Last Monday, I flew to New York from Toronto, where Id 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
cant land at La Guardia. This concerned me, Ill
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 shouldnt have stayed on the
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 wasnt
sure that we didnt just have a bad pilot. Coming in to land,
we were being shaken around all over the place.
And then it really got scary.
Wed 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 dont
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.