever ago. I can very distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing that morning. I know this is something that everyone old enough to remember it says (because yeah, my 11 yr old nephew doesn’t remember it). But that day is forever seared into my memory. And I’m choosing to write about it today because I know that next weekend is going to be chock full of posts about that day, and I’m hoping that by posting this a week early, someone will actually read it and it won’t get missed in the fray.
I used to work as a ramp rat (baggage handler) for Trans World Airlines, which was
completely destroyed bought out by American Airlines in April of 2001. That had to happen. TWA had been running in the red for years, and something had to give. The fact that AA and their union flat out lied to TWA and our union is irrelevant. Yes, those lies led to the loss of over 10,000 jobs. But it was a long time ago. Water under the bridge and all of that.
Anyway…back to Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was at work at the airport. It was early in the day and we were between flight banks, so most of us “ramp rats” were in our various break rooms. People were playing dominoes, reading the paper, doing the crossword puzzles. Or, like me, watching CNN while we waited for our next planes to arrive. That’s where I was, sitting in the D-zone break room, getting my morning news dump. I don’t have the right words to describe how I felt when they broke in and showed the first tower on fire. At that point, we just thought it was a crazy, freak accident. And we were saddened, because those were our brothers & sisters in aviation on that plane. Any time a plane goes down, airline employees everywhere feel the sting.
But then…then there was that second plane! At that moment, we realized that some seriously fucked up shit was going down. Our radios went crazy, the phones started ringing off the hook, chaos ensued. The FAA had immediately ordered every plane in the air to land at their closest airport. Well, St Louis being in the middle of the country, there were a shitload of planes in the air around here. Planes were landing left & right, we were running out of places to put them. By the end of the day, there were planes in every single gate (even the unused ones that weren’t leased by any of the airlines). They were lined up on the taxi ways, lined up on the ramp, everywhere we could put them. We saw some planes that week that we would never have seen because our airport isn’t equipped to handle them (BIG planes).
I didn’t even attempt to go up into the terminal until well after 11pm that night. The ramp break rooms at every airport are underneath the terminals, and generally we stayed down there all day. None of us wanted to go upstairs that day. The sheer quantity of people up there was insane, and ramp rats don’t like passengers that much, if I’m being totally honest. Ramp rats think passengers suck…especially the assholes who pack every single item of clothing they own into a suitcase so that it weighs well over 100lbs. Yeah, you can roll that fucker on it’s wheels…we have to maneuver it inside a very cramped space in the belly of the plane. So if you’ve ever gotten your luggage back and the wheels were busted off, it’s because you’re an asshole when it comes to packing and some disgruntled worker has attempted to teach you a lesson.
The one thing that will always stick in my mind the most was the quiet after all the passengers were finally gone and the planes had all been dumped, cleaned, locked & sealed, and pushed off the jetways (so that nobody could get into them). There is always noise at the airport, even at 2am. There are so many things “on” out there, so there’s always noise, even if it’s just background. APU’s on the planes. Battery charging stations. You get the point. But for 3 days after the attack? Dead silent. Freaky quiet.
Also, there was a very heavy police and military presence. There used to be a wing of the Missouri Air National Guard stationed at Lambert, and all of those Guardsmen were at the airport. They were patrolling the terminals and the ramp, they were manning the security entrances. There’s something unsettling about being frisked by a cop while a soldier stands there watching with his M-16 at the ready. We were constantly surrounded by cops, soldiers, FBI and FAA agents. Crazy.
It was also the beginning of the end for airline workers.
I know that 9/11 has had long-lasting, devastating effects on our nation, in more ways than one. Lives have been lost. Families torn apart. We have yet to recover. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not get over it. We should never get over it. We should never forget it.