September 11, 2001, started off as an ordinary work day at American Airlines, the world’s largest airline.
Pilot Jesse Evans had taken off from Paris with a Boeing 767-300 full of passengers heading to Chicago. Flight attendant Heidi Gunderson was helping customers stow their luggage in overhead bins on a flight from New York JFK to Los Angeles. Customer service manager Kent Powell was enjoying his morning off before heading in to work the afternoon shift at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.
The skies were clear, with the sun shining brightly on American’s planes at airports in Boston and Washington, D.C.
Then, American Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower. A half hour later, American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. The crew and passengers on United Flight 93 overtook hijackers and their plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa.
The day quickly turned chaotic as planes were ordered to land and hearts were filled with grief with the realization that 23 co-workers had died in terrorist attacks.
“I never ever go to work and not think about that day,” said Steve Wade, who was a first officer on an American flight that left Boston around the same time as Flight 11.
In the days, months and years that followed, the aviation industry changed dramatically. The Transportation Security Administration was created to overhaul security at the nation’s airports. Several airlines declared bankruptcy and then merged, leaving thousands of airline workers on furlough or unemployed. Cockpit doors were reinforced with kevlar and hundreds of federal air marshalls were hired to protect passengers and crews.
For American Airlines employees, the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 is a reminder of how their everyday lives were altered. It’s also a time to remember how that day unfolded.
“Even though it’s been 15 years, the emotions and the things that you feel are just as strong for most of us as they were two years after or three years after,” said Gunderson, an American flight attendant who was working a flight that never took off that morning at New York’s JFK Airport. “It’s going to be an emotional day for me. It always will be.”