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Sept. 13, 2001: Pilots, flight attendants waiting to return home

Margaret Childs had just returned from the grocery store when she received a frantic call from her mother-in-law.

It was the first moment she was to hear the devastating news of the terrorist attacks Tuesday morning in New York and Washington, D.C.

Childs' thoughts immediately turned to her husband, Jeffrey, a pilot for US Airways, and his two sisters, one who works as a flight attendant for American Airlines; the other for United Airlines.

"That (the phone call) was not the best way to find out what happened. He was scheduled to fly, as a passenger into Raleigh (N.C.) that morning, and it was really scary because we didn't know where he was," Childs said. "But he called that afternoon to let us know he was in Raleigh and OK."

Jeffrey Childs' sisters are safe, too. "We just feel very fortunate and blessed that everybody is alive," Margaret Childs said.

Jeffrey Childs is now among the thousands of pilots and flight attendants across the nation who are playing the waiting game alongside passengers wondering when they will be able to return home to their loved ones.

The Federal Aviation Association was expected to lift Wednesday the ban that halted commercial air traffic at airports nationwide but not before additional security measures were in place.

"The company has been telling us that everything should be on schedule tomorrow (Thursday), but they still have to determine where they are going to send the crews and which planes will fly out first," said Debbie McCann of Rock Hill, a flight attendant for US Airways who was stranded in Los Angeles. "The airport is ready, but each airline has to take additional security measures before passengers can board and the planes are allowed to leave. I don't know when things are going to get back to normal."

Though they are trained to deal with terrorists and hijacking situations, flight attendants, like the rest of the nation, were in a state of shock, McCann said.

"Being a flight attendant doesn't change your reaction. This was the furthest thing from anybody's mind. ... It is highly unbelievable," said McCann, who has been a flight attendant for 161/2 years. "It will be hard for everybody to walk on the airplanes, whether their emotion is fear or anxiety. You don't know how you are going to react until you board the plane, but right now everybody is numb."

Travel agents were also dealing with the aftermath Wednesday as clients called trying to get home or canceling vacation flights.

"They're afraid to travel right now," said Gloria Choate, manager at Mann Travel and Cruises in Rock Hill. "I can't blame them."

The airlines will refund tickets for international flights without penalties through Monday, travel agents said. Domestic tickets will be refunded or can used for travel within a year.

Travel agents have been alerted that electronic and curbside check-in has been discontinued at airports.

"It will take the airlines awhile to get crews assembled and get planes back here," said Roddey Miller, owner of Thomas Travel and Cruises, who added US Airways runs 490 flights out of Charlotte each day. "You can't just push a button and everything will go again."