American Airlines employees who were dealing with phone calls made by two flight attendants on Flight 11–the first plane to be hijacked on September 11, 2001–were told by their superiors to keep quiet about what they had learned about the unfolding crisis. At a time when the airline should have been alerting as many people as possible to the serious incident that the flight attendants were describing, senior personnel were instead issuing instructions such as “Don’t spread this around” and “I don’t want this spread all over this office right now.”

Furthermore, airline employees who were aware of the flight attendants’ calls were remarkably slow to pass on what they knew to individuals and agencies that should have been alerted as a matter of urgency, such as the FBI, the FAA, and even American Airlines senior managers.

With two of its aircraft involved in the terrorist attacks, American Airlines had an important role to play on September 11. But no explanations have been given for the actions of key personnel who appear to have deliberately hindered its response to the hijacking of Flight 11. It is therefore important that we now examine closely the behavior of American Airlines staff that day.

A number of American Airlines employees were among the first people to be alerted to the crisis taking place in the skies over America on September 11. They learned what was happening on American Airlines Flight 11 from two flight attendants–Betty Ong and Madeline “Amy” Sweeney–who made phone calls from the hijacked plane.

Betty Ong called the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in Cary, North Carolina, at 8:18 a.m., about four minutes after Flight 11 is thought to have been hijacked. Over the next 25 minutes, she described what was happening on her plane to a number of reservations office employees. [1]

One of the employees, Nydia Gonzalez, soon realized the seriousness of the situation and, at 8:21 a.m., called the American Airlines System Operations Control (SOC) center on a separate phone line, to alert it to the emergency. [2] The SOC, in Fort Worth, Texas, “coordinates the day-to-day, minute-by-minute operation” of American Airlines. [3] Gonzalez talked to Craig Marquis, the manager on duty there, and kept him updated with the information Ong was providing until contact with the flight attendant was lost, shortly before 8:46 a.m., when Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center. [4]

Amy Sweeney made three phone calls to the American Airlines flight services office at Logan International Airport in Boston, and in them described the catastrophic events on her plane. The first two calls, made at 8:25 a.m. and 8:29 a.m., got disconnected after less than two minutes. But Sweeney’s third call, at 8:32 a.m., stayed connected until around 8:44 a.m. or 8:45 a.m. [5]

Ong and Sweeney made it clear, in their calls, that a serious crisis was taking place, lives were in danger, and anything could happen next. And yet recordings of phone calls have shown that, rather than making as much noise as possible to alert people to the emergency, senior American Airlines personnel seemed intent on suppressing the information provided by the two flight attendants.

A parent of one victim of the 9/11 attacks, who was a veteran flight attendant for United Airlines, was highly critical of the attitude of these individuals after she heard the recorded calls. “It was disgusting,” she said. “The very first response was cover-up, when they should have been broadcasting this information all over the place.” [6]

Transcripts of calls recorded at the American Airlines SOC reveal numerous occasions when senior personnel instructed their colleagues to keep quiet about the hijacking of Flight 11. These are described below:

i) Dispatcher Was Told Not to ‘Spread Around’ News of the Hijacking
At 8:25 a.m., SOC manager Craig Marquis called Peggy Houck, a flight dispatcher at the SOC, and asked her to try and contact the pilot of Flight 11. Marquis gave Houck several details of what was happening on the plane. He said the “number three flight attendant”–Betty Ong–had contacted the airline’s reservations office in Cary and reported that there was “a passenger on board that’s stabbing this flight attendant.” He added that Ong had been “trying to get hold of the cockpit crew and she can’t get through, and the cockpit cabin door is closed.” After Houck said she would try to contact the pilot, Marquis told her: “Don’t spread this around. This is between you and me right now, okay?” Houck answered, “Okay.” [7]

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