All of us who work in the airline business have made it easy: the ability to traverse our nation, or perhaps the whole world, in just hours. I did it just last week, flying nearly halfway around the world, to Indonesia. Our mission is simple to understand: we work hard each day to bring the people of the world together, safely, reliably, and at a fair price. Many of us who have worked in the business for our entire lives see it as a calling, something noble. We are pilloried for a late flight, a cancellation, or a lost bag, but we shrug off the criticism, because we believe in what we do.
So when terrorists strike, as they did a few days ago, bringing down a magnificent flying machine cruising from Europe to Southeast Asia, it is deeply upsetting. Perhaps we should pause and give thanks that this is the first such crime since September 11, 2001. But that gives us no comfort. Instead, we find ourselves weeping at the photos and stories of the victims profiled in today’s New York Times.
The grief must surely be enormous in The Netherlands, a nation I have long admired and frequently visited. It’s a relatively small place, which means proportionally, the impact there was greater than in the U.S. on September 11 (it would be the equivalent of about 3,800 deaths in the U.S.).
This morning, I rode my bike to Washington National Airport, 16 miles. I wanted to get close to our business, to remind myself of what we do. I dismounted just north of the end of the runway and watched a few takeoffs and a landing. Routine. Seemingly easy, though to us quite complex. We’ve gotten very good at it, but the tragedy in Ukraine reminds us that there are some in the world who would exploit this noble and capable business to advance their own twisted agenda, sacrificing innocents and trying to scare us. But we will not be frightened, because to show fear is to give those thugs what they want. And we will not do that.