From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Taking Control

It was the morning of Friday, September 21, 2001. I was walking through the expansive United Airlines terminals at O’Hare International Airport noticing that the normally busy terminals were unusually quite. As a person who flies regularly, I would have guessed that it was early on a weekend or holiday and not a regular Friday business day, if not for the sad reality as to why the airport was so sparse.

After checking in and going through security, I began my long walk to my gate. Along the way I enjoyed listening to Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” over the airport sound system, and unknowingly I started to whistle along with the song. As I was descending the escalator a voice to my left said, “Catchy tune, isn’t it?” It was the voice of a United pilot.

“Yes, Captain,” I said.

Unsolicited, the captain turned to me and said, “There are two ways to stop all of this,” instantly knowing exactly of what he was speaking.

“One way is the fact that in my hands I control an extremely powerful piece of equipment, and if I have to, I can cause that plane to have so much turbulence that you couldn’t hold down your lunch, not to mention hold a weapon.”

“Indeed,” I replied, knowing he needed no prompting to continue.

“The second way is when the passengers become fed up,” clearly implying the counterattack methods used by passengers on Flight 93.

I was stunned by the power of his words. He at once appeased my fears and empowered me to control my own destiny. How settling was his admission that he would virtually shake any assailant into submission, and if that was not enough, admonishing me and all passengers to fight, if not for our own well-being then for the thousands of lives we could be saving on the ground.

Now, I am not a person who advocates violence, but the thought that a knife-wielding assailant might have to contend with my laptop holding shoulderbag used as a sling gave me resolve.

Once seated on the plane, I again heard the same captain’s strong voice, this time over the plane’s PA system. After welcoming all aboard he announced to the entire plane what he had shared with me earlier. In addition, he added that he was a combat-experienced pilot and a veteran of a hijacking some thirty years ago.

Here we were in the face of all that anxiety and fear, and this wonderful captain made us all realize that we need not be passive victims, but that our fate is at least partially in our own hands and his.

Matthew E. Adams

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