My story: Stranded in Japan

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In September 2001, I was a purser for Northwest Airlines. I had departed my base in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 10, for Osaka, Japan. We arrived the afternoon of Sept. 11 after crossing the international dateline.

I had dinner with some of my crew, went to bed to read and fell asleep with the TV on. I awoke (as one does when one is not adjusted to the local time) in the wee hours of the morning to a scene of an airplane flying into one of the World Trade Center towers. Being a bit groggy, I thought I was watching a Tom Clancy movie. The reality soon hit, followed by the horror.

I didn’t want to wake any of my crew members, in case they were lucky enough to be sleeping through the night. Around 6 a.m., I dressed and went down to the lobby to see if anyone else had stirred. A few of my crew were there. We were soon joined by the rest, and by other crews. We learned all flights had been grounded and we would be in Osaka until no one knew when. We spent the next few days meeting in the morning to receive any new information and to find out when we were going home. Finally, on Friday, Sept. 14, we were told we would all be leaving on Saturday.

When we arrived at the Kansai International Airport, serving Osaka, it was a ghost town. The normally bustling terminal was quiet, with few people going anywhere. Our flight on a Boeing 747-200, with a 385 passenger capacity, had 80 passengers, all of whom were very quiet.

I had been worried about being able to get to Portland from Los Angeles so I had booked a full-fare ticket. Normally I would ride “space available” to get home. My fears were unfounded as the Southwest Airlines flight I booked had only 25 passengers. The Los Angeles terminals were just as deserted as the Osaka terminal had been.

If I hadn’t realized it before, I now knew, life had changed forever.

Note: A condensed version of this story appeared on page D7 of The Columbian on Sept. 11, 2011.