By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Sunday, September 16, 2001
Between them, Laura Montgomery and Carole Sanders have 73 years experience as flight attendants for American and Delta airlines.
Both are scheduled to go back into the air in the next few days, yet both say they are not afraid. They agree that what happened Tuesday in Washington and New York is something that would have been hard to prevent.
“If you get a group of terrorists who really want to take over a plane there is only so much you can do,” said Sanders, a former Wise County resident who now lives in Jacksboro. “I have been flying for 40 years and it is something everybody thinks about.”
Montgomery, who lives in Decatur, has flown for Delta for 33 years.
She said that she believes that if someone is determined to “wreak havoc,” they will find a way to do it.
“There is not really anyway you can guard against it,” said Montgomery. “I will be much more aware of my passengers now, but these men obviously had the means to do what they did. I think it will be long time before things are back to normal.”
Both women receive training every year in what action to take in the case of a hijacking and say they would fall back on it in a situation such as occurred in New York and Washington this week.
But Montgomery says that she believes the whole scenario will have to be reevaluated.
“We have been trained to talk to them and, if there is a male flight attendant, they would keep them in the background because it is believed that a woman will have a better chance to connect with a hijacker,” Montgomery pointed out. “They would do such things as show them pictures of their family. But this is all different. In the past the hijackers wanted something, or to go somewhere – these men didn’t want that. They wanted to crash those planes. How do you deal with that? And what happened, happened in a matter of moments when you are talking about taking off in New York and then crashing into the Trade Center.”
Sanders said that flight attendants are prepared to handle the situation as best as possible and security is good. But, being human, eventually someone will let their guard down.
As far as how a terrorist could get into the cockpit, Montgomery said she can understand.
“If something happens, we are supposed to pick up the phone, call the cockpit and give a coded description of what is going on without alerting the hijacker so that the pilot can then call the ground and tell them we have a problem,” Montgomery said. “But, if I pick up that phone and the pilot hears screams from the passengers and the flight attendants, I can’t believe the guys would not open that door. I am sure that is what happened in this case.”
Sanders was aquainted with the flight attendant that called from one of the airliners that crashed.
“I know that she had a lot of years of flying and received the same training I had,” Sanders explained. “She got on the phone and called her supervisors to tell them that they had been hijacked. We are prepared to handle it as best as possible, but if they wanted to hijack that plane there wasn’t much she could do.”
Sanders said now there would be heightened awareness.
“The problem for all of us now is going to be putting everyone into a category,” Sanders said. “But we have to depend on our government to keep the terrorists under surveillance. If George Bush will do what he says he is going to do, maybe things will get better.”
Montgomery agrees but says that in terrorism, even a clean-cut college student could be used.
“You just have to be aware of everyone on board,” she said.
Both women know the dangers inherent in air flight. Both are prepared to go back into the air.
Still, as Sanders put it, “Retirement looks better and better.”
Look for more of WCMessenger.com’s special 9/11 tribute at www.wcmessenger.com/911.