How much of an impact did 9/11 on your life? About 3,000 people including 16 United Airlines crewmembers tragically lost their lives that day and today, I want to honor their memory. 9/11 changed my life forever but it ended theirs so I want to pass on my wishes of healing and strength to the families of the fallen heroes of that day. I want to do this by telling my story in the hopes that those who lost so much will understand that we ALL lost something but from those ashes, healing and new growth does occur.
I was a United Airlines pilot on that fateful day. Having just completed a trip back to SFO, was spending the night at my mother-in-law’s home in Concord, CA. She woke me after the first plane struck and I watched the ensuing tragedy unfold in horror with the rest of America. The next day, when all planes were grounded, I rented the last available car in the bay area (literally) and drove home to Boise with another pilot to begin my post-9/11 life.
It began like many others with wanting to do SOMETHING to help the healing process. So, my wife, Deena, and I decided to make wooden USA flag plaques to sell and donate 100% of the proceeds to the American Red Cross. We actually raised about $750 doing that. Small potatoes but it was better than doing nothing, and it kept my mind off the looming certainty that I would soon end up losing my job as the airlines began massive layoffs.
It took about 18 months before I got furloughed, so when the axe did fall, there were no pilot jobs to be found anywhere. I knew it was coming long before and knew I had to do something to take care of my family but I didn’t know what to do. Well, about a year before my furlough, it dawned on me that perhaps I could help pilots improve their quality of life through a better trip trading system than United provided. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of trip trading, I will tell you that it helps pilots and flight attendants arrange their flying schedule to fit better with their life. United allowed trip trading but the tools they provided to find good trips and trade them were awful!
So, I told my then 15-yr old son, Chris, about this idea to improve the trip trading system and asked him if he wanted to help program it. He was just becoming a budding programmer and jumped at the opportunity. Chris and I spent an entire year programming before we released our first Beta product in Mar 2003 and went live in May 2003 on the very same day that I was furloughed from United.
Times were tough at first. We averaged $3,000/mo our first year! Pretty tough to feed a family of 7 on that but somehow we managed and eTripTrader began to get more popular. The software was buggy as hell back then, but we were so fanatical about customer support that our customers were forgiving and stuck with us. When the time came a few years later to go back to United as a pilot, I had to make a tough decision. I was working 14-16 hr days at the time on the eTT business and knew that I couldn’t do that and be a United pilot also, so I had to decide to give up eTripTrader or give up being a pilot.
I took a huge risk and gave up being a pilot and continued to focus 100% on growing eTripTrader. Many people that I was foolish and perhaps I was but I was determined to succeed with what I had started. We grew every year and were always grateful to hear stories from pilots whose lives we had helped improve in so many small ways. Eventually, we began supporting flight attendants too and then in 2009, scored our first big contract with an airline rather than selling directly to pilots and flight attendants.
United had us create an automated shift trading application for 12,500 customer service and ramp workers because they heard such good things about our aircrew trip trading software. That product called SkedFlex, eventually transformed into a full crew management system that smaller airlines use to manage their aircraft and crew. It’s in use at seven airlines so far but will grow significantly in the coming years. In 2014, we even landed a contract with United to service ALL their pilots so our labor of many years was rewarded. What started as just me and Chris has now grown to a team of over 20 and I can say our future looks bright.
9/11 rocked me to the core and changed me forever. It made me feel unsafe and unsure if I would ever feel safe again. I feared for my family and whether I could continue to care for them. But I persevered and while I still don’t feel totally safe, I at least feel that I am a stronger person and better able to deal with whatever may come. I’m not sure entrepreneurship is for everyone but it saved me and has provided for my family. I’m thankful for the support of my family, friends and staff in making what many see as ‘the American dream’ come true.
I hope if your life was similarly turned upside down by 9/11, that you have found peace and prosperity in the 15 years since, and that you too have turned your lemons into lemonade. Healing from such a deep trauma takes a lot of time so if you are not there yet, have faith that it will come.
Thank you for reading this survivor story. Please share your own if you feel comfortable doing so.