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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Guest Opinion: Why we must start flying again Guest Opinion: Why we must start flying again (October 17, 2001)

by Mike Bellissimo

American Airlines Flight #442 bound for Miami from San Francisco, 30,000 feet above the Midwest -- That's where I am right now, on my second transcontinental journey since the attack on our nation Sept. 11.

My last journey was a return home from Boston, where I was stranded for six days unable to get back to my family until Logan Airport reopened.

This journey is different. I am flying to Florida to visit my mother, who was recently hospitalized and is now home recovering -- a somewhat "normal" trip to attend to an ailing parent in this age of bi-coastal families.

But this trip is anything but normal. I find myself keenly observant of a process I used to find routine: arriving at the airport, checking in, going through security, boarding the plane and acknowledging my fellow passengers. All of it is now vivid to me. I am noticing everything about the process.

I originally intended to title this column, "Airline Safety -- Is It Just An Illusion?" It was to begin with some comparisons: Even in coach we used to get real silverware; now our utensils are plastic. Coach passengers were "discouraged" from visiting the front of the plane by a very discrete curtain; now we are barricaded in our compartment by food carts wedged between cabins. The plane's safety check and paperwork were completed during taxi; now the plane remains at the gate until this check is done.

Being a savvy veteran of air travel, I never gave cause for my person or luggage to be checked. Today I received the full body scan with a metal detector as well as a gentle pat of my torso (including the area behind my belt), legs and ankles.

But a brief conversation with a very pleasant flight attendant (everyone seems so much more pleasant in the air now) changed my intent.

She thanked me for flying! We discussed the airlines, hotels, restaurants and other services suffering as Americans cancel both business and pleasure trips. Of course, it is the people who work for these businesses who are suffering. Lack of passengers and visitors means lack of work, which means layoffs -- hundreds of thousands of layoffs in an already suffering economy.

Before boarding my plane, I spoke to my aunt -- who lives in New York but has a daughter in Florida who just told her she was having a baby. My cousin is having a child next year. What a cause for joy. But my aunt is reluctant to visit her daughter. She isn't ready to fly again, as I suspect many Americans are not.

The loss of so many lives and now this. A new life, my cousin's child -- and my aunt is too afraid to visit her. How sad.

Many have said that our nation needs time to heal. People will take to the skies again. Yes, we hurt. Being a native New Yorker, I lost three high school classmates and other acquaintances at the World Trade Center. Stories of friends who escaped are as vivid to me as if I experienced them myself.

I remember, as a child, peering into the hole that was the excavation for the World Trade Center. I recall going to the top for the first time with my parents, and remember seeing the New York skyline from my bedroom window. My village and my people were attacked and I will never be the same.

But I say that now it is time to fly again. It really is so beautiful up here. (Remember the first time you flew?). Those who died so tragically would have certainly wanted us to go on living. We have family and friends to visit. We have places we have always wanted to go and have not yet seen. We have business to conduct to get our robust economy back on track. Darn it, we invented flying!

I will attend my company's sales conference in Hawaii in October, thanks to United Airlines. I will take an already scheduled trip to New York City in October, thanks to Continental Airlines. I will return to Florida in November to celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents, thanks to Northwest Airlines. And, I will be back in Boston for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, thanks to American Airlines.

Why don't you join me? Mike Bellissimo and his family reside in Palo Alto. He has worked in high-tech marketing and is planning to become a teacher. The above column was written in late September.


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