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Traveling During 911 ~ Lisa's Story

Lisa's McDonald's story of being stranded on September 11th, 2001

Thanks to Lisa McDonald from TheSunshineIsIn for contributing this post to GoGirlfriend. We’re a community-based travel blog and we welcome submissions from everyone. Whether you’re a budget-baller or a first class only kinda traveler, we’d love to hear from you. Visit our Writer’s Guidelines and learn how you can share your travel advice, stories and adventures!

We plan our vacations around the things we love. We rarely plan for a national disaster while away from home and thankfully most of us never need to. On September 10, 2001, Lisa McDonald landed in Newfoundland with her young son and husband, to celebrate their 8th anniversary (September 11th). They were thrilled to discover the Toronto Maple Leafs would be training at Mile One Stadium, newly opened that year. 

But September 11th transformed their vacation into a worry-filled week. This is Lisa's story.

This wasn't what we'd planned for

My (now ex) husband's family always enjoyed our visits as we made them local tourists, taking us here and there.

World Trade Center Twin TowersWorld Trade Center Twin TowersOur first morning in St. John's began with a news story about a plane that had strayed off its flight path and struck a building in New York City. I was watching the first building smoking when suddenly the second plane hit.

I stood there in shock and horror and started screaming while at the same time gasping for air. When everyone ran in to see what had happened I somehow stammered out that the first plane wasn't an accident and that New York was being attacked. 

Everything changed at that moment. 

Everyone stopped and turned their attention to the TV. After the Pentagon and then Pennsylvania crashed, President Bush grounded all flights. I suddenly realized that 24 hours ago we were in the air.

We quickly learned that flights going into the US were beingTerrorism & travelTerrorism & travel diverted to St. John's airport. I knew my family would be watching all of this and be worried. I tried to call but the phone lines were completely jammed from others trying to reach family as they landed safely in St. John's. Not even a dial tone. I wasn't able to reach my family in Ontario until the next day.

Then I called the airport

We had only planned on a short visit and needed to get back to Ontario - for work and because of my son's medical condition. Because we were flying within Canada, I was told not to worry. We were still on schedule. Whew! 

Gander airport, NewfoundlandGander airport, NewfoundlandWe needed a break and decided to go watch the Toronto Maple Leaf's practice. But everything had been cancelled to convert the stadium into a shelter. I found myself wondering what we would have done if that was us? I could not imagine being stranded with a toddler in an arena full of strangers.

That night, a storm ripped through St. John's, extreme winds with a heavy downpour. We found out later it wasn't just any old storm - it was a monsoon. We woke up the next morning to more bad news. The overcrowded plans had been jammed in so tight at the airport that many of the wings were damaged from rubbing against each other in the storm. 

Our scheduled flight was bumped to get the American planes on their way to the US as soon as possible. We began calling home to let our workplaces know we'd be late. I was very grateful I'd brought extra medication for my son (just in case) and for the generosity of our family. I don't know what we would have done if we had been staying at a hotel. 

Newfoundland welcomes stranded travelersNewfoundland welcomes stranded travelersWe headed to the store to pick up extra diapers and other supplies. At the checkout, the cashier asked if we were one of the families stranded in the arena. I explained that we were there on a vacation staying with family. She told me about the incredible generosity of St John's, residents taking stranded travelers into their homes and businesses donating food and toiletries.

The next few days were a blur

I sat by the phone, hitting the redial button over and over and over, trying to book our flight home. People were told not to come to the airport without a newly booked flight. 

During that time, we looked at other ways to get home. St. John's is an island and the only way to leave other than by air is by sea. The ferry ride itself is the better part of a day, then what would we do? Rent a car and drive across Canada for days? Try to get to Halifax and hopefully find a flight? Others were already choosing these options, so we knew it would be difficult to arrange any of this, plus we had to factor in that we were travelling with a two year old. 

We decided the best choice was to stay put and keep trying for a flight. Thankfully I always write down all my confirmation numbers whenever I travel and because of this, we got in quickly. A few times I was told "Okay, a plane is booked for you tomorrow, if they will let it take off. Call back in the morning to make sure." 

Going home after 9/11Going home after 9/11It took a few days of flights not cleared for takeoff before we finally had one that would be leaving for Pearson airport. I was relieved to be going home, but frightened to be getting on a plane. The security leaving St. John's was very different then when we arrived. The smiling friendly airline employees were now very disheartened and weary looking.

The conversations on the plane ride home were strange as well. A few months later Canada3000 went bankrupt as air travel was not a popular choice after that horrific day. 

Most people can't believe 911 was a decade ago. They know exactly where they were when they heard of the terrorist attack. I still wonder what would have happened to us, had we been in flight just one day later on September 11th, but am very thankful that we weren't. 

Have you ever traveled during a crisis like 9/11? We'd love to feature your story on GoGirlfriend. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and let's start talking!


Lisa McDonald

Lisa McDonaldLisa McDonaldTweets as @Those2Girls, part of a Tiara wearing duo that organizes the "Stuff To Do With Your Kids" in KW weekly blast and co-hosts MeFest. You can also find Lisa creating content for The Sign Depot or writing one of the many blogs that can be found on about.me/LisaMcDonald .In 2010 she was quoted in Scott Stratten's book Unmarketing, and was later listed as one of Canada's 100 Most Digitally Connected Women. It's a title she is proud of but would much rather refer herself as Everyone's Cheerleader!

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