Above & Beyond: Pushback: Newark Airport, 8:45 a.m.

What 9/11 looked like from one airliner’s cockpit

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THE CHIRPING OF THE ALARM CLOCK woke me from a deep sleep. I cursed when I saw "5:30 a.m." and hit the snooze button for five more minutes.

"Who could possibly need to leave New Jersey this early in the morning?" I thought as I made my way to the shower. The flight's departure time was a sensible 8:45 a.m., but I had to wake up far earlier so I could shower, pack, and drive the hour and a half to Newark Airport.

The drive across the Hudson River took longer than usual. Seething, I crossed the George Washington Bridge at 10 mph. But no matter how bad the traffic, the view of the Manhattan skyline was always majestic.

The drive, especially for New York-and Newark-based pilots, was usually the most stressful part of the day. I was looking forward to getting to the airplane for my three-day trip. For me, flying has always been therapeutic, whether it's a multi-million-dollar airliner or a $50-an-hour rented Cessna.

I met the rest of my crew at Operations.

"Ever laid over there before?"

"Yeah, there's an excellent Mexican restaurant near the hotel."

"Perfect. Just what the doctor ordered."

"See you up at the airplane."

Climbing into the cockpit, I felt like my days was about to get better. There's something relaxing about making a nest for yourself in a cockpit seat, accomplishing all your preflight checks, and being able to stand at the door and greet passengers.

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