Tears at 36,000 Feet

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

Today I flew home from Denver after an amazing four days at the Star Mega Do 3. Today is the ten year anniversary of September 11th. Today I just couldn’t stop the tears from streaming out of my eyes while flying at 36,000 feet.

The plane I was on this morning had DirecTV, and as I boarded at about 6:30AM MST (8:30AM Eastern) I noticed the 10th anniversary 9/11 ceremonies were playing on TV. While it is sad to say, some 9/11 anniversaries have come and gone without much fanfare in my corner of the world. However, this one was different. It’s different because it is the 10th anniversary, which is a concrete and important milestone that helps us realize how far we have, or have not, come since our world changed that day. It was both sad and uplifting to see the young children of those who perished on 9/11 now as mature young adults reading the names of those who perished at the ceremony.  When they did the first moment of silence, about 16 minutes after I boarded my flight, marking 8:46AM EST when ten years ago at that moment American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the tears started to flow.  As they continued reading the names of those who had died, the tears didn’t stop.

It was heartbreaking for me, at 30, to see the ages of those who died in attacks and realize that so many of them were younger than I am today. For the portion of the ceremony that I watched, I noticed an inordinate number of 26 year olds who never got a chance to see their 27th birthday. When the attack happened 10 years ago, 26 sounded almost old to me. Now, I realize how much life was really taken from them. Many probably never had the chance to experience what it is like to get married and have children of their own.

I also could not stop the tears from rolling down my face as they read the name of David Brandhorst-Gamboa, a 3 year old who was on United Flight 175 that struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center. While such a senseless death of a child is clearly a tragedy from anyone’s point of view, as a mother, it now has such a different personal impact on me than it did ten years ago. I think of the child, and the child’s parents, as the events unfolded on that flight. I thought about what it would be like to be in that situation with my own daughter. As I thought of that while flying home to be with my own child, the tears started coming more quickly.

I also thought of all the friends I now have in the aviation and frequent flying community. I thought of what it would feel like for me today if I learned that a similar event was taking place. I thought of the panic and helplessness I would feel wondering if all of my traveling online friends from Milepoint and Flyertalk were safe. This is especially true now that, thanks to the SMD3, many of my “online” friends have become my real friends.

I thought of Captain Jason Dahl, the pilot of United 93 that went down in a field in Pennsylvania. Last night, at the closing event of the SMD3, we heard stories of what a fantastic person Captain Jason Dahl was from those who knew him. Jason had traded flights with another pilot so that he could take his wife Sandy to London the following weekend to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Having just celebrated my own third wedding anniversary, that also now has a different personal meaning to me than it could have had ten years ago. You can learn more about, and donate to, the fantastic Jason Dahl scholarship fund here.

Watching the events on TV today was also sad because I am afraid that, now that we have passed the 10th anniversary mark, remembrance of the events will start to fade. Out of this tragedy comes a memory that brings us as a country and community closer together. It is a closeness that can be powerful in a very positive way, and I don’t want that to fade into oblivion.

Today it didn’t matter what those sitting next to me on my flight thought, or what those walking down the aisle of the aircraft may have wondered as they saw me sitting in 8A unable to stop the tears from silently streaming down my face. What mattered is that, in my own way, the events of ten years ago became more personal to me than they were before. I lived in Manhattan four years after the attacks, and had the privilege of befriending many who had lost loved ones on that day, but it wasn’t until this week that the magnitude of what happened 10 years ago today in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania really sunk in.

Today I was lucky enough to have an uneventful flight and return home to my loving husband and amazing, beautiful daughter. I was able to walk up to the car at passenger pick-up and be greeted by a squealing 20 month old who was smiling from ear to ear at the sight of her mommy. I got to go home and watch my daughter cheer for the Kansas City Chiefs in her first cheerleading outfit.

On September 11, 2001, 2,977 people lost the opportunity to be with the ones they love. I think my tears were tears of sorrow, tears of hope, and tears of thankfulness. My thoughts are with those who had their lives changed forever a decade ago. My hope is for the future of all those who were effected. My thankfulness is for my family, my friends (both in the “real” and online worlds), my country, and for the opportunity that I had this week to learn more about Captain Jason Dahl.

May all of our travels continue to be safe ones.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.



  1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I too, was one, among millions, who mourned today. At some points I wanted to sob, at other times, I was just plain angry. As I sit on my flight to Seattle I know that this day is coming to close on the East Coast and I hope those who were lost and those who mourn will be at peace knowing we will never, ever forget.

  2. Nicely said, from the viewpoint of someone who was in the sky on the 10th anniversary of September 11. My sister is an airline pilot, and she was working yesterday, too – a sad day for all of us who remember.

  3. Thanks for all the nice comments. This post certainly was from the heart. In all honesty, I have still been on the verge of tears most of today thinking about it (well, that and watching a 9/11 documentary that I recorded from last night!).

  4. Perspective
    Ten years ago Mommypoints called home from college on September 11th. She was a young college student living away from home. As the realization set in that the events of the day were a direct threat to our country, a phone call home was an important stabilizer to an insane day. However, the message I remember most from her phone call that day was, “Mom, I understand patriotism.” Her comment was based on the spirit of patriotism that became vocal on the college campus that day in response to the attack on America.
    Ten years later, it seems that the growth of patriotism that Mommypoints experienced in 2001 has been joined by other deep emotions of family connections, both for her own family and others. Perspectives change throughout life and their changes make us stronger people. Thanks Mommypoints for sharing with us again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *