Two 9/11 Hijackers Almost Missed Their Flight. This Agent Deals With The Guilt Of Helping Them On

American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles was one of four flights hijacked on September 11, 2001. The Boeing 757 was crashed into the Pentagon, killing 59 passengers and crew and 125 in the building as well.

About half an hour into the flight five hijackers stormed the cockpit, sent passengers and crew to the rear of the aircraft, and took control of the aircraft. Impact was at 9:37 a.m. Eastern time.

But two of the hijackers almost didn’t make the flight, and one American Airlines agent, Vaughn Allex, has lived with the guilt for 20 years that he let them check in when they were late arriving to the airport.

The Washington Dulles-based ticket agent saw two full fare first class passengers and wanted to offer his best customer service.

The check-in was odd. The two that I checked in, two brothers, one was kind of gruff and the other one was standing a couple of paces behind him. And this sounds odd, but this is what caught my attention. He was almost dancing, he was moving from foot to foot and grinning and looking around, and my thought was, here’s somebody that’s never been on an airplane and boy is this guy excited,” Allex recently recalled in an interview at Dulles airport in Virginia.

“And I kind of watched him for a couple of minutes as we went through the whole check. And he was totally unresponsive as far as whatever we asked him to read, to look verbally. He just smiled and danced and was oblivious to what was going on,” he continued. “That’s the image I have, is the two of them standing there and the one just dancing, it was the oddest thing.”

He marked the two men for extra security “[w]hen the pair couldn’t answer basic security check-in questions.” But they didn’t have bombs or guns, that’s not how they’d hijack the plane.

Allex also has guilt for suggesting a co-worker take the flight with a connection to Las Vegas, rather than going through Dallas or from Washington National to Chicago, since the transcon offered “”a meal and a movie” and was so lightly booked.

“She said that sounded good, but that she’d never written a ticket that way and we were just transitioning to electronic tickets. Could I help her? So I wrote her ticket from Dulles to Los Angeles with a connecting flight back to Las Vegas. And then the following day, I saw that she had gotten on the flight on the ticket I’d written.”

The next day he was called in and introduced to an American Airlines lawyer who said, “I am not your attorney.” They were joined by two FBI agents.

“I started to run my hand down the list and I saw the names of the two people I checked-in, and in that moment and that instant, that’s when I looked at him and I said, ‘I did it, didn’t I?’ And they said, ‘what did you do?’ And I go, ‘these were the two that I put in,'”

Allex blames himself, though with the information he had he made the right calls all the way through. But playing his own role in that fateful day, being interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, it’s been hard to escape. But realizing that he was just listed as a footnote in the report (‘footnote number 12’) made him realize how many things happened that day, and how small a role he played. In 2008 he retired from American Airlines, and he went to work for TSA. Here’s an amazing year-old thread with an inside look at how the day unfolded.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. If just one of the pilots that day had been some -sh!t crazy racist and refused to fly because he was suspicious of the Muslim passengers traveling together, a lot of lives may have been saved, depending on the flight.

  2. William has a pointless “what if.” Supposing he was suspicious of Asian passengers? Or women? It’s silly. I once had a conversation with a man who afterwards was killed in a traffic crash. If I hadn’t stopped him he wouldn’t have been. Did I feel bad? Yes awful…but. Maybe somebody else I once stopped wasn’t in a crash. It’s an unfair burden to carry around. I like alternative history stories but you can only go so far. Years ago the anti-abortion people had an ad where Beethoven’s parents terminated the fetus. Substitute Hitler’s and see what you get.

  3. That link to the Ari Fleischer sequence of events was a great read. Thank you for posting it, I had not seen this.

  4. Drrichard, that’s all very theoretical – BUT IF a racist pilot had delayed one of the Boston flights, even quickly replacing him with a reserve pilot would have created a delay that may have derailed the whole plot, at least temporarily, as the coordination was key, or it may have at least made the terrorists too nervous to go through with their attack that day. It may have unfolded later, who knows, or the whole plot may have been exposed. (Fear of Asian or women terrorists would be so irrational as to be laughable, as there is no basis in modern times for suspecting those groups of launching terrorist attacks against America, whereas in the decade before 9/11 we had first WTC attack, USS Cole, embassy bombings, etc…)

    Aaaaand yes if you are pro-life you have to accept that horrible people will be born, and if you’re pro-choice you must accept that great people may be terminated.

  5. To avoid future terrorist attacks, American (and other airlines) have adopted a policy of deliberate unhelpfulness to travelers who are running late.

  6. The argument about profiling passengers and averting disaster shows why the government is contrary to reason and goodness. The rational response to 9/11 would be to stop giving visas to poor Arab/south Asian Muslim men to attend schools in the U.S. or whatever. The risk of sui bom or another hijacking would go down tremendously. Trump was right to call for a ban but wrong to not narrow it a specific group that poses the highest risk to flights and citizens. Obviously, we want rich Arabs and south Asians to spend their tourist dollars and fly on the premium ME airlines. They aren’t the ones who are a risk to flights. Instead, the government built an apparatus to harass and abuse citizens and legitimate tourists with TSA and customs, spy on citizens, invade privacy more with the checks ran for transfer of real estate, and etc. All the risk of Islamic attack could be prevented by keeping them out of Europe and the U.S. There would been no need for an extensive Afghanistan operation and definitely no Iraq war on fake grounds or Syria/Libya/Tunis.

    Conservatives would be smart to realize that 100% of abortions are done to leftist woman who statistically produce leftist babies (75% of the time). The greatest aid to freedom is actually something conservatives mostly oppose. If Hitler hadn’t been born, Spain, France, Italy, and Western Germany may have been communist as the national socialists were at odds with communists for control in Germany. India, Vietnam, and Algeria might still be British and French colonies. There are so many different variables. Western Europe is actually communist today without it being official. Speech is illegal. Christian home schoolers are persecuted and prosecuted in Germany. The British cover up sexual abuses by Pakistani men on British girls. Ironically, Eastern Europe (Poland and Hungary) fight for freedom and traditional family values much more than Western Europe as they saw the fate communism brings.

    I do think about how life would be different if 9/11 didn’t happen. I wonder about the political landscape. The war both kept republicans in power in 2004 and took them out of it in 2006 and 2008. The democrats may have still opposed illegal immigration on protecting citizen jobs grounds/wages. They might still support free speech. Obamacare probably wouldn’t have passed. The 6 trillion spent on wars would have gone somewhere else. We might still be able to take a cruise to see the Damascus historical sites or visit Tunis.

  7. A few years ago I sat next to a woman on an overseas flight who, when posed with a question about 20 minutes into our talk, told me she thought it was equally likely for a group of christians to overtake a plane and use it for terrorism as it was for a group of muslims. Another example of good intentions not allowing someone to think clearly. Liberals see the world as they want it to be, or as they hope it to be, not how it is. Seemed like a very sweet woman. Foolish, but sweet.

  8. @MMG

    You’re completely right. That type of thinking is ridiculous. Different groups commit crimes but in different circumstances and varieties. We have thugs in Chicago who constantly turn urban areas into danger zones. However, there is zero chance that this group would do anything with a plane. One may not like Christian conservatives who fight for free speech, gun rights, school choice, religious freedom, and to keep thugs out of our neighborhoods and schools, but one would be foolish to think this group would use planes. Radical Environmental groups might glue themselves to a plane but they aren’t likely to do anything with it inside. Actually, the biggest danger we have are pilots who are suicidal like with Germanwings. Another negative action that came about because of 9/11 was fortifying cockpit doors. That makes pilot suicide a huge concern.

    @Rog

    What part? Is it that simply restricting student visas for Arab/south Asian Muslim men would be more rational than TSA/domestic spying/going to war in the Middle East for 20 years/using 9-11 as a fake pretext for Iraq?

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