This story was originally shared on Southwest Airlines’ internal channels by Dispatcher Alan Hugley.
Southwest Airlines encourages all our Customers and Employees to observe a moment of silence this weekend, in memory of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001—the crews and passengers onboard all four aircraft; those in the World Trade Center Towers and surrounding area; those in the Pentagon; and the heroic first responders. Our Heart goes out to our peers at American Airlines and United Airlines, as well as to our Cohearts who previously worked at these airlines during the tragedy. No matter how much time goes by, we vow never to forget.
This weekend, Southwest Airlines—along with all our U.S. airline brothers and sisters—remembers the tragedy that forever changed our country and our industry. It will have been 20 years since terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes, one striking the Pentagon, two striking the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and the fourth aircraft, intended to strike the U.S. Capitol, overtaken by onboard passengers who thwarted the intended attack and crash-landed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I can remember the day vividly. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was working as a Southwest Dispatcher (as I still do today) and it was about as relaxed of a morning as you could get. That is until we saw the news coverage of the first aircraft striking one of the Towers, and then shortly after…the second. I didn’t have time to explain to the Captains of the flights I was responsible for all that was unfolding. I simply had to give them the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) directive that they needed to land their planes Safely and then help them do so as quickly as possible. Southwest Senior Leadership was focused on tallying each of our planes as they landed—starting at 190 aircraft down to the last one, which was finally located after it had re-routed to Grand Rapids, Michigan (a city Southwest did not serve at the time). I will always be grateful that all of Southwest’s planes, Crews, and Customers were Safely accounted for that day.
An American flag is prominently displayed at Southwest Headquarters in Dallas after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, an emblem of hope amidst the nation’s grief.
After parking the aircraft Safely at a Phoenix gate in the days following the 9/11 attacks, Southwest Captain Paul Doehring demonstrated his patriotism by proudly unfurling an American flag from his flight deck window. This 48-star flag was full of meaning for Captain Doehring as it once rested atop the coffin of his uncle, a World War II veteran. This heartwarming gesture was appreciated by Southwest Employees and Customers as well as other airline employees alike.By the end of the day, the nation was reeling from shock and grief, Southwest had planes and Crews out of position all over the country, and there was so much uncertainty about our Company and our industry as a whole. Southwest’s CEO at the time, Jim Parker, sent a reassuring letter to every Southwest Employee: We don’t know what the future holds, but know this: Your jobs are safe, and we’re going to keep issuing paychecks even though not a single plane is in the air.
On Sept. 14, 2001, Southwest was the first airline to return to the skies, and there was something undeniably resilient about those initial flights. Employees at Southwest Headquarters gathered along the runway security fence at Dallas (Love Field), holding banners and waving American flags as they watched the first Dallas flights takeoff. Someone in the crowd started singing “God Bless America.” One voice, then another, joined in. There wasn’t a dry eye as that first Dallas departure lifted into the sky, symbolizing unshakable hope for the future of air travel and unwavering pride for our nation.
The Southwest Teams in Burbank (left) and Jacksonville (right) show their support for the nation and our airline as flights resumed in these locations just a few days after the attacks on 9/11/01.
Employees at Southwest Headquarters gather along the runway security fence at Dallas (Love Field), holding banners and waving American flags as they watch the first Dallas flights takeoff on Sept. 14, 2001.As we reflect on the attacks 20 years ago, the aftermath, and the healing of our nation and industry, here are some additional perspectives from Southwest Employees, Leaders, and others in the airline industry that you may not have heard before:
“The Darkest Hour”:Is This Seat Open? is a public, 20-episode podcast series that Southwest created in partnership with L.A. Times Studios and At Will Media. In Episode 14, Alan Hugley shares more about his personal experience as a Southwest Dispatcher on 9/11, what happened in the days following the attacks, and what it was like getting Southwest flights back in the air.
“A Shining Light in the Darkest of Hours: Southwest and 9/11”: In Southwest’s 50th year of service and in recognition of the twentieth year since 9/11, the Company published this story to reflect on how the national tragedy affected our airline and to highlight Southwest’s response—taking care of our People.
“9/11: Voices of the Aircraft Dispatchers”: This documentary is directed by Southwest Network Operations Control (NOC) Dispatch Trainer, Jake Zelman (jzelman) and also features NOC Strategic Advisor, Gene Kim and NOC Manager of Meteorology, Mark Johnson. Little is published about what the airline operational centers encountered on 9/11, and this documentary helps bring those actions to light by telling the story of what five airline dispatchers faced on one of the darkest days in history.
9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance: This national day of service is meant to honor those who lost their lives or were injured in the 9/11 attacks through community and volunteer service. Visit the link for resources and to search for volunteer opportunities near you.