Jenna Luetkehans, the girl who taught you how to handle family-boyfriend situations, is back to tell the story of how it felt to travel on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
I truly loathe booking anything travel related, and I am notorious in my family for being bad at it. One year, I was in charge of the family holiday to Arizona, and when we arrived at the hotel they had no record of our booking. It turned out that I had selected the wrong dates, and reserved rooms for the following year. Fortunately, they laughed it off and we had a lovely holiday. Another time, my brother and I were to fly to the west coast together, but we had booked our flights separately. The morning we were meant to leave, we both tried to check in online, but only he could. It took us a while to figure out that I had booked my flight for the following day. (Yes, yes, go ahead and laugh at me, it’s fine, I’m used to it).
My most recent mistake came with booking my return flights to St Andrews. About a month before I was due to leave, I decided to leave a few days earlier than I had planned. It surprisingly only took a quick phone call to the airline customer service desk to make the change, and I even got some money back. This is the point at which I should have been concerned.
It wasn’t until a few days before I was due to leave that the reality began to dawn on me. It was sparked by the increasingly frequent footage of remembrances of 11 September, 2001 that was appearing on every TV I passed. I had scheduled a flight on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. An overnight, transatlantic flight that would cross over the entire US eastern seaboard. The terrible (and terribly unlikely) possibilities of what could happen haunted me. I hardly slept, I had no appetite, I didn’t even want to go shopping…I was totally freaked out.
The morning of the day my flight was supposed to leave, I nearly had a panic attack and decided I simply was not going. There was just no way I was going to an airport, getting on a plane, and being in the air for eight hours. In fact, I announced to my family over breakfast, I wasn’t going to be leaving the house at all for the next few days, just to be sure I was safe. This would have been a great plan, except that across the pond, my fiancé and future in-laws were awaiting my arrival to whisk me away to my engagement party the following evening. My family and his family convinced me I had to go. Surely I had to turn up for my own engagement party! All I could think about however was how tragic it was going to be when I did not turn up at my engagement party, while they all watched on the news as my plane disintegrated in the air… I was fully paranoid at this point!
Anyway, I let my parents take me to the airport, and after a more-teary-than-usual goodbye, I went inside. It was eerily quiet. Check-in and security took no time at all. I went through my usual airport routine: toilet, bookstore to buy a cheap and poorly-written novel and a bridal magazine that I was not going to need, as my life was about to end, and finally to Starbucks to drink my last decaf-tall-no-whip-two-pump mocha. I sat at the gate and waited. There was a lot of nervous energy at the gate (it definitely wasn’t just me), not helped by the TV screens every fifty feet with CNN on. I was not at all surprised when a special report came on to announce that a different major US airport had been evacuated due to a suspicious package. The other passengers and I exchanged looks (mine was one of sheer terror). I wondered when our disaster would strike. I sat and watched as the flight attendants and captains arrived at the gate, looking cool as cucumbers, and passed through the secure door. Shortly afterwards, boarding began. Everyone else was silently handing over their boarding cards and walking onto the jet bridge, so I did too, with desperate prayers that I would live to see my fiancé in a few hour’s time.
And you know what, dear readers, I did. The flight was absolutely fine. I sat next to a nice Irish guy who chatted most of the way, and laughed at me when I gripped the armrests when there was any turbulence. He told me he was in New York on 11 September, 2001, in fact, he flew out of JFK that night. He wasn’t nervous at all ten years later, and told me I shouldn’t be either. The terrorists, he explained, use fear as a weapon, and if I’m scared, that means they’re winning. This explanation appealed to the Honours IR student within me, so I listened to him, and calmly sat and watched a crappy movie with him over a miniature bottle of wine. I passed through border control and baggage reclaim with a bounce in my step despite many sleepless nights before, and happily arrived at my engagement party, which was a lovely affair. And I’ve decided that if counterterrorism means drinking wine and watching crappy movies with Irish guys, maybe I’ve been choosing the wrong IR modules.
Photography – Jenna Luetkehans