I’ve told this story before so I’ll just give a quick recap.
In 2001, I was a marketing guy for a company that sold into the aviation market — or at least we were trying to. In August 2001, I took a tour of the fueling operations for United Airlines at Chicago O’Hare. It’s completely amazing to see what these folks do on a daily basis.
Here’s a bit of trivia for you. The fueling nozzle that’s attached to the underside of an aircraft wing weighs in excess of 20 lbs. A fueler’s job is to lift that over his head and lock it in place. Should the nozzle come off or leak, it could be “bad.” Watch these guys when you’re sitting at an airport next time.
While I was at O’Hare the United Airlines employee I was visiting took me up into the cockpit of a 757 and we wandered around the cockpit while the plane was being refueled. We discussed the “volume” of the fuel versus its “mass.” Aircraft, as are cars, are filled by “volume” (which varies with temperature). HINT: If you fill your car in the morning when it’s cool, you’ll get slightly better fuel mileage.
As a result of my visit, I had arranged for one of the managers of the fueling operation to visit the company on September 11 to discuss some product improvements United Airlines might be interested in.
If you recall, the news was reporting that a small plane had hit the North Tower. When the second plane hit the South Tower 15 minutes later, no one had any idea what was going on. I was in Denver so the first plane hit at 6:46 local time. I’d turned a TV on just after the second plane hit.
We went ahead with the meeting at 8:00 but by now it was clear that whatever was going on was really bad. The United manager had been frantically trying to get information and really couldn’t learn much either.
We learned mid-meeting about all the other events and the manager decided he better grab a flight back to Chicago. By that time, U.S. airspace was closed and everyone was trying to figure out what that meant. He decided to hop in his rental car and drive to Chicago.
At 10:00 we had a meeting debrief and I remember saying “this has been a really hard day for all of us” to which my boss replied “Why? Whatever’s going on is in New York.”
At that moment I lost all respect for the man and also realized how something so obviously earth-shattering and important could be tossed aside if it didn’t match with their reality.
This was reinforced a few days later when I had a meeting with the president of the company and told him that now wasn’t the time to pursue the enhancements we were talking about since United Airlines was going to have some really big problems and wouldn’t have the time or interest to work with us on them. I’ll never forget the blank expression on his face when he asked “why?” and I said “air travel will never be the same after this. They’re going to have to redo all of their security and if this is a prelude to war, everything we know is about to change.” He still didn’t understand and just said “OK, we’ll put it on the back burner then.”
What was shocking to me is how we’ve grown so accustomed to the thought that tomorrow will be the same as today that when something big happens we deny its existence. I feel exactly the same way now about the attempted coup d’état against President Trump. This really big thing happened and is still happening and the big news has to do with a Sharpie and a map.