Were this not the anniversary of 9/11, I would not be telling you the story of how I survived a terrorist scare this week on a redeye from Denver to Fort Lauderdale. No one knows about the scare, not even my wife, who was sitting next to me for the whole thing.
Here's what happened. We were in the back of the plane, in the aisle and middle seat, with no concern beyond seat backs that would not go back, an affliction shared by all the passengers. Just before we were ready to take off, three passengers came on board and sat behind us--three young men in their 20s, presumably Muslim, speaking a language I presumed to be Arabic.
There was nothing threatening about them. From my seat it sounded like they were doing nothing more than shooting the breeze--anything to make the three-and-a-half hours go by.
But I was on red alert on the redeye. What was I going to do if I suddenly heard "Allahu Akhbar" or "God Is Great" as three young men of prime terrorist age tried to take over the plane? I have read many books about 9/11 and seen all the movies, especially "United 93," the story of the passengers who fought back against terrorists on 9/11 and died in the countryside of Pennsylvania as heroes.
I knew I was being paranoid. I pretty much knew it wasn't going to happen. But I was scared and I wanted to be prepared. My job was to protect my wife. If I did that then I would do what I had to do no matter what happened.
If you've seen enough movies you know the first thing you need is a weapon. I thought about what was in my bag and in my pocket, and I moved a black Uniball pen with a hard sharp tip from my pocket to the opening above a button on my shirt, where I could weaponize it in seconds.
Then I ran the scenarios through my head. I was on the aisle, with my wife in the middle seat to my left in the back of the plane. If this were a terrorist takeover, then I figured the first guy, shouting "God Is Great" in a language I would never understand, would get by me, but the next two would not. I'm big to begin with and I would be armed with a Uniball pen. I had a shot at nipping the hijacking in the bud if it came to that, or at least alerting the other passengers while there was still time.
So there I sat for the rest of the flight, dozing only for a few moments, but alert to the terrorist threat as I read it. And of course nothing happened. The three young twentysomething men talked to each other through the night without an incident of any kind.
When I looked behind us after we landed, I saw the three of them bent over their knees in precisely the same way. At first I thought they might be sleeping--but then I decided they had to be praying, as thankful as I was that we had made it to our final destination.