A Perfect Day for Flying

ALPA MECs Remember

By Delta Airlines ALPA Master Executive Council

The 10,000 pilots of Delta Air Lines had just ratified “Contract 2000”—an industry-leading agreement—in September 2001 after months of intense negotiations. Delta was hiring over 100 pilots a month, and the airline was enjoying record profits. At the company’s Atlanta hub, the largest airline pilot base in the world, the morning of September 11 dawned bright and sunny—a perfect day for flying.

At his home in an Atlanta suburb, current Delta ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC) chair Capt. Jason Ambrosi was packing for a three-day trip. A 727 first officer at the time, he was watching the news as he put on his uniform. A brief glimpse at the TV showed the iconic World Trade Center in New York City and what appeared to be a small airplane flying close to the North Tower. Jason shut off the TV, grabbed his flight kit, and headed to the airport.

During Jason’s 30-minute ride to Atlanta airport, the situation quickly evolved from uncertainty in the skies over New York to the surreal images of commercial airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers. “There was one TV in the pilot lounge and at least 500 pilots gathered around it. We couldn’t believe the horror of what was happening 800 miles away,” said Jason. Suitcases and flight kits were starting to stack up as pilots, whose flights were delayed but not yet canceled, tried to make sense of the chaos unfolding in the skies and airports around the country. As the severity of the situation became clear, Delta pilots who lived in Atlanta began opening their homes to commuters and others who were stranded. “I will never forget how our pilots bonded together to get through that traumatic day,” said Jason.

Read more 9/11 memories from ALPA pilots and join us for our 20th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony, in person or webcast.

Meanwhile, at the Delta MEC offices overlooking the Atlanta airport, union officials were on the phone with company representatives, ALPA national, and other entities quickly processing the severity of the situation and trying to help stranded crewmembers and passengers. As the airspace shut down and airplanes diverted to airfields around the world, the eerie silence at the world’s busiest airport reflected the unthinkable tragedy of 9/11. The heroic actions of the crewmembers and passengers on the hijacked flights—and the thousands of innocent lives lost on the ground—would forever change our nation.

When air travel resumed two days later, airports and airlines scrambled to implement new security protocols. Jason remembers his first flight after 9/11. “I flew from Atlanta to Tampa,” he said. “There were seven passengers in the cabin of the 727. The leg back to Atlanta was the same. We tried to reassure everyone that they were safe, but there was a shared awareness that air travel would never be the same again.”

In the days ahead, Jason and hundreds of other Delta pilots would be furloughed, despite a contractual no-furlough clause ALPA fought to uphold. “Our union sprang into action during the piloting profession’s darkest days to help those who suffered incredible losses. Each of our lives were changed forever, but I’ll never forget that surreal morning in the Atlanta crew lounge and the loss of so many brave souls,” he said.

Originally published September 2021

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)