by Bev Haigh-Jones

As a result of our appeal for newsletter input on the Group page, we received this response from Caroline. Usually, we ask for stories highlighting the negative impacts of Brexit, but this month we were also looking for positive aspects. Caroline’s story has both. The news team were deeply moved by its contents and we thank her for sharing it with us. Apart from a few minor tweaks, it is printed exactly as Caroline wrote it.

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I used to fly with United Airlines, based out of Heathrow. Several hundred crew members were from Europe and our base was truly international. Because of cheap flight benefits and freedom of movement, we could live anywhere and commute into London. We also had a room and a friend to stay with, everywhere from Gothenburg to Malta and in between. We met up in Paris on days off, went to Barcelona, or Amsterdam for somebody’s birthday.

Through my 20s and 30s, these people were my family. We shared flats, we partied, we laughed and we cried together. 

We had each other’s backs. 

We lived in a world without borders. At 35,000 feet, you don’t see them anyway and among us, we didn’t either. 

It’s almost 20 years since the tragedy of 9/11. The second plane to hit the towers was ours. A 767 aircraft that I’d flown on hundreds of times between Heathrow and Newark. The other one of ours, flight UA93 went into the ground in Pennsylvania. I knew six of the crew. The days that followed were beyond surreal. I was between trips in my London flat. It was filled with fellow crew, grounded, stuck, European friends unable to get home or make sense of the madness.

We had each other’s backs. 

The tears flowed, the media screamed. The silences were understood more than the words. Wine poured and phones rang from those outside of our bubble, but it was only among us that we truly understood.

The crew desk phoned. I was to be part of the crew to take the first international flight to the US post 9/11, five days after the tragedy. We were flying to Washington DC. The crew were British, Italian, Dutch, German and Swedish. Our American captain had lost his best friend in the twin towers. We had all flown with the crews who’d lost their lives.

In the pre-flight briefing, we were told that the flight would be a couple of hours late leaving due to extra security. It left five hours late. We were told that if any flight in US airspace was hijacked now, it would be shot down by the US. We had five hours to sit and wait and to try not to think about that. We were on our own.

We had each other’s backs. 

Our nerves matched our professionalism. The whole plane applauded at the end. 

My European “family” got me through it. The wonderful passengers from all over the world hugged us, squeezed our hands too hard and shared our nerves.

Not just that day but on many days, through life’s cruel curve balls as well as it’s celebrations, it’s those European friendships, my United friends that I hold the dearest and will hold for a lifetime,

We have each other’s backs.

Whilst nothing can break those bonds of friendship, Brexit has forced me to stand in another line, fill in pointless forms to receive gifts, taken away my freedom and made me a citizen of a country where I feel zero comradery towards many of its citizens. Such nonsense!

Europe has my heart, my hope and my determination.