On the one-week anniversary of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks , almost to the minute, my mother boarded a plane at Jackson International Airport. Her destination was Martha’s Vineyard, which required a stop in Charlotte — and New York City.
For more than a year, Mom and several relatives scattered across the country had been planning and anticipating their rendezvous at Martha’s Vineyard. The attack on Sept. 11 left Mom uneasy. She wrestled with canceling. But in the end, family — and a smidgen of defiance — won out over fear.
“I decided I am not going to let these evil people ruin this once-in-a-lifetime trip for me,” Mom said. “We’ll never have the opportunity to get together again. I’m going.”
As Mom entered JIA, she expected — and hoped for — heightened security. So, when she was asked to hand over her disposable razor at the ticket counter, she was more than happy to comply.
“But that was it,” Mom said. “I went through the X-ray scanner, just like normal, and neither I nor my bags were checked again. I was a little uneasy and very surprised.”
As Mom and her fellow travelers entered the plane, the flight attendant told them to feel free to sit where they liked. There were plenty of extra seats. Mom counted six people.
The leg from Jackson to Charlotte was uneventful. And they picked up some extra flyers bound for New York. Mom counted a total of 16 passengers.
The airliner began making its approach into LaGuardia, and Mom noticed all the passengers on her side of the plane leaving their seats to look out the opposite windows. Curious, she did the same. And down below she looked in horror on Manhattan and the rubble that once was the World Trade Center.
“It was just horrible,” she said. “Even after a week, the smoke was still rising from the wreckage. It’s just so much more massive than it appears on TV.
“Nobody said a word. It was solemn on the plane, very solemn.”
Mom enjoyed her stay at Martha’s Vineyard, but they did monitor the news. And they were just a little upset to learn that reports were circulating of a possible attack on Boston. For the return trip, Mom was to fly out of Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Mom wondered if those reports indeed had credence as she approached the Boston terminal on Sept. 23.
“Every where you looked, you saw these men dressed in those uniforms, you know, with berets and their pants tucked in their boots,” she said. “They were very impressive, and I was glad they were there.”
But once again, Mom was shocked when she didn’t observe any other extra security measures. She did, however, experience a glitch going through the scanner.
“The scanner kept going off, so they used the hand-held device to check me,” she said. “And it kept going off. Eventually a supervisor walked over to the girl scanning me, and in an agitated voice told her she was standing too close to the conveyor system — the metal in it was setting off the alarm. She seemed embarrassed and uneasy. I felt for her. I said, ‘That’s all right. We’re all new at this.’ She smiled back at me.”
The jet for the return trip to Charlotte was full, and Mom took a seat near the rear of the aircraft. She was a little jittery, and she wasn’t the only one.
“A young boy was sitting next to me,” she said. “We taxied out and sat about 15 minutes waiting our turn to take off. During that time, I saw him make the sign of the Cross three times out of the corner of my eye. He was obviously quite nervous.”
Mom’s jet eventually took off, and all seemed normal. And then, about 40 minutes out of Boston, it happened.
“A man, who appeared to be Middle Eastern, stood up and started making his way in my direction,” Mom said. “I don’t know why, maybe the nose of the plane was up, but he didn’t walk, he didn’t even walk fast. He walked very fast, almost jogged. Every head on the plane turned as he went by.”
The man ducked into the fight attendants’ room, which allayed no fears, then just as suddenly bolted into the restroom. As Mom turned around to face the front of the plane, she caught many of her fellow passengers’ eyes, and they all showed fear.
“The young man next to me never took his eyes off that restroom door until the man reappeared. He was a wreck,” she said.
Eventually the door opened, and the man returned to his seat at the same pace that he left it. The rest of the flight to Charlotte, as well as the leg into Jackson, was smooth and quiet.
“After it was all over and I looked back on it, I realized I overreacted,” Mom said. “I really believe the reason the man walked so rapidly was because he was uncomfortable. He probably felt like everyone was watching him, and he was just trying to take care of what ever it was he was doing and return to his seat so we wouldn’t feel threatened. I felt sorry for him.”
So, would she do it all over again?
“We had a great time, so, yes, I would do it again,” Mom said. “If the trip had been for some other purpose — say, a business trip that wasn’t absolutely necessary — I probably wouldn’t have done it. No, I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten on that plane.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016.