It was an ordinary, late summerearly autumn workday on that Tuesday afternoon.
The days were getting shorter, and the nights were definitely
TWA, for you aviation buffs, was still in business. The Labor
Day holiday in the US was behind us and Rosh Hashana wasn’t taking place for
It was September 11, 2001.
We are now approaching
the 10th anniversary of what was, for my generation, an unforgettable, infamous
day – and for the airline industry, more than any other date in the last
quarter-century, a watershed event.
We got the call at 4:30
p.m. when a client of ours from the US said he’d just seen on TV that a
plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. Although we were alarmed by the
potential fatalities, we saw no reason to suspect the true nature of this
The client’s second call 30 minutes later only deepened
our suspicion, and when a third phone call came in that Washington was under
attack, we truly felt that the US was being invaded.
Within an hour,
clients planning to depart to the US that evening were calling up and earnestly
asking what we advised. Airline executives themselves were at a loss to give
guidance until the Airport Authority, in consultation with the Prime Minister’s
Office, closed down all airspace over Israel. Our air force, like countless
military units throughout the world, went on high alert, and we were effectively
quarantined inside our country’s borders.
With closing time at my office,
my staff raced home and stayed glued to their TV sets along with the nation and
most of the world, watching the horrors unfold.
The next day, the office
was still in shock – and trying to deal with the dozens of our clients who had
taken off only to have their aircraft grounded throughout Europe. A mother with
two small children was encamped in Heathrow Airport, pleading with us to get her
on any flight across the Atlantic.
A couple trying to commence their
cruise in Miami couldn’t get out of Madrid. We had a pregnant woman in her ninth
month trying to get back to Israel from LA. Yet nobody panicked, no threats were
made. Already a feeling of unity was starting to develop.
FOR ME, the
most poignant client was our children’s pediatrician. Her son was on one of the
American Airline flights that flew into the World Trade Center. All she wanted
was to get to the US; she wanted to believe with every fiber of her being that
he had somehow survived.
Daniel Lewin was born in Denver and raised in
Jerusalem. He served for four years in the Israel Defense Forces, becoming an
officer in one of the most elite units, Sayeret Matkal. His service to the
country complete, he attended the Technion before heading out to MIT in Boston,
working on his doctorate.
This Renaissance man came up with algorithms to
optimize Web traffic and has been honored posthumously as one of the most
influential figures of the Internet.
On September 11, he was on American
Airlines flight No. 11.
For the last 10 years, Daniel Lewin has
epitomized for me what a true hero is. Sitting in business class on the short
flight, in seat 9B, he was no doubt very near the hijackers.
documents have been released showing that he attempted to foil the hijacking,
resulting in his fatal stabbing. He was most likely the first victim of the
For the next two days, while we were bombarded with attempts to
assist stranded clients, we tried every possible way to get his mother to the
US. The slightest rumor that the airport would be reopened had us using every
resource available to get her on a plane. Hours stretched into days as the skies
It was only after three days that El Al was permitted to
depart Tel Aviv and make its way to JFK. Thousands of people were clamoring to
get onto that flight. Tourists had been stranded here; previously booked
passengers were also waiting to leave.
But rest assured – Lewin’s mother
was on that flight.
THE LAST 10 years have seen a complete change in how
travelers fly. The advent of faster computers now enables Big Brother to review
in advance who will be entering the United States. Airlines and airline
personnel have studied in depth how El Al manages its profiling and what
operating systems it uses on every plane. Many ex-El Al employees have utilized
their knowledge in lucrative careers as security consultants around the
The world is a less safe place than it was a decade ago. No doubt
the next few weeks will see new attempts by terrorists to coordinate attacks to
coincide with the 10-year anniversary.
Our vigilance remains
All of us have resigned ourselves to the reality that air
travel will never be the luxury it once was. Security procedures will continue
to develop, leaving us with fewer and fewer personal freedoms. This is a small
price to pay for our safety.
We have enough heroes. Let’s hope we never
need their kind again on a plane.The writer is the CEO of Ziontours,