This morning I put the flag out. Osama Bin Laden is dead. Never in my life did I think I would celebrate someone's death, but I am unapologetically happy he's gone. The events of 9/11 changed everyone's life, and although no one I knew personally died, my airline brothers and sisters lost their lives. And that bastard is to blame. Osama Bin Laden is responsible for killing a part of my way of life.
I can't compare my loss to the loss of a loved one, nor will I try, but because of Al Qaida and the plane crashes on 9/11, my job as an airline pilot suddenly became a job I didn't sign up for. Since that day, I've had to ask permission to use the bathroom. Can you imagine doing this at your workplace? Having to call someone and ask if they have time to guard the door to your office while you take a few minutes out to pee? Anyone who's been to an airport in the last ten years has seen and felt the changes brought about by those terrorist attacks, but I think I can safely say their effect on the airline industry has been the most profound.
On September 7, 2001, my family and I moved into a new home. The conservative couple--the airline pilot and the IT guy who worked for a Wall Street investment bank--finally took a little risk and stretched to buy that dream house. What could go wrong? As I stood unpacking a box in our master bedroom, watching the events on TV unfold, I wondered if I should just start packing all of our stuff back into the box, because surely after this we wouldn't be able to stay. After a nearly fifty-percent pay cut, the loss of my pension, and some serious, serious scrimping, ten-years later, we're still living in our old Victorian fixer-upper. Although it's not as fixed up as we'd like.
We're among the lucky ones. Many of my airline friends lost their jobs, some their homes and so many marriages couldn't survive the test of such severe financial difficulty, with many pilots losing up to eighty-percent of their income. (As furloughs increased, pilots got bumped out of seats on larger, higher paying equipment.)
One of the things that really torqued me was a news report I heard saying a couple of the 9/11 hijackers had been in a bar a few nights before the attacks, reportedly laughing and bragging to the bartender they were pilots. No, they weren't. Not even close.
On my first day back to work, September 19th, 2001, I was walking through the mostly deserted terminal at O'Hare while patriotic music played in the background. A passenger from my flight, a businessman, asked if it had been my landing. "No," I replied. "I made the landing in Vegas earlier today. This one was the Captain's." "It was a nice one," he said. "Yeah," I agreed. "I probably should just take credit for it." After a little more chit-chat, he left me with parting words I've never forgotten, "Bring it back."
And we did. Every single one of us. We all stood together and brought it back.
Today, I think I've decided I'm flying the flag more in celebration of the American spirit and how we brought it back, and not so much in celebration of the death of one bad guy, because certainly, there will be more bad guys to take his place.
United Airlines Flight 175
American Airlines Flight 77
United Airlines Flight 93
American Airlines Flight 11
We have not forgotten. We will never forget. The Osama Bin Laden's of this world will not win their war of terror. We will not let them. No matter what they may try, we will bring it back.