The Aftermath of 9-11 for Airline Employees

Updated on May 21, 2020
GG Baba profile image

GG Baba is a retired flight attendant and the author of Turbulent Skies.

Returning to Work
Returning to Work

The 9-11 Fallout

When the 9-11 hearings were finally approved in late November 2002, we at United Airlines had been hearing rumbles for months that our company might be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Many of us who began with the title “stewardesses” and were now known as senior flight attendants, started to realize our careers and our way of life were about to end. Little did we know that the evening of September 11, 2001, before the ashes of the towers and the fire at the pentagon and the smoke from the giant hole in Shanksville, PA smoldered, that airline lawyers were getting themselves into position to lobby for money for the U.S. carriers so they could financially survive this catastrophe. These lawyers requested $24 billion in financial aid. In response, Congress appropriated close to $15 billion in taxpayer money ($10 billion in grants and $5 billion in loans). The airlines were also able to collect on their business interruption insurance, plus secure tax breaks from Congress for 2001 and 2002.

However, nowhere in their plan was financial help for the loyal airline employees. We, the labor force, were about to get hit and hit hard. But that was just the start of the unbelievable tragedy occurring in our airline world. On September 15th, 2001, just four days after being attacked, the airlines were busy notifying employees that their service was no longer needed. On that day, Continental announced the lay-off of 12,000 workers, and United and American each laid off 20,000 employees. Northwest, US Airways, and Delta’s numbers combined reached almost 35,000. When the totals topped more than 140,000, a Washington Post writer, David Montgomery, wrote, “What thanks are flight attendants getting? How does this sound, ‘You’re FIRED!”? (Note 1)

As the airline employees are being let go or furloughed, a new government agency is getting ready to hire thousands. On November 19, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established. Much of this new agency’s focus was for the safety of the airline traveler, but it also branched over to highway, rail, and bus travel. Our mass transits, ports, and pipelines now had extra security too. Venues that the U.S. public took for granted as being safe were now being provided extra security. Venues like sporting events and concerts also had new rules of entry to enhance security. Initially, TSA was part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. But on March 9, 2003, when the Department of Homeland Security was established, TSA was moved to this new Department. (Note 9)

During this turbulent time, airport security rules changed drastically. Some airport designs were changed to protect the secured areas in the airports, and passengers were now required to show tickets and picture IDs before being allowed to enter the secured areas. Additionally, passengers had to remove shoes and jackets and have their baggage screened. Travelers also had to remove their laptops and toiletries for additional inspection; no liquids were allowed in containers larger than 3.4 ounces. Finally, if any metal was noted on passengers, they had to undergo intrusive “pat down” inspections by the TSA agents. (Note 5)

Security Lines Post 9-11
Security Lines Post 9-11

After September 11, 2001, only satellite parking was allowed at airports. Later, blast shields were installed in some airport parking structures, so that close-in airport parking could again be allowed and cockpit doors were redesigned making them stronger, bulletproof and locked from the inside. (Note 4) Flight attendants who still had jobs were given new responsibilities for protecting the cockpit with their bodies and service carts, and one flight attendant needed to be in the cockpit if one of the pilots needed to use the restroom.

Days and even months later, as we welcomed the brave passengers on board that were still flying, we, the flight crews, were walking on pins and needles as we pushed our carts down the aisle and made our inflight announcements. On November 12, 2001, a week before the TSA was established, and while we were preparing our 747 cabin for boarding for a flight to Narita, Japan, we heard that American Airlines had a plane crash shortly after departure from JFK Airport in New York. As boarding began, it was hard not to think, “Was this another terrorist attack?” Putting our concerns aside, we welcomed our passengers and continued our duties on this 11-hour flight. Months later it was reported that American Flight 587 had crashed due to a pilot error, killing a total of 265 people. (Note 8) We were now working in a dangerous unpredictable environment afraid to call in sick for fear that we would be fired, but then what was our alternative. Not only that, but each time we went to work we were treated like the enemy, being touched and scrutinized for our normal layover items. Those of us who wore underwire bras would give the TSA agents more of a challenge as if we were smuggling harmful metal objects.

For the airlines, however, there was a silver lining to the tragedy of September 11th. The events of that morning helped them financially reorganize by going after negotiated employee contracts using the clause in the agreements regarding a “force majeure” (a term meaning an act of war or act of God) happening to their corporations. Even though there was no precedent for using a “force majeure” clause to negate labor contracts, the airlines were successful in doing just that. They were able to escape their contractual obligations even though there was no precedent in labor contract law for this. The results were reduced salary and benefits and altered working conditions. This savage attack on the employees in part was driven by the need for the airlines to show operating concession before the government would grant their bailout requests. This was especially true for US Airways which was in financial peril and United which had spent millions of dollars trying to merge with US Air twice and failed both times.

Interestingly, as the big carriers were letting workforce go and reducing their route structure, Jet Blue and Southwest (which did not furlough employees) moved into the vacated routes and expanded their domestic route structures.

On December 9, 2002, United Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as predicted. The 9-11 hearings had not even started when our employees got this devastating news. Few of us were even aware that the formal 9-11 hearings were about to begin in just a matter of months. (Note 2)

Extra United Aircraft During Business Slowdown
Extra United Aircraft During Business Slowdown

When the first hearing session began at the end of March 2003, thousands of airline employees had already lost their jobs, were furloughed, or were soon going to be forced into early retirement. (By June 30, 2003, 2,500 senior United flight attendants had already turned in their manuals and ID badges.) To have 2500 flight attendants choose early retirement was due to the devastating contract that arrived in the mail in mid-April 2003. Negotiated terms and conditions which we had earned over the years were being taken away from us. Things like hourly flight pay decreased, vacation days and bidding changed decreasing the number of vacation days that could be used, fewer flight attendants were authorized on both international and domestic flights down to FAA minimum requirements which placed a severe burden on our flight service and a hardship on our customers. Pension contributions were decreased while medical insurance costs increased. All in all, we lost almost a third of our income in the new contract. By using the “force majeure” clause, the airlines caused traumatic changes to our work environment and careers over and above us having to deal with the new threats to our lives.

We at the top level of seniority were given the option that if we retired by June 30th, we could take our small pensions plus have United cover our medical expenses until we reached Medicare eligibility. Faced with that choice, on June 30, 2003, 2500 senior United flight attendants retired. I suspect other airlines did the same with their employees. Interesting, but not totally shocking, was that as soon as we were gone, United tried to renege on the medical care promise and wanted us to begin paying them for the coverage. Happily, with the help of our union, they did not win that battle.

On May 11, 2005, a bankruptcy judge ruled that United Airlines could walk away from close to $10 billion in pension obligations in the largest pension default in U.S. history. When they did this, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (a government entity) assumed a $9.8 billion commitment but was only provided $6.6 billion by the company, so labor had to absorb the incremental loss by reducing pensions, the burden of these reductions fell largely on the pilots. (Note 6)

On February 1, 2006, after 1150 days under court direction, United Airlines exited bankruptcy after having gotten $3 billion in concessions from labor unions. (Note 7)

As I wrote in my earlier book Turbulent Skies, “Tomorrow I go to LAX to surrender my manual, travel card, and ID. It is so interesting to think that after all of this , it would be as if I never existed. It does hurt the self – the ego – that one could be forgotten so fast. But hey, that’s modern America, isn’t it.” (Note 3)


  1. (September 11th and the restructuring of the airline industry-Rodney Ward)
  3. Dorger, Barbara. Turbulent Skies. Xlibris Publishing, 2004, page 99.
  5. Seaney, Rick blog. August 22, 2017 (
  8. https://en/

© 2019 GG Baba


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • GG Baba profile imageAUTHOR

      GG Baba 

      14 months ago from Southern California

      Thank you Topher for your comments. I went back and found that I indeed got TSA wrong. Should have been administration not agency. I will continue to reread my article for miss information and thanks again for your comments.

    • profile image


      14 months ago

      This article has a lot of false information regarding the timeline of which TSA did certain things. Not to mention whoever wrote this doesn’t even know what TSA stands for. I truly do understand the severity of 9-11 and the impact on everyone but if someone is going to write an article on a significant piece in US History, they should at least get crucial facts right and do a lot more research before constructing such article. Great outline, poor execution.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)