When I talk to people across the globe right now, it feels a bit like the planet is about to come to a full grind-stop. Everyone seems to watch in astonishment the events unfolding quickly across all countries, fueled by a 24/7 media bombardment on Corona-Virus case counts.
You can describe events happening right now with fancy words such as a “Black Swan” or simply with a never seen before halt of modern day travel…but hold on, really “never seen before”…? Actually September 11th 2001 was just such an event and I have a story tell around it that I hope will you give some hope in return 🙂
How that story started: Be young, see the world!
I was always one of the traveling kind, with a love to explore other places! After finishing school I wanted to really wanted to explore all of this world and started off with living in London for a while, working for what was back then the Sheraton Hotel brand. Past the Millennium then I wanted to move on and explore other parts of the planet and ended up with an offer for a Management Trainee program in beautiful & sunny San Diego/California (many had recommended that city to me!) and Sheraton again made an offer to take me in as a management trainee. Planning went ahead , things were put into storage I and booked a flight ticket for arrival roughly a month before (to sort out accommodation, living, more paperwork etc)
And two days before the flight departing on Sept. 13th, the world fell apart…
Give up your dream…?
I remember it vividly: I was just driving in my car (it was a beautiful autumn day…who would not know exactly where they were on this day, no?) when I received a phone call from a very good friend from London, asking me whether I had the TV switched on, because one plane just hit the World Trade Center. I stuttered a bit surprised “No…I am currently driving?” and just when I arrived back home (and switched on CNN) I saw the second plane hitting the other tower. And the hours afterwards, everyone in complete shock and disbelief, with my family asking me “So that means you will now not go, right…?”
Naturally I called the Sheraton HR department and asked them on guidance – was my program still going to happen…? But the quick response was sobering: “We do not even know what’s going to happen next…but we are certain that all foreign trainee programs are for now suspended“. Otherwise I only had a lose contact to the Westgate Hotel, but with all global flights being halted, I did not even know whether it actually would be possible to go to the US after all.
I am not an easy quitter on things, never have been; if I have set my mind on something then I usually I stick with it until its done. And to the surprise of family and friends I told everyone “No! I will not let such an event determine my life and my plans…I have the flight booked, I will go there and figure out things once I have arrived!“. And needless to say, after that it was an anxious time, but they knew me that trying to talk me out of it would be futile…. 😉
A journey to remember
When I arrived at Munich Airport on September 13th, with my paper ticket in hand, I found out that this flight that I was about to take actually was one of the first flights from Europe back to the US and the experience of the trip was a something to be remembered forever: Whether it was the 3(!) full body-search checks before entering the plane (yes, even at the plane door), or up in the air, some hours later, the flight captain calling out “Over there, in the distance you can still see the smoke plum from the World Trade Center“, or the head pursuer breaking out in tears when doing the usual “Welcome to Atlanta” message, because one of her close friends and colleagues was on one of the planes that hit the towers. Or the masses of volunteers greeting US citizens with “Welcome home!” signs and tearful hugs.
In Atlanta then it was a full stop as there were simply no aircrews around and desperate crowds of passengers applauded every time a flight attended would arrive, with a public announcement count of “now we need two more, and then we could fly“…and finally 48hrs later we made it on our way to San Diego.
I remember then arriving at a complete empty Lindbergh Airfield airport in San Diego, stepping outside, seeing the blue sky and the warm sun on my face, beautiful palm trees and the smell of the not so distant sea – and somehow knowing that all of this would work out! And it did: the Westgate Hotel actually took me in, I even later on went back to the Sheraton to work for them as well, and the time spent in San Diego is one of the most beautiful memories I have…
Thus, always remember this…
However bad the situation might be, there is always hope and things will turn to the better (and yes, they still might turn a bit more to the worse). What is happening right now, might have consequences from the future, but should not hold you back from your dreams or make you live in fear.
And as Barry Diller also once said “Where there is life, there is travel“, you should firmly believe this storm shall come to pass as well. ALL OF US are the global travel industry and we are in this together! And yesterday I took out my old passport again, just to take a look at that stamp from US immigration on September 14th; it stands for me as a symbol of hope that will carry me through the coming months, and I hope you too 🙂
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
(The fellowship of the ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien)