I'm packing to head to Vegas and every time I pack, I think of my trip to Las Vegas months before before 9/11. I was heading to a work related event and was accompanied by my parents. I go to at least two conventions in Las Vegas every year. This time we were flying on American West, formerly known as America Worst because of their lousy on time schedule.
We were meeting up with my cousin/sister at Phoenix Sky Harbor. Deb was going to be my roomie since my husband had to work. Our flight was late. Oh, surprise! The plane was at the next gate but even though Deb was at the gate, they closed the door and wouldn't let us board.
Her friend Dave was there to see her off. Yup, you could actually be IN the airport if you weren't traveling. He rushed us to an American West office so we could be reticketed on another flight. He was an elite traveler and we were like the 800th person in line, he called the airline, made our arrangements to get us switched to Delta. So like crazy people, he grabs a wheelchair for my father, grabs our carry ons and runs us to a bus to get us to another terminal where our tickets were waiting. And they were!
The plane was a 767. Pretty weird flying from Phoenix to Vegas because there were only like 40 people onboard, but it was late at night. Deb and I were in the first cabin after first class. My parents were in the next cabin.
In strolls a group of 7 men who had no luggage, no carryons and appeared to be speaking Arabic. They got on the plane and started going through the overhead bins. When they found a bin that had plane stuff in it they started "messing" with it. The flight attendant stopped them, told them to sit down. And they did, for about a minute. And then they started wandering into first class and toward the cockpit. The flight attendants from the back came up front and told them to sit down so we could take off. Now remember, this was the time when security was relaxed, the cockpit door would sometimes stay open during the flight and you could watch the takeoff.
Deb and I and the 7 men were the only ones in our cabin. The men acted like they didn't understand. Back they went rifling through the overhead bins in the next cabin. Weird considering they came with nothing except for the clothes on their back. Two flight attendants escorted them back into the cabin and they insisted they wanted to sit where Deb and I were sitting. There were seats everywhere, but they wanted to look out our window.
Deb is not known for her finesse. She tells it like it is. She said "Get the f--- out of my face camel breath and go sit down." The flight attendant laughed and said "Amen". Three of them kept leaning over us and we decided to move up a few seats. They followed us. The flight attendants finally stood in between the doors to the cabins to keep them seated. They also locked the cockpit door. As soon as we were in the air, they blocked the exits and entrances to our cabin with the carts.
Since no one was in the back of the plane, the attendants called the back and sent the attendants up to our cabin. These guys didn't quit. They were in and out of the bathrooms, moved a cart and tried to get into first class . They were totally enthralled with the mechanics of the plane, especially the wing flaps. They spent all 50 minutes of the flight trying to keep this group who PRETENDED not to understand English to sit down.
A flight attendant asked one of them why they were going to Vegas and where they were staying. One guy said he was going to take pictures. The flight attendant asked him where was his camera. He said he didn't have one. WTF? Where are you staying? They didn't know. Do you gamble? No. We were like wondering why these young Arab men were going to Vegas when they were not gamblers, had no luggage, didn't know where they were staying and seemed interested in keeping me and Deb in our seats and messing with the plane.
As we started to descend, they got out and headed to watch the wing flaps again. The attendants called the pilot, the pilot told them to sit down now. They pretended not to understand, but they understood EVERYTHING when the flight attendants were talking to them behind us. They escaped into the back cabins and the flight crew went back to get them. They were in the back galley. By this time, all 40 of us on this cavernous flight were wondering what was up with them.
They made them come back and sit down and they got up again and leaned over me and Deb. There were windows everywhere, why our window? She screamed this time "Get the f--- away from me and sit the hell down." The co pilot had to come back and sit them down so we could land.
Now here's the weirdest part, they didn't want to get off the plane. Of course, they weren't at baggage pickup. Everyone on the plane waiting for our luggage was talking about how weird they were and why were they messing with the plane.
Fast forward a year. Its 9/11 and I just returned the night before from a business trip to Las Vegas. The news starts to unfold. Deb and I get a sick feeling when we see the pictures of the terrorists on TV. We call each other, is that Camel Breath? We recognized those guys...they were on that flight with us! We called each other, called my parents. My parents recognized them also. Mom cries and cries. Then comes the news that the terrorists had been flying between Phoenix and Las Vegas on a 767s to learn the workings of that aircraft. They'd been taking flight lessons in Phoenix. OMG, it really was the terrorists on that flight!!
So we call the FBI. And since I'm totally anal about keeping receipts from business trips, I had all the flight information. And I never was so scared in my life while I gave the FBI agent the information of our flight and our statements. And then we all freaked out. Big time. And Mom cried some more.
A few months later, James Woods the actor, is on Jay Leno's Tonight Show and he's talking about how he was on a flight with the terrorists and how he had to file a report with the FBI. And he talked about how it shook him up to think of what could have happened. Hey, I know the feeling.
So as I get ready to go to Las Vegas again, instead of bitching that I have to take off my shoes at security and I can't bring on a lighter or more than 3 ounces of liquids, I think of THAT flight, and I shut my mouth. I think of how lucky we were and I pray for the ones who weren't as lucky as we were. And I wish that someone on the crew would have reported them to the police. And that might have changed history.