Flying into nervous skies laden with grim memories

By CATHY ARONSON

Sitting in a lounge in Germany it's hard not to think about the innocent airline passengers who died last year.

All the same, travellers leaving Frankfurt calmly sip coffee as images of aircraft crashing into the twin towers flash across a huge screen.

Rows of international newspapers recall the events in a universal language of horror. Bush, Blair, Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda - a reminder that the threat is still fresh.

A poll shows that 33 per cent of travellers would avoid flying on September 11.

People I encounter over the next 24 hours on my trip to New Zealand represent those who said they would travel.

Ursula Koners is one who is determined to fly Down Under.

"It's just another day. Why should it be any more dangerous than the rest?"

Of more interest to her is the pending election in Germany, which could dictate the country's commitment to an attack on Iraq.

Another passenger is returning after visiting relatives in Germany. His wife refused to join him, fearful at the thought of flying over Afghanistan. So he travelled alone, but promised to call her on the satellite phone from the plane.

"It is annoying. I know it's safe but it would not be good if something happens. I can see her yelling 'I told you so' over my grave."

The flight to Singapore passes without incident.

At the Changi Airport lounge to transfer from Lufthansa to Air New Zealand, former American citizen Nancy Moran said her only concern was to be out of the United States on September 11.

"The plane's the fastest way I know to get out of there, and I'll tell you what, if something's gonna happen it won't be on a plane with all that security."

The warm-faced woman in her late forties hardly looks like a terrorist threat but she believes her absence from America makes her a suspect.

Her small sewing kit scissors took on the sinister look of a potential weapon and were confiscated after an x-ray and thorough hand search of her luggage. Her belt buckle triggered the metal detector and was removed in case it was a device in disguise. Her socks and shoes were removed to find little more than well-travelled feet.

I board the last leg of my trip home on the dreaded September 11.

Fear is far from my mind, but concerns still linger.

I feel ashamed as I look with suspicion at Middle Eastern people.

I take a mental note of people boarding the plane in case I'm the last witness alive to identify them. I wonder if anything did happen on my flight, would I be a heroic passenger and fight a hijacker to the bitter end or would I simply hide in the toilet and write a farewell note to my loved ones.

I'm about to write one in preparation but then, reality check. The flight information on the display screen tells me I've travelled 6021km, I'm at an altitude of 11,300m, its minus 42C outside and our ground speed is 1070km/h. That's all the information I need.

A wine, delicious meal and friendly crew send me into a peaceful jet-lagged snooze.

After our landing at Auckland Airport, sniffer dogs greet each passenger and both hold luggage and hand luggage are x-rayed. I'm on safe ground. Now for the drive home on Auckland motorways. That's a scary thought.

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