It’s hard to grasp that it has been a decade since the terrorist attacks on our country in September 2001. The world and our industry were changed dramatically with the repercussions of that vicious attack reverberating today.
That Tuesday morning in Dallas was an absolutely gorgeous day and I was getting ready for a workout as I had a P.M. trip that afternoon. My wife, Kathie, called me to the family room and told me she had just received a strange phone call from her sister, Eileen, in Pittsburgh. Eileen asked Kathie, “Is Joe flying today?” Kathie told her I was home, so Eileen said, “Quick, turn on your television.” On the television, there was an incredible shot of one of the World Trade Center towers streaming thick, dark smoke out of a hole two-thirds of the way to the top of the tower. I remember having difficulty processing what I was seeing. Thinking there had been some kind of an explosion when the news anchor said an airliner had crashed into the tower, my brain went into sensory overload trying to rule out various flight scenarios.
The phone kept ringing with more family and friends calling and e-mailing to see if I was flying for Southwest that day. We had no idea yet which airlines and aircraft had been flown into the World Trade Center towers or The Pentagon, which had crashed in Pennsylvania. Good information was so hard to come by.
Why were the pilots flying so low? Were they landing at LGA/JFK? How could they accidentally hit the tower on such a crystal-clear day? Reality hit: it was a hijacking. Still analyzing the scenario, I thought that if you were a pilot faced with this unfathomable situation, you would instinctively bank the aircraft at the last second. Then the possibility struck me… the pilots weren’t flying the aircraft. Someone else was flying. I couldn’t believe it.
American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower at 0846. Seventeen minutes later at 0903, United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower. It was truly surreal to watch a large airliner strike the South Tower and literally disappear into the structure of the building.
On 9/11, nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens and many of our military and government workers at the Pentagon lost their lives, and a heroic group of passengers overpowered the terrorists on UAL Flight 93 only to crash into the Pennsylvania countryside. Every time I see the image of the twin World Trade Center Towers in a movie that was pre-9/11, it makes me shake my head and think of that day of infamy.
In characteristic American fashion, the country came together. We were galvanized as a nation, despite the utter confusion of what had happened. People flew their flags and looked to our Leadership to fathom the enormity of this terrorist attack. What was going to happen? What were we going to do as a nation, as an industry, and as an airline? I questioned if and when we would fly again.
Southwest Airlines Employees came together also, as this was a direct attack on our industry. Crews gathered together across the country wherever they were stranded. The industry was completely shutdown with no flights operating. This had never happened before in the history of the airline industry or the FAA. Crews looked out for one another, and many acts of kindness were happening in Southwest cities everywhere.
It was no surprise that Employees wanted to donate money to the Company to help out in this critical time. It was a time of crisis, coming together, giving, and helping one another in a true display of Southwest Culture.
On 9/11, we saw the airline industry change forever. We have rolled with the punches and not only survived in a tough new operational environment, but also thrived in incredibly harsh economic times for the past ten years. Southwest’s People are true fighters for our Company, our Customers, and our industry. So while we look back with somber appreciation for the sacrifices of those who perished, we also look to the future with hopeful optimism.
We will never forget.