How 9/11 changed my job as a flight attendant

When CNN contacted me to write a 9/11 blog post from a flight attendant’s perspective, I considered it an honor.  Not many news outlets have given us a voice.  Not many people truly understand what we deal with on a daily basis.  To set the record straight, the first 9/11 victim was NOT Rev Mychal Judge.  The first 9/11 victims were the two flight attendants who were stabbed by terrorists on board American Airlines flight 11 when they forcibly made their way into the cockpit.

(CNN) — The great thing about being a flight attendant is that each time I walk on board a plane, a new adventure awaits.  Though no trip is ever exactly the same, there’s a timeline we try to stick to: Ten minutes after takeoff, we begin setting up carts for the service.

An hour and a half into the flight, flight attendants in coach are picking up discarded items while those in business class are whisking away salad and
appetizer plates to make room for entrees. Very rarely does the timing of the service change, which is why whenever I hear about a plane crash, I know exactly what was happening in the moments before the plane went down.  Before That Day, if I heard a reporter discussing an air disaster, I always envisioned what the flight attendants were doing right before showing everyone their brace position.

Preparing for the unthinkable

Before That Day, conversations on the jump seat during takeoff revolved around loved ones or layover plans.  After, they were all about one thing: What would I do if something happened?  In the months that followed, I can’t tell you how many times I prayed, sitting on the jump seat during takeoff, that it wouldn’t come to that. And if it did come to that, I prayed it would happen before we finished the service, because I didn’t want to have to do all that work and then die.

“Here’s what I’m going to do,” one of my co-workers said. He motioned to the insert of soda — the plastic container full of cans that we slide into the
beverage cart — sitting on the linoleum floor beside our jump seats.  Grabbing a can of Pepsi, he made quick and aggressive throwing motions. “Bam!
Bam! Bam!”

“You’re going to kill them with Pepsi?” I asked.

“It’s better than nothing!”

From That Day forth, every flight attendant I met had some sort of plan, and each plan was more original and ingenious than the next: broken wine bottles,
hot coffee, seat cushions. Meanwhile, flight attendants and passengers came together like the rest of the world did. We were a team, and everyone offered their support. If any good came from that horrible day, this was it.




  1. Nicely written with the right ammount of perspective and totally truth. Why have we forgot tha the first line of defense were the crew ? And that their job is much more of what we can saw in every flight . Their real job is be prepared for anything and keep it unnotice .

  2. This is a great perspective! As a young person who never flew before september 11th I actually find many airlines to be of good quality (in Canada). I always see the flight attendants as a positive during the flight. I have never had a bad flight attendant.

  3. Heather,
    I really liked the blog/CNN…article that you wrote about how 9/11 changed your job as a Flight Attendant.
    I have always wondered why the flight crew is hardly ever mentioned when the tragic events of that day are discussed or re-played.
    I wish the following poignant quote from your blog had been included by CNN in your article…….
    “……To set the record straight, the first 9/11 victim was NOT Rev Mychal Judge. The first 9/11 victims were the two flight attendants who were stabbed by terrorists on board American Airlines flight 11 when they forcibly made their way into the cockpit……”
    I changed career paths recently and am a Flight Attendant based out of MSP……I will be following your blog!
    Thank you, Mplsbeb.

  4. This terrible tragedy has affected all our lives but yours working on plane changed even more. I can’t image to be on a plane everyday with all those thing that has happened. How do you cope with fear?

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