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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 16:22 GMT
Cabin crew share flying fears
American Airlines jets at JFK Airport
American Airlines has received yet another blow
Megan Lane

The flying public are not the only ones unnerved by the crash of Flight 587 which came so soon after the 11 September attacks. The industry itself, and the crews who tend to its customers, have also got the jitters.

It has been a nerve-wracking year for those who take to the skies.

First the airline industry was rocked when four hijacked planes were turned against the United States on 11 September. Then, just two months and one day later, more than 260 people died when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed within minutes of take-off from New York.

Site of the Rockaway crash
The loss of Flight 587 has heightened fears
The following day, travel agents reported cancellations of flight bookings. Those who did fly found their pilots unusually soothing, reassuring passengers that the plane had been checked and checked again.

The crash could not have come at a worse time for an industry hoping the approaching holiday season might at last revive business.

Analysts say it will again set back an industry that has been losing tens of millions of dollars a day since September's attacks. "Even if it is an accident, it still will dry up demand," says Kevin Murphy, the airline analyst at Morgan Stanley. "It makes an unbelievably bad situation even worse."

From bad to worse

His words echo the sentiments of many in this country turned upside down by the events of 11 September. It is generally thought to be reassuring that this crash was probably due to massive mechanical failure. After all, accidents can and occasionally do happen.

American Airlines flight attendant Heather Linson, who is based at JFK airport, lost two close friends in the crash and knew many of the other victims.

Passengers delayed at JFK
Some passengers are having second thoughts
"I was in the air when I heard the news, having stopped over in Santo Domingo just the day before. It was very frightening.

"Knowing that I had likely lost friends on the flight, as well as passengers I've come to know over 12 years, it was extremely difficult to put on a 'happy face' for passengers who knew nothing of the disaster."

Although the crash has not put her off flying, Ms Linson is relieved that she's rostered off until next Tuesday.

"I think this crash was just bad luck, I don't think it was a terrorist attack. The chances of it happening again are very slim."

Down to earth

Not all of her colleagues agree. As airlines that were already struggling before 11 September have laid off staff and offered extended leave of absence to those who stay, a number have taken the opportunity to look at alternative careers.

"One of my friends has just quit. She has two children and has to commute in from another state - 11 September was the straw that broke the camel's back," says Ms Linson.

I haven't heard from her yet - I just hope she's on a trip.

Heather Linson
But for now, American Airlines staff have more pressing matters to deal with - mourning the nine crew who died in Monday's crash, so soon after losing other friends and colleagues in the planes hijacked by the terror attackers.

Although hers is a profession in which an unanswered phone is usually no cause for concern - for crews make their living by being away from home - Ms Linson is also worried about another flight attendant friend who lives on the Rockaway peninsula, the narrow strip of land where Flight 587 spiralled to earth.

"I haven't heard from her yet - I just hope she's on a trip."

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