Close-Knit Family

ALPA Pilots Remember

By First Officer Nina Johnston, Jazz

I am an airline pilot now, but at the time I was a flight attendant just getting my pilot’s license, dabbling in arts on the side. I flew down from Ottawa to Toronto Island in a small plane, as I had an audition in Toronto on the morning of the 11th. After showing up ready to win the part, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t being “tended to”—the TV studio was a mess, no one had a second for me, and eventually hours had passed, so I left and figured, “Who needs that part, anyway?”

It wasn’t until I tried to get back to the plane (at City Centre Airport) that I realized something was wrong. Then as I walked to the bus station, amidst the bustling of people in a state of controlled panic, I was handed the evening edition of a newspaper. My heart broke, devastated that my friends and colleagues were up there that day. I’d traded shifts with a close friend to get to my audition.

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I think the entire bus was silent on the ride back to Ottawa. The next day, the gravity of the situation really hit me. I watched as the news replayed the horrible events of the day.

With my father and sister both working in the airlines, and both my mother and other sister in aviation, we had a gut-wrenching feeling that something more than the immediate tragedy of lives lost and a wonderful city in distress was about to hit the industry. Jobs were lost, thankfully not ours, but many close to us. My newly minted commercial license was not to be used for years as thousands of pilots, much more qualified than I, were all hoping to gain the very few jobs available.

Once back at my flight attendant job a few days after the event, we saw the best of our passengers come to our attention. They were patient and kind, always understanding that our aviation family is indeed small, and a very close-knit one at that. When we lose one of our brothers or sisters, we all feel it very deeply.

Eventually, I did finally get that elusive first flying job. Every September 11, no matter where I was employed, in the bush or in the city, everyone remembered and stopped to pay tribute to the lives lost that day. We all love what we do, and in a way, do it for those who can no longer, due to circumstances too tragic to have imagined at one time. No one should ever go to work and not come back home. I will never forget.

This article was originally published in the September 2011 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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