Air travel redux

Last Monday, I flew to New York from Toronto, where I’d gone

to watch my sister become a Ph.D. I was booked onto a 9am flight,

but I got there early enough that I had time to make it onto the 8am


Just after I asked the person at the gate whether I could change my

flight, I heard a message over their walkie-talkie saying “we

can’t land at La Guardia”. This concerned me, I’ll

admit, but they changed my ticket all the same, and I went off to

read my book. A couple of minutes later we were told the flight was

delayed, and I wondered whether I shouldn’t have stayed on the

9am flight.

But all was well: the plane was cleared for takeoff relatively quickly,

and we all filed on and left without too much of a delay. The journey

was bumpy: I found out later it was due to high winds, but I wasn’t

sure that we didn’t just have a bad pilot. Coming in to land,

we were being shaken around all over the place.

And then it really got scary.

We’d reached the point where landing was maybe 10 or 15 seconds

away: we were very close to the ground indeed. Suddenly, the jets

came on full thrust, and we soared back up into the air. Everybody

looked at each other and wondered what was going on: there were some

nervous jokes about going down and up again.

A stewardess came on, obviously knowing no more than we did, and said

that the landing had been rejected and that the captain would let

us know what the situation was. He did, eventually, after a fashion:

babbling something about ATC and vectors, he said that we were going

to have to go around and try again.

About a minute later, we realised just what “go around”

meant: it comprised flying incredibly low directly over the site of

what used to be the World Trade Center. I used to go up to the bar

on the 107th floor after work relatively frequently, and I can easily

remember the size of the buildings when you looked out the window

there. When I saw the building where I used to work – the Equitable

Building, at 120 Broadway – I realised it was bigger than when

I used to look at it out of the World Trade Center. In other words,

we were flying right over Wall Street, maybe a few hundred feet from

the Chase Manhattan tower, at an altitude lower than the top of the

World Trade Center.

Six months ago, this would have been an amazing sight: it was a clear

and sunny day, the wind notwithstanding, and we could clearly make

out the workers and tourists on the street below us. But I don’t

think anybody in that aircraft was admiring the view: we were all

thinking the same thing, that we were in an airplane flying through

some of the most high-profile skyscrapers in the world, just five

months after September 11.

Of course, we landed safely – eventually. But even for blasé

people like me, the flight was more than a little disconcerting. As

New York gets back into Fashion Week, and new bars and restaurants

open up, it’s easy to think that things are getting "back to

normal". In a way, they are, and that’s a good thing. But on

a very profound level, things really have changed for ever. Every

New Yorker before September 11 would have been amazed at their good

luck were they to have been on a flight such as mine. And every New

Yorker nowadays would be shaken, not stirred.

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