Everyone on the plane was shocked. He quickly gathered his belongings, emptied the contents of a beverage cart liquor drawer into his bag, and launched the evacuation slide onto the tarmac. He hopped down the slide and for a few brief moments, Steven Slater was free. Little did he know in that moment that his story would be making national headlines. Slater simply wanted to make a point to his company that he had felt unsupported. He could have just walked off the plane and turned in his crew badge, but he knew that would leave little to no impact on airline culture – he had to do more. His mother had fallen ill, his airline didn’t seem to be particularly supportive, and passengers had pushed one too many buttons. All of this plus an earlier altercation with a passenger had brought him to his breaking point. Steven Slater had had enough. He needed to be heard.
In his new memoir, Wingwalking, Steven Slater recounts the events of that day as well as his life before and after his career in the airline industry. I had the opportunity to meet with Steven recently to talk about his new book. They often say that once aviation gets in your blood, it stays there – and being a flight attendant is no exception. When I met Steven at a coffee shop in San Diego, he was friendly, polite, and smiling – in true flight attendant fashion. Slater seemed confident and ready for the next chapter of his life. We sat down and had a candid conversation about his career as a flight attendant, his life on the ground, and what occurred on that fateful day.
Two Guys On A Plane: What made you decide to write a book about these events and why now? What was the writing process like for you? Steven S:I actually started writing it in a motel room; it was incredibly painful and yet liberating. I didn’t intend to publish. It started as a journal. It was cathartic and freeing to write. It helped me put things into perspective and then it took on a life of its own. My writing was raw and dark. There were times I had to step away, but it brought me a release I hadn’t felt before. Many flight attendants had come to me and said that I should share my story and that it could help people who also faced similar mental health and substance abuse issues. I initially feared it would come across in poor taste, especially given some of my experiences, but I hadn’t thought of being able to help people with my stories before – so I decided to take a risk.
TG: In your book you discuss a variety of different issues – some personal, some external – what would you say was the biggest factor in pushing you to your breaking point on the day of your notorious incident at JetBlue? SS: I call it a perfect storm. My mother was ill, and I was dealing with bipolar and substance abuse issues. I was on reserve at the time and I didn’t have the time to schedule the self-care that I needed. I wasn’t able to make AA meetings. It was a perfect storm of bipolar mania, precipitated by alcohol, and rage from situations that JetBlue had caused me – and then that woman pushed me to the edge.
TG: I noticed after your JetBlue incident that you appeared in multiple major media interviews. A lot of people have accused you of deploying the slide to seek attention, so what made you decide to speak out and appear in various media outlets? SS: At the time of the incident, my son was 17. The media was releasing information about my HIV status, my personal life, and the story was being spun in a way that was only getting more outrageous over time. I had to speak up and defend myself. There was so much misinformation out there and I needed to take ownership of my story.
TG: How did you feel immediately after the incident? Did you feel any remorse? SS:Over time, I’ve learned to advocate for myself. Looking back, I wish I’d advocated for myself better at the time to have had a better income. I didn’t know how to ask for help and I backed myself in a corner. Everything I’ve gone through has made me who I am. I’ve become a much stronger and more compassionate person, but it came at a high price.
TG: Every so often, you will see a headline in the news about a flight attendant who lashes out. Do you pay special attention to those stories, and do these stories spark anything within you? SS: At the time of the incident, I was living on the East Coast and my mother was in California. I wanted to move back to California, but I wasn’t getting the support I needed from JetBlue. I wasn’t being treated like a human. I was just a number to them and that affected me deeply. My first concern when I hear these stories is for the flight attendant. Having been in their shoes, I wonder – what is this person going through, what is going to happen to them next, and are they able to get any support? Sometimes I will even reach out to them to offer support.
TG: Do you ever miss flying? SS:I miss the dining, the shopping, the whole experience. I miss meeting new people and what flying used to be. I’m not so much interested in what the job has become. Missed what flying was, but not so much interested in what it became. I miss the camaraderie. The support from the flight attendant family has been phenomenal both after the incident and throughout the release of my book. If I didn’t have the support of the flight attendant’s around me, I don’t know what I would do. They’ve paid my rent, provided me with clothing, and even bought me food, emotional support. I’m very grateful.
TG: Do you think there would have been a different outcome had your airline offered more support to you along the way? What do you think airlines can do to prevent things like this from happening again? SS: Airlines need to look at their crew members as human beings and not just numbers. If someone had stopped to check in with me, we might have had a different outcome. It’s not to say I put all the blame on them. I take responsibility for my actions but wonder if I had more support along the way, if it might’ve been different. I might have had more time to take care of myself and not get to that point. I think airlines need to be more compassionate and humane. Substance abuse in the airline industry is rampant. When I worked for Delta, they had said it was fine initially, and then fired me after I went to rehab. Airlines need to pay more attention and offer more support after incidents happen in flight attendants’ lives both on and off the aircraft. If they failed me, then they have definitely failed other crew members, too.
TG: Now that the book has been released, what do you hope people take away after reading your story? SS:I hope that people get a little bit more of a human view of who I actually am. I’m not a two-dimensional media created caricature and there is an actual person behind the headlines. Most of all, I want to give encouragement to people that suffer. I hope it will be useful for people who experience bipolar and substance abuse. I hope that it shows folks that there is hope for life with those conditions. It is possible to transcend.
TG: So what’s the next chapter for you? SS:I’m still figuring that out. I’m settling into San Diego, I’m maintaining my sobriety, and I’m focusing on my health. I’m currently looking into education opportunities and the prospect of becoming a substance abuse counselor. I want to take the experiences that I have and use that to give back. It’s time for a reinvention. Steven 2.0 is coming.”
As aviation professionals, we live each day surrounded by people and yet often feel so alone. The combination of being away from family and friends, working with strangers, and spending nights alone in foreign cities can certainly take a toll. It’s important to find healthy ways to cope but it can be challenging. In today’s culture, there is such a stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse issues. The truth is, it’s okay to not be okay. Steven Slater’s story is a powerful one that we can all identify with, whether you’re a flight attendant or not. Each and every one of us faces a great deal of pressure on a day-to-day basis from our jobs, our families, and our communities. Sometimes a helping hand may be all that we need to make a difference in our own lives. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to your company or union employee assistance program, or check out some of the resources we’ve listed below.
A special thank you to Steven Slater for taking the time to chat with Two Guys On A Plane and for being so open and candid about his story. If you haven’t already, check out his new book, Wingwalking, a compelling memoir about addiction, mental illness, and his life in aviation. Available now at Barnes & Noble and Amazon!
RESOURCES FOR FLIGHT ATTENDANTS
FADAP | Flight Attendant Drug & Alcohol Program FADAP is a substance-abuse prevention program, created and promoted for and by the flight attendant profession and funded by the FAA. Phone: 855.333.2327 Online:https://www.fadap.org
RESOURCES FOR EVERYONE
NAMI | National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine The NAMI HelpLine is a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health conditions, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public.
SAMHSA | Substance Abuse and Mental Health Helpline The SAMHSA Helpline is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
It’s 7:45am. The boarding rush has started to die down and the flight isn’t going to be completely full. I’m preparing pre-flight beverages for First Class passengers and I still have quite a few seats open. A tall black man walks onto the flight with a backpack and a rollaboard. “Good morning!” I say, while the white flight attendant standing beside me says nothing. “That’s odd,” I thought to myself, but she hasn’t been overly friendly during this trip anyway, so I don’t think much of it. He smiles at me and turns down the aisle to take his seat. He stops in First Class right around Row 2 and puts his rollaboard in the overhead bin. That same flight attendant that was silent just a second ago is now marching down the aisle and raising her voice. “This space is for First Class passengers only! Please take your bag back to YOUR seat.” The man looks at her, turns back to shut the overhead bin, and sits down right there in front of her in 2D. He responds politely but firmly, “This is my seat.” She turns bright red and looks back at me in the galley. I’m most likely giving her the dirtiest look I can muster up at this point. She furthers the altercation by asking him, “May I see your boarding pass?” I can’t take this anymore. This display of animosity has to stop. I rush into the aisle and direct her to the back of the plane. “I’ll take it from here. We need to get ready for departure, if you wouldn’t mind closing those bins.” She looks me dead in the eye, face beet red, and says “Fine.” She storms off. I lean down to apologize to the man and have an honest conversation about what just happened. His response felt like a punch in the gut. “It happens all the time. Most people don’t say anything. I appreciate you caring enough to notice, but don’t worry about it.”
Are you infuriated yet? I know I was in the moment and I still am today just thinking about it. Airplanes are packed with diversity but not immune to the racism that exists in our society today. These injustices and microaggressions are occurring at every altitude. It’s 2020 now. Things should be better than they are, but they’re not. While I consider myself to be pretty aware of my white privilege, I also know enough to know that I don’t know everything. I’m not better than anybody. As a gay man, I know what prejudice feels like, but not on the same level. This is different. Racism and homophobia share many commonalities, but at the end of the day, I’m still a white person with privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to be judged instantly because of my skin tone. But what I do know is that as a white person, it’s even more important to speak up about injustices that are NOT happening to me, otherwise our world will never see change. It’s important to hear people’s stories, respect each other’s opinions, and find a way to have a discussion.
I recently sat down with a few friends that can speak firsthand about their own experiences:
“I’ll never forget this experience. It was a simple interaction that was very impactful. While working on the beverage cart on a flight to Boise, Idaho I asked the gentleman in the window if he would like a beverage. He said, “No.” With a smile I said, “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?” He responded, “I don’t want YOU to pour me anything.” I was stunned and caught off guard because I quickly realized what he meant. He didn’t want someone like me to pour him a drink. My co-worker looked mortified. I told him, “Well then, no one will be pouring you a drink on this flight. “My co- worker smiled at me and we continued the service. That interaction lasted minutes but it stung for days. I remember that night in my hotel room thinking of all the things I should’ve said, but I was just hurt.”
– Kira, Flight Attendant, 6 Years
“I was working in the back on the beverage cart and there was an older white woman who didn’t want anything during the service. A few minutes later, I went back through to collect trash and that same woman looked up at me, clutching her purse to her chest. I politely asked, “Can I get you anything?” and she said “No” and looked back down. She would barely look at me or speak to me and every time I walked by, she would clutch her purse a little tighter to her body. It wasn’t until a white flight attendant went through the cabin that she suddenly was very chatty and wanted something to drink.”
– Jamie, Flight Attendant, 7 Years
“I was flying one day and a coworker asked me where I’m from. I said ‘Chicago,’ and she said ‘Oh my, so much violence. You must be afraid every day.’ I said ‘No, I don’t live there anymore and haven’t for some time now. However, when I do visit, I’m never in fear for my life.’ Then she said to me, ‘How did you manage to move out the hood?’ I was shocked. ‘Excuse me?! What made you believe I ever lived there?’ She said, ‘Most blacks are from the hood in big cities.’ I responded, ‘Actually, I am and what you just said is out of pocket. We’re at work so let’s keep it cute. Where I’m from it’s called a pass.’ Woosah! let the negative energy GO!”
– Tasha, Flight Attendant, 6 Years
The reality is that these situations are happening every day, in every industry, around the world. While it can be so much easier to stay in a bubble and deny that racism exists, not everyone is afforded that same freedom, so challenge yourself. Start a conversation with someone who might be different than you are. Step out of your comfort zone and start trying to understand other perspectives. Be aware of your thoughts, your words, and your actions.
At the beginning and end of every flight, flight attendants arm and disarm the aircraft doors. If the door is armed, the evacuation slide will inflate once the door is opened. If the door is disarmed, the door may be opened without inflating the evacuation slide. In order to do this effectively, most flight attendants follow a procedure to cross-check each other and verify that the process has been complete. The purpose of this is to make sure the task is performed safely and that no errors occur. If a mistake is made, the slide could inflate inadvertently and seriously injure or kill someone on the ground. The potential consequences could be quite grave. Take this same process out of aviation and apply it to your life. Discrimination exists everywhere. The next time you see someone and you judge them instantly based on skin tone, take a moment to disarm your racism. Cross-check your beliefs.
Now this isn’t about white guilt or shaming anybody. It doesn’t matter what your race is; we can all do better as humans if we stop judging people, fight against any preexisting biases we may have, and start listening to each other. People’s lives depend on it. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The first question that we get when people find out that we are flight attendants is: “What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on one of your flights?” Whether we are at a family get together, a social gathering, or even chatting with passengers on the plane, it never fails. This is simply one of the most commonly asked questions. The fact that this is the number one thing asked says a lot about where the airline industry stands today, but that’s an entirely different conversation for another time.
Traveling is already hectic enough without people acting crazy, and yet every other day we see stories on the news about passengers going off the deep end. Whether you are an airline employee, a frequent flyer, or even someone who’s only been on a plane a few times, you’ve most likely got a story or two about a crazy passenger on a flight.
While we could probably give you a million stories ourselves, we decided to sit down with some of our fellow flight attendants, including Passenger Shaming Creator Shawn Kathleen. We had some very honest conversations and shared some laughs. Here are seven passengers that totally deserve all the shame that they can get:
I was in the back of the airplane midflight and a passenger came back to the galley with her emotional support chihuaha. She asked me if there was a private area where she could breast feed her dog. I stared at her for a moment to process what she was saying, but she clearly was not joking. I looked down at the dog, with it’s crazy overbite and it’s teeth sticking out at me, and I was repulsed. Not even knowing how to respond, I finally just said to her “Ehhh, um, the lav is right there.” She nodded as if all of this made sense and then went in to “feed” her pup. The crazy thing is, I’m quite positive she didn’t have any breast milk to give the dog.
I was doing a cabin walk-through on an evening flight that was pretty much wide open. Everyone was spread out and had their own rows. The seatbelt sign had come on and the Captain had told us it would be getting pretty bumpy so we should take our seats. As I was doing a seatbelt check, a passenger waved me down and asked to go to the restroom. I kindly informed him, “The Captain asked everyone to stay seated, including the flight attendants, because we’re about to hit a rough patch of turbulence.” He was clearly pissed off. I said “I’m sorry, but the seatbelt sign is on, and I need to take my seat.” About 30 minutes later, I went to walk through the cabin again and noticed a smell. It wreaked of feces. I get to the same row that that gentlemen was sitting in to see if he was okay, but before I could say anything, I gasped. There was literally a piece of shit on the floor next to his seat. I said, in as professional of a tone as I could muster up at this point, “Sir, what exactly is going on here?” His response? “You told me I couldn’t get up and I needed to take a dump.” Needless to say, he didn’t enjoy talking to the authorities when we landed, but you can’t just go around pooping on the floor at 35,000 feet.
Picture this: Boston to LA. We’re on a 737. About halfway through the flight, a passenger comes to the back to tell me about a man who is distracting other passengers. She tells me his seat number and goes to sit down. At this point, there are a million things running through my mind of what it could be. I’m halfway down the aisle when I hear a buzzing sound. Seriously, what is that? I approach said seat and look down to see this man using an ELECTRIC RAZOR TO SHAVE HIS FACE OVER THE TRAY TABLE! Before becoming a flight attendant, I would have assumed that shaving your face over a surface where people dine seemed like an obvious no, but apparently I would’ve been very wrong. I literally had to hide my disgust as I tapped the guy on the shoulder to tell him that he had to stop immediately because it was distracting and gross. Everyone around me cracked up and I gave the man wipes to make sure he cleaned up every last hair left on that tray table.
I was working my second trip ever and we were boarding a 757 out of MIA. We were towards the end of boarding so the gate agents were checking bags. A lady got to her seat and was beyond pissed that she had to check her bag as there was a space left in the overhead bin above her seat. She then threw a complete temper tantrum unlike anything I’d ever seen. She started screaming at the top of her lungs at me and the other flight attendants and began cussing us out and calling us liars. She caused a huge scene. The gate agent came on to help out and got in between us and the woman yelling. She said “You better apologize to the flight attendants and calm down right now.” The woman then ran away from the gate agent all the way to the back of the airplane to hide. The agent followed and said, “Are you just going to run away from me?” At that point, our lead flight attendant made the decision to kick her off the flight for her behavior. As she exited the plane, the passengers began singing together “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!” I couldn’t help but laugh.
I was a fairly new flight attendant, maybe a few months into the job, and I was working an “all-nighter” which consisted of flying from MCO to LAX and then back all in the same night. Lovely, right? I’m sure you can already guess how this story is going to go. From the beginning, boarding was a mess so I knew I was in for a rough night. Once we were airborne, after the service, I dimmed the lights and sat down in my jumpseat. We were now about 2 hours into the flight when a young girl came up to the forward aircraft door with a coat on and her carry on rolling up behind her. She said to me, “I’m ready to get out.” I laughed as I thought she was joking. It was clear from her face that she was unfortunately was not. I didn’t want her anywhere near that door so I offered to grab her bags and stow them as I explained that we had about 4 hours left in flight. I returned her to her seat and the surrounding passengers were rolling their eyes and laughing but clearly this lady was on another level. At this moment I knew, I had entered the twilight zone.
While I had hoped the flight would calm down, it only continued to get worse. We later discovered a woman was moving around the airplane sitting with different men and trying to seduce them. She even accused one of them for touching her inappropriately. Needless to say, the cops met us at the gate as those situations are taken very seriously. And as if things couldn’t get any weirder, we had a woman at the end of deplaning who simply refused to get off the plane. Based on the look in her eyes, something was definitely off. We brought the authorities back for a second time to take her and when they arrived, she claimed that I – the flight attendant – was her husband. The police looked at me and I assured them that I was not, and then off in handcuffs she went. The best part of that night? I still had to work the flight back to Orlando. Pro Tip: Don’t fly red-eyes!
I was working as a flight attendant in the back of the airplane and one of my duties was to confirm the amount of passengers on board. The flight attendant up front called back to confirm that I had the same number that was listed on the paperwork, which included an infant. As I was walking through the cabin, I didn’t notice any babies on board. We notified the gate agent and then went to double check with the passenger who supposedly had an infant with her. Her response was, “You asked us to stow everything in an overhead bin.” When I opened the compartment above her seat, I found a mound of blankets and toys and sure enough, there she was – the baby in a bin. Somehow, the mother couldn’t seem to understand why babies aren’t allowed in the overhead bin. Don’t worry, we had a nice long conversation with her about why babies and suitcases cannot be stowed the same way.
It was the last day of my trip, boarding was almost over, and all I wanted to do was go home. A man came on in a wheelchair and sat in 1D, right across from my jumpseat. He was probably in his mid-fifties, long-ish hair, seemed to be a disheveled mess as coins were falling out of his bag onto the floor. I leaned out of the airplane door and kind of mouthed to the wheelchair assist, “Is something wrong with this guy?” He shook his head no and left, but I still thought something was off. I crouched over and asked to see this passenger’s boarding pass, to try and see if I could smell alcohol or anything like that, but there was nothing. At this point, I’d done everything I could to try and find an issue with him before take-off but nothing was coming up. We secured the cabin for departure, and since I was the lead flight attendant, I made my routine call to the Captain to let him know that we were ready. I called and said “Cabin secure. We’re ready for takeoff. If anything happens, it’s the guy in 1D.”
The flight was overall pretty uneventful and it was time to start our initial descent. I was in the back of the airplane at this time. One of the flight attendants went into the bathroom and the other was cleaning up, so I decided to do a trash pick-up from the back of the plane. It was nighttime so the cabin was pretty dark by this point. As I walked into the aisle, maybe two rows deep, I looked up and saw a red light flashing at the front of the plane. I couldn’t even hear the alarm because the plane was so loud. I ran up to the forward galley and noticed the smoke alarm. I grabbed a fire extinguisher, preparing for the worst. I went up to the lav and suddenly the door flew open, this man stepped out, and the whole front right side of his head was singed. Well what do you know, it was 1D. His hair was basically smoking and you could smell it burning. I had assumed he was smoking a cigarette and something went wrong, but as it turned out, he was bent over lighting a crack pipe when his hair caught on fire. I told the Captain what was going on and we had the authorities meet the flight. As we were taxiing in, the man had the nerve to say to me, “Am I going to make my connection?” I advised him that it was best not to say any more at this point. The funny thing was, I knew the whole time that he’d be an issue, but I guess I just didn’t know how much of one he’d become. Of all the jobs I’ve had, the one job that strengthened my intuition the most was definitely being a flight attendant!
What are some of your crazy passenger stories? Drop a note in the comments or tell us on Facebook!
Special thanks to Shawn Kathleen, creator of the Official Passenger Shaming Instagram, for sitting down with Two Guys On A Plane and sharing her favorite story with us!
Each year on the 11th of September, we are met with a well-known phrase everywhere we go. ‘Never Forget.’ Stand in an airport security line or board a flight any other day, and somehow it all seems to be forgotten. I was working a flight recently from Philadelphia to Seattle. About halfway through the trip, a passenger marched up to the forward galley to use the restroom. She immediately began pulling at the door handle, but someone had been using the lavatory at that time. I informed her the restroom was unavailable and kindly asked that she step back until the lavatory became available. She immediately questioned me, while standing just a few feet away from the flight deck door. “Why can’t I stand here?” I responded, “For security purposes, I ask that you please move back. We just can’t have too many people up here at one time.” She immediately became angry with me. “I’m a paying customer and I should be able to do what I want. Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” she barked at me. My mind immediately went to 9/11. My situation in that moment was undoubtedly different than the ones faced by flight attendants like Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney, but I asked myself – is it really that easy to forget? Do people not think about 9/11 because it has simply slipped their minds or is it easier to block it out rather than imagine the unthinkable?
It doesn’t matter how many years pass, September 11, 2001 is a day that will sit heavy in each of our hearts forever, but especially heavy in the hearts of flight attendants. Whether you realize it or not, your flight attendants are thinking about 9/11 far more frequently than you would imagine. Flight attendants remember the tragic events of that day quite often not just because it hits close to home, but because part of our job is to make sure that it never happens again.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, a flight attendant named Halle Cameron woke up to a confusing phone call from crew scheduling. They asked why she was late to work for American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles. As it turns out, there was a mix-up since she had called in sick the night before. She hung up the phone and the airline scrambled to replace her. Crew scheduling then called 24-year-old reserve flight attendant Jean Rogers, who was sitting standby at Boston Logan International to work the flight. Jean rushed off to the gate while Halle shrugged off her interaction with crew scheduling. Later that morning, Halle stood in front of her television and learned that the very flight she was originally scheduled to work had been hijacked and crashed. Her heart dropped and so did she. Halle knew Jean. That could’ve been her. Somehow, a higher power in the universe had other plans for Halle. Since that day, the guilt caused by something out of her control has mostly faded but the memories are as clear as ever. People continue to call her “lucky” but the only thing that makes her feel lucky is the comfort in knowing that her friends and family didn’t have to grieve over her. Twelve years after 9/11, Halle returned to flying but this time with US Airways, which coincidentally merged with American Airlines. If you ask her how the job compares to what it was before 9/11, she says it’s different to say the least. While flight attendants were once issued white service gloves, they now are equipped with handcuffs during training. Even with everything Halle has been through, she still feels that being a flight attendant is the best job she’s ever had. There’s truly no family like a flight attendant family.
We don’t remember these stories because we want to live in the past, we remember them to honor the lives of those that we lost and to remind ourselves to remain vigilant when it comes to safety. Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders. The accounts of flight attendants like Betty Ong, Amy Sweeney, and Jean Rogers are not simply stories, but reminders of the critical role that flight attendants play. The flight crews of American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93 each performed their duties to the best of their abilities and took risks. These men and women are unsung heroes and as flight crewmembers, we honor their memories every day when we take to the skies.
Immediately following the attacks of 9/11, the world was completely transformed. A lot of these changes didn’t happen slowly over time as one might think but they happened almost instantly. Planes were grounded. Airport procedures were reformed. Security was completely changed not just in airports but in schools, office buildings, post offices. Everywhere you went, the world felt different. There was a sense of trust that had previously existed in the world that was now completely gone. People don’t often realize the wide-reaching effects of 9/11. Everyone from the pilot of a commercial airplane down to the administrative assistant who works in an off-site warehouse for UPS had to completely change their way of living. The reality was harsh, but everyone knew that change was inevitable.
Flight attendants aren’t trained solely for the purpose of serving drinks and snacks, but we are also trained to protect passengers and ourselves from any potential threat whether that be mechanical issues, fires, decompressions, or even terrorist attacks. What remains unseen to the regular passenger’s eye is that while a flight attendant is on duty, nearly everything we say or do is safety-related. We are trained to be alert and maintain a healthy level of suspicion regarding everything that occurs on the aircraft. We look for potential in every passenger not because we want to assume the worst, but because safety and security is of the utmost importance. Whether you get up to pull something out of your suitcase, take a trip or two to the lavatory, or even readjust in your seat, chances are one of the flight attendants is watching to make sure the behavior is as innocent as it seems. On 9/11, the events that occurred in those attacks happened so quickly that there is simply no such thing as being too prepared.
The next time you board an airplane, you may find yourself upset about the lack of legroom or inoperative Wifi. Your flight attendants likely have so much more on their minds, especially if you’re flying on September 11th, all while trying to address your concerns and provide you with a safe and comfortable flying experience. Even if we weren’t working crewmembers on 9/11, each of us still feels the effects from that fateful day as we honor our fellow crewmembers that were lost. 25 flight attendants, 8 pilots, 3 customer service agents, and countless other souls not in the aviation industry were lost that day. All across the nation, members of the aviation community were supporting each other all while caring for stranded and scared passengers. The aftermath of 9/11 was harsh, unforgiving, but important. The next time TSA asks you to remove your shoes or a flight attendant requests that you to return to your seat, remember the important role of aviation safety professionals today and every day.
While the events of 9/11 may slip your mind from time to time, one thing is for certain – your flight attendants will never forget.
A very special thank you to our friend and fellow flight attendant, Halle Cameron, for recounting her experiences from 9/11 and allowing us to tell her story.