Travel Weekly associate editor Margaret Myre and her husband,
Bill, were boarding a flight from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Seattle the
morning of Sept. 11 when the FAA imposed an immediate ground stop
on all U.S. flights. Her report follows:
e were finishing up a Celebrity
cruise and Royal Celebrity rail and bus tour that unseasonably
balmy September Fairbanks morning. The weather had cooperated
splendidly throughout the trip, which began with an overnight in
Vancouver, continued with a cruise of Alaska's Inside Passage and
ended with a tour to Denali and Fairbanks.
Those among our group of 18 journalists who had visited Alaska
many times marveled that we had had nearly 11 days of cloudless
skies. This day was dawning to be no different.
As we gathered our carry-ons to prepare to board Alaska Airlines
Flight 108 from Fairbanks to Seattle on the first leg of our trip
to Newark, we had no way of knowing that one hour earlier New York
had become the first target of the worst terrorism attack in the
We were at the gateway when an attendant announced the flight
had been canceled because of terrorist attacks against the U.S.
It was a blunt statement suggestive of so many possibilities
that we couldn't wrap our minds around it. A TV in the lounge gave
us the horrid details.
Our son takes the subway into the World Trade Center every day.
It was hours before we knew he was safe. Thus began Day 1 of a
Within minutes, Anita Healy took control. Healy, the media event
planner for Royal Caribbean, parent of Celebrity and Royal
Celebrity Tours, accompanied us on the press trip to ensure we had
a good experience and a smooth trip home. Now she was leading us
out of the airport and back into the bus.
At the same time, behind the
scenes, Nancy Scholl, supervisor of Royal Celebrity's Fairbanks
support office and a 20-year industry veteran, was trying to find
rooms for all her groups. There were a number of buses in town, and
more were coming.
Another 240 people were grounded when a Tokyo-Chicago United
Airlines flight was diverted to Fairbanks. "United sucked up all
the rooms," Scholl said.
Scholl sent us back to River's Edge, where we had spent the last
two days and where we could stay until 11 a.m. From there, she
moved us to Pike's Waterfront Lodge. The front of the hotel
overlooks the airport, which was now eerily quiet.
"The first thing we had to deal with was getting rooms for
everybody," Scholl said. "We must have altered our plans 20
The rail tour does not include lodging, but beginning Sept. 11,
Royal Celebrity and Princess picked up the cost of hotels for all
its guests. Holland America housed its guests at a reduced
United paid for its passengers' rooms but would not let them
have their luggage. Alaska Airlines also intended to store our
luggage on board.
"I went to the airport, gave them the names of our guests and
said, 'Give me the luggage,' " Scholl said. Our bags arrived within
With hotels overwhelmed, tourists without a travel agent or tour
operator to assist them were in trouble. At the visitors center
downtown, we met two couples who had driven from Anchorage and had
nowhere to stay.
Also in a less-than-desirable situation were Celebrity guests
who had made their own air arrangements. People for whom Celebrity
had booked the air had no legwork to do. Those who booked on their
own were provided with airline phone numbers.
We met a guest whose agent had saved her $500 on a three-day,
precruise stay in Vancouver by booking through United. Now her
husband was among those at the airport trying to reschedule.
Day 3, Sept. 13, was our granddaughter Jamie's 4th birthday. We
wanted to go home.
We weren't alone. Sandi Bower, assistant manager at the support
office and the point person at our hotel, said most guests "wanted
to know where they are and how to get out."
One couple tried renting a car to drive some 6,000 miles back to
Virginia but were told they could not take it out of Alaska. Others
considered taking Amtrak from Vancouver. Aside from there being no
way to get to Vancouver, Amtrak was booked through Sept. 19.
Healy brought us all back to reality. "Trust Celebrity to do all
it can to get you home quickly and safely," she said. "If you leave
now, you're on your own."
On Day 4, she gave us the option of taking the motorcoach to
Anchorage, where the airport had reopened.
She advised against
it, with good reason. The cruise lines were disembarking in Seward
and busing passengers to Anchorage to meet flights that no longer
existed. More than 1,000 travelers had already been stranded there
for several days.
Holland America and Royal Caribbean brought 3,000 into Seward
that day; Princess brought another 1,950 the next. Those who no
longer had flights were put up in hotels.
Anticipating Fairbanks Airport's reopening, Healy booked all of
us to fly to Seattle on Sept. 17. My husband and I had a connecting
flight to Newark.
On Day 5, the National Day of Mourning and Remembrance, buses
took us to our choice of two church services. At both, firemen in
overalls with red suspenders stood out among the worshippers.
Day 6: Our Continental flight was canceled, but we were rebooked
on US Airways into Baltimore. We would drive home from there. One
of our group, a woman from Manhattan, also had been shifted to
Baltimore, and we volunteered to take her home.
Day 7: At Fairbanks Airport, movement was slow as employees
examined randomly selected bags of checked luggage on tables set up
near the counters. Wearing surgical gloves, they unpacked clothing,
opened every boxed item and ran their hands along suitcase
At 8:15 a.m., we were in the air -- where most Americans least
wanted to be. We arrived safely in Seattle and made our connection.
Driving home from Baltimore, we talked about work, our lives and
what our nation's response to this horrific act would be.
We arrived at the Lincoln Tunnel at 3:30 a.m., where we were
greeted by police with flashlights. After a cursory look inside our
rental car, they waved us on.
It was difficult to look at the skyline. We didn't have to
search for the hole in the sky; smoke and work lights filled the