From my book of memories – ‘Don’t Wake Me Until It’s Time to Go’
September 11, 2001 began just like many others in my life. I boarded Delta flight 929 departing Orlando at 7:50 AM traveling to Atlanta. It was a day trip, no luggage, and my schedule had me returning on a 5:45 back to Orlando. With over 2 Million Miles on Delta, my flight status was always upgraded to first class – regardless of what kind of ticket purchased. Today it was window seat 5A and we departed on time for what was a very routine flight. A great breakfast was served – eggs, bacon, hash browns, fruit and coffee – I remember it well. I also recall that my seatmate was from the Middle East – but back then we never gave that any thought. We exchanged no words, he read his paper and I read mine.
The flight landed in Atlanta pretty much on time, I believe. Not thinking about it at the time, we landed without any holding or circling, which is unusual for Atlanta. I also noticed the lack of traffic on the runways – also not reflecting on that until later. We taxied straight to the gate and never a word from the pilots or flight deck – I don’t even believe the flight attendants said anything. They did no more than play a tape before landing, with instructions to fasten seat belts, tray backs up and locked etc. etc.
I exited the plane 9:15/9:20 and headed straight for car rental – using the escalators and passenger train. Noticing nothing more than people huddled around airport TV’s and using cell phones more than usual, I was rushing to make my 10:00 meeting in downtown Atlanta. I did pick up some conversation on the rental bus about a plane crash in New York, but information was very limited.
As it happened, I was one of last people to exit the airport before they locked it down. I was also one the last people to get a rental car, because they shut down those operations too. Once in the car I knew something was wrong and turned on the radio. I pulled over and just listened to CNN radio news and experienced the same shock and disbelief that everyone else was having.
I tried to use my cell phone – guess what? Everyone else was using his or her cell phone and there was no service available – I couldn’t call anyone.
I then started to look for a payphone. Ever done that lately? They are almost extinct. Finally I stopped at a Waffle House, got a pocket of change and tried to call somebody – anybody! Either no one was answering or the calls weren’t going through because I had zero success. I couldn’t reach my appointment, my wife, my company or any of my employees. Now – can you imagine the thoughts that were going through my mind? I had no TV to watch, just the car radio. Desperate, I checked into the Marriott, not believing it was any more than getting a place to lite, watch TV and find out just what the hell was happening to our country. I stayed there 3 days! Luckily there was a Walmart close – new shiny clothes and toilet items – remember I had no luggage.
All day on the 11th I kept calling Delta and they kept advising me to return to the airport because they fully expected my return flight to depart as scheduled. Something told me different – little did I know then that it would be two weeks before any airline would fly our ‘friendly skies’.
I called Avis and advised them that I would be keeping my rental car for a couple of days – considering I had only rented it for the day. They told me to immediately bring the car back, because they had suspended all rentals. I told them they would get the car when they pried my dead hands from the steering wheel! Remember, I had spent all day watching events unfold in New York and our leaders had little to tell us about what might happen next. Besides, what did Avis expect me to do – walk?
I eventually spoke with my family and most of my employees. Our Corporate Travel group had been trying to locate all employees who had been in a travel status, but they didn’t reach me until late Thursday. I learned later that we had lost at least 2 employees in the tragedy.
Friday, I had had enough. I checked out of the Marriott and called Avis to tell them I was driving their car to Orlando. They told me I could not do that and I had to return the car immediately. I told them to just report it as stolen, because I was driving it to the Orlando airport – they would find it there. I was just learning the real extent of the overreaction by almost everyone.
8 hours later I arrived at the Orlando airport rental car return and was greeted by armed National Guard troops. I showed them my paperwork and they politely informed me that I could NOT return the car to this location because it had been rented in Atlanta. At length, I explained that my car was parked in the terminal parking and all I really wanted to do was go home – they didn’t seem to care.
I handed the soldier the keys, and simply walked away – I left the motor running and my new Walmart duds in the back. It occurred to me, briefly, that he might shoot – but like everyone else, I’d had enough.
I walked ½ mile back to the terminal entrance and said hello to several more armed National Guard troops. Although I got funny looks, no one said anything or attempted to stop or detain me.
4 day parking in a day lot cost me just over $200. Avis billed my credit card $650 for that car rental, but I never received an AMX charge for my airline ticket – that was probably an oversight.
Where was the human empathy? I wasn’t a terrorist; I just wanted to go home. I was born in Miami but raised in Tennessee. The ‘Far East’ to Tennessee is North Carolina, they can’t spell Muslim – and ‘the Koran’ is something offered at the fast food chicken joint!
Unfortunately this same attitude with travelers continues today – we know where the threats come from but still see the need to make everyone uncomfortable and unhappy with traveling. Equal rights, I guess. Equal bad.
And I wonder…where was the message we were supposed to receive from those that were supposed to deliver it. You know…the one we heard interrupt our radios telling “in the event of an emergency you would be instructed to…”. Where the hell was that notice? If there was ever a time to use it, I would suspect 9/11 would have been the perfect opportunity. But…nope, no notice, no nothing. And you know what, they still interrupt broadcasts with that same damn message. Who are those idiots?
Enough of that. Let’s go back to when traveling was fun – still a hassle, but easier when you could find some humor. https://youtu.be/WoIfglXAbh0