United Flight 1903,

Tuesday morning

Listening Post

Life after 9-11-01

November 07, 2001|By Scott Calvert

Carpenter Kenny Schmaz returns from the newsstand at Dulles International Airport with his USA Today and plunks down next to his two buddies. "I got the scoop," he says to his co-workers as they wait for a flight to Atlanta.

The bomb threat that forced a pilot to make an emergency landing at Dulles the night before? A passenger just opened the tray table and found the note, Schmaz tells the guys. He's just learned this from the newsstand clerk who has sold Schmaz his morning paper headlined with the latest terrorist threat.

Schmaz's partners look unworried, as do the few others sprawled in the mostly empty seats at gate D6. A woman with headphones sways to music, her eyes shut. An alarmingly peppy man named Tim yaps on his hands-free cell phone about "next gen" and "leading edge" and ends every call with, "Take care, amigo!"

Then a brown-skinned man who looks vaguely Middle Eastern sits down. As he does, a middle-aged woman seated behind him stares at the back of his head. And stares. Frowns, really. Is she trying to divine his intentions? Or just preoccupied with where she's going?

For the most part this morning, it seems the sepia-toned days of August are back. The security check has taken all of two minutes. At the metal detector, a man has been explaining in great detail that his pet fish has turned homicidal, toward another fish.

The flight - United's "Friendship Flight 1903" - turns out to be a breeze. Passengers don't eye each other warily. The captain does not remind passengers, as some pilots have, to tackle any suicidal hijackers who may be on board. And he says people can leave their seats - if they "absolutely" must.

But what's that the flight attendant is saying as the plane pulls up to the gate in Atlanta? Something about "doors disarmed"? Did they used to say that?

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