wplg logo

Flight attendant describes waking up in NYC on 9/11: ‘We saw the North Tower collapse through the window’

‘Most of us suffered some effects of PTSD, and I did not return to work for a month. I broke out in a cold sweat the first couple times I went back to work.’

Smoke pours out of the World Trade Center after the Twin Towers were struck by two planes during a terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City.
Smoke pours out of the World Trade Center after the Twin Towers were struck by two planes during a terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. (Getty Images)

You might have seen it already -- but we asked you, our readers and viewers, where you were on Sept. 11, 2001.

We received more than 300 responses: Some brief, some long, some incredibly detailed posts, while others remained short and sweet. There was no wrong way to answer. Here are some of the responses, if you’d like to read them.

One person, who chose to remain anonymous, left us this answer, which we thought was worth its own story. It has been edited ever so slightly for grammar, clarity and style.

Here’s what this flight attendant experienced:


I was a flight attendant for American Airlines on a layover from San Francisco.

Here was my day on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City:

8:46 a.m. -- I was in my hotel room getting ready. The ‘TODAY’ Show was on, and showed a video of the first plane hitting the side of the North Tower. At first, it was thought to be a small plane.

9:03 a.m. -- I had gone down the elevator, and when I reached the lobby to turn in my room key, I saw the rest of my crew standing in front of the TV in silence. The second plane had crashed into the South Tower.

9:15 a.m. -- The crew boarded the airport shuttle to go to (John F. Kennedy International Airport). At every intersection, we could see the burning towers.

9:25 a.m. -- We were crossing the Queensboro Bridge when we heard from dispatch, which said JFK was closed to all traffic and we should return to the hotel. Our driver made a turn to bring the crew back to Manhattan, but the bridge we had just crossed had just been closed to all inbound traffic. We were stranded. We couldn’t go to JFK and we couldn’t go back to our hotel. We finally found a hotel near LaGuardia that could accommodate our crew.

9:59 a.m. -- We arrived at the hotel and as the driver was pulling the crew’s luggage out of the van, we saw the South Tower collapse before our shocked eyes.

10:28 a.m. -- We were finally assigned our rooms, with windows facing Manhattan across the river. Some of us had to double up, as there were many crews from many airlines stranded. As my assigned ‘roomie’ and I walked into the room, we saw the North Tower collapse through the window.

This marked the beginning of five days at the airport hotel, with no cellphone coverage, no sound of airplanes taking off or landing at LaGuardia. The only sound were the Air Force F-15s and F-16s circling above the city.

The hotel was isolated from everything. Nothing was within walking distance. Most crews only had overnight bags with one change of civilian clothes. On day three, we were able to talk the hotel shuttle driver into taking us to a Walmart so we could pick up some cheap clothing to change into. That was the only time we ever left the hotel in those five days.

It took several days as some crews were slowly released to work their planes to their original destination.

I remember one crew went to the airport and returned a few hours later, traumatized. Their flight had a SWAT team storm the cabin from the back of the plane, looking for suspected terrorists.

Our crew kept waiting and waiting. When several of us learned of an empty flight heading back to (San Francisco International Airport) late on the fifth night, we called dispatch and got listed on the flight.

The purser of our original flight got mad because she wanted everyone to WAIT AND WORK WHATEVER FLIGHT WE WERE ASSIGNED.

I had my cat at home, for whom I’d left enough food for two days. I had not been able to contact anyone due to cellphone towers being down to look after her. I needed to get home, so screw solidarity -- most of us were not fit to work a full flight back. I know I wasn’t.

As soon as my butt hit the seat on the flight back, I fell into a deep sleep and did not wake up until we had arrived at the gate at SFO. I was unaware of taking off or landing.

Most of us suffered some effects of PTSD, and I did not return to work for a month. I broke out in a cold sweat the first couple times I went back to work. I became hyper-vigilant and looked every single passenger in the eye.

We were on flights where suspicious passengers were removed. We were on flights the crew refused to work unless suspicious passengers were removed. We were grounded due to delays for security reasons when we were no longer legal to work the flight. I was on a flight when one of the engines blew out with a loud explosion shortly after take-off. I could hear the pilots through the cockpit door going through the checklist. I had the eyes of every passenger on a full flight staring at me as my jump-seat faced the entire cabin. I’m saying to myself, ‘Oh s---, oh s---, oh s---,’ but I kept my face and my voice calm as I went over emergency procedures in my announcements. I had passengers thank me (after we made an emergency landing) as they were getting off, for keeping calm, which kept them calm. The other two flight attendants were nowhere to be seen. They had gone and hidden in the back galley, leaving me to deal with 126 passengers who were just as frightened as we were.

It took me a while before I could go back to New York City or work on the same type of aircraft that was hijacked in the attacks. It took me a few years before I could go pay my respects at Ground Zero.

But what I remember most in the aftermath of this horror was how then-President Bush helped bring the entire nation together in solidarity and patriotism. Somehow, he inspired the best in us to come out. Every car had a U.S. flag on it. Everyone was kinder to each other.

Thanks for reading this. Even though it’s been 20 years, one doesn’t forget, and it’s cathartic to write these memories down.


About the Author:

Michelle is the Managing Editor of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which writes for all of the company's news websites.