How my mother learned to fly again

Airline staff remembers 9/11, looks forward

Editor’s note: In this essay, IDS reporter Kamilla Benko spent the morning in Boston Logan International Airport with her mother and two siblings. While they were there, airport staff honored the colleagues they lost 10 years ago. Carol
requested that her last name not be published because of her contract with United Airlines.

As they wait for me, my mother, Marguerite, stands in the atrium of Boston Logan International Airport . My 10-year-old brother Matthias rocks on his heels before he begins to push his suitcase back and forth like a vacuum cleaner. Ignoring him, my mother reaches down to remove her knee braces.

“Do you need any help?”

She glances up to see a man in a Transportation Security Administration uniform eyeing her as she undoes the Velcro straps.

“We’re just waiting for my daughter. She’s checking her bag.”

He nods. A pause, then a half-explanation for his sudden appearance.

“It is 9/11, you know.”

* * *

Ten years to the day, to almost the hour, Boston Logan International Airport remembers.

The staff at baggage check-in wears homemade pins with “9/11” embroidered
in black yarn. Gate C19 has been closed for the day. At 10 a.m., people will gather there to memorialize United Flight 175’s final taxi.

Carol, a United Airlines stewardess for 16 years, sips her coffee in Gate A16. She’s pinned a white carnation to her right shoulder and a black ribbon trimmed with gold
thread on her left. On her wrist she wears a black bracelet with the words “We Remember” and the number 35 stamped on the rubber. She wears it in memory of the 35 flight attendants and staff killed on 9/11.

Her friends.

Carol sits and remembers Sandra Bradshaw working Flight 93, her first trip since maternity leave. Sandra’s son is 10 now.

She sits and remembers Debbie Welsh on the same
flight. Debbie, who a week and 10 years ago greeted Carol with a hug and the news that her doctor said she did not have breast cancer.

“Thank you for making me go to the doctor,” Debbie said.

“Don’t thank me. Thank your doctor, silly!” Carol replied.

Carol sits near her friends’ last stop and remembers.

“It’s not that you ever forget,” she explains. “But because it has been 10 years, and with all the media attention, you think of their lives and wonder where they would have been now.”

* * *

When my mother flew from the same airport on Sept. 11, 2001, she juggled
four-month old Matthias in one hand and a suitcase in the other. My aunt, who
is my mother’s older sister, Kathy Healy, followed her through security with the
bulging diaper bag.

Kathy’s silver bracelet set off the alarm. She moved to take it off, but the security guard
looked at it and told her not to bother. She waved Kathy through.

“They aren’t very thorough, are they?” Kathy said as she joined Marguerite.

Today, my mother watches a young Japanese couple approach the full-body scanner.

The mother has strapped her daughter to her chest with a baby carrier. Marguerite watches as the TSA tells the family they can keep the sling, but all three of them — baby included — will have to be swabbed for explosives.

* * *

It was just luck that Carol was not on Flight 93. It was one of her favorite shifts.

“It was just the right amount of time and normally really empty,” she says. “You
could just sit on the plane and plan what you were going to do for the rest of the day. I put in a bid for that day but didn’t get it.”

Her voice rises slightly and she blinks rapidly. A deep breath.

“My friend called me immediately to see if I was home. I figured out who was on the
plane within minutes. Then I broke down.”

Carol says it was hard for her to get back on a plane, but life moves on. She’s flying to
Indianapolis in an hour.

* * *

My mother herds Matthias and my sister, Gabriella, onto the plane in front of her as I follow behind them.

After Sept. 11, 2001, she said she thought she would never be able to fly again. Even now, she flinches when the pilot greets the passengers through the speaker. The double ding will forever remind her of the announcement that her plane has been ordered to land in Buffalo, NY, as it was in 2001.

She wonders what the statistics are of flying out from the same airport at
the same time 10 years later.

Marguerite buckles Matthias’s seat belt, pulls it snug against him, and prepares to takeoff.

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