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page 11 of 23

First Flight
by Jim McGee

Ten days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon I was scheduled on a flight to Florida for a combined equipment test and short getaway.  US Airways confirmed the flight would go as scheduled but there would be some restrictions regarding carry-on baggage.  One gentleman referred me to the updated baggage restrictions on their Web site but said additional restrictions might be in place at individual airports.  As the FAA and the airlines scrambled to return to some kind of normalcy, confusion and uncertainty seemed to be the rule of the day.

Having flown under adverse conditions in the past I was more concerned about confirming details than I was for my personal safety.  I confirmed, then reconfirmed the flights both in-bound and outbound.  I did the same for the hotel and rental car as I had a 160 mile drive ahead of me when I landed.

Several people told me I was nuts to be flying so soon after the attacks.  One rep I was talking to even went so far as to suggest that I update my will in the week before I left.  Just to be sure.

I shrugged it off, but in some part of my mind a little worry had begun to grow.  Was I taking an unnecessary risk?  Unlike most of the travel that I do, my wife was booked along on this trip.  Was I putting her at risk?

The day before I was to leave "the email" arrived.   Rumors were being reported by the press that additional attacks were planned for Saturday the 22nd - the day after my flight.  A friend working for a large corporation forwarded me an urgent email addressed to "all employees" instructing them to cancel any travel plans from the 21st to the 25th as they had "credible evidence" that a second wave of attacks was to start on the 21st.

I mulled this over for a minute before deciding that when it was my time to go, I would go kicking and screaming.  I also wasn't going to let fear determine how I lived my life.  We were going.

That night we sanitized our carry-on bags.  My razor went, along with my wife's hair spray (no aerosols are allowed on planes now).  Even my ever-present Swiss Army knife, only two inches long, would be delegated to our checked bags.  My usual compliment of personal camera gear stayed on my desk and only the Dimage went along for the ride.  This gave me a bag heavy in electronics with the Dimage, my laptop, cell phone, and various chargers and cables.  I expected to be examined closely if not shot on sight.

We arrived at the airport at 5:30 AM for our 8 AM flight.  Curbside check-in is a thing of the past and we got into a LONG line of folks waiting to check their bags.  To the credit of US Airways the line moved along very quickly.  Fellow passengers were unanimously cooperative.  Everyone I talked to was understanding of the necessary delays but an undercurrent of unease was evident in many.  I also noticed many were wearing shirts with American flags.

We walked through metal detectors, were "wanded", with handheld metal detectors, and we were patted down.  My carry-on containing about as much electronics gear as the average Aegis missile cruiser got it's share of attention but the whole process was quick and painless.  I've experienced tighter checks traveling in Europe.

After going through all of these additional steps we still had plenty of time before our flight to catch a quick breakfast.  There were many more uniformed officers than was previously normal but rather than a feeling of unease from so much security we were glad to see them.  Our flight, originally booked solid, was flying only a third full and was uneventful.  Landing in Miami, airport security looked much the same as it had in Philadelphia with the addition of some tense looking U.S. Marshals.

When we arrived at the bed and breakfast and checked in we found that other guests had had similar experiences.  A little longer wait and partially full but uneventful flights.

On the return trip things were more normal.  The security folks were getting it down to a routine.  Both legs of my return flight were overbooked and full and the plane was a half-hour late getting in.  In other words it was a normal flight.

The bottom line here is if you have business, go.  If you have vacation plans, go.  It's critical that we get back to normal. You still have a better chance of getting conked in the head by a meteor than you do of getting attacked by a terrorist.

Its been said that if you live in fear of dying you'll never live.  It's been a bad few weeks.  But folks, it's time to get out and live.

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