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Local Flight Attendant Reflects on 9/11, Flights to Asia

Shari Schlaman spent two decades aboard planes.

Posted: February 18, 2008 6:20 p.m.
Updated: April 19, 2008 5:02 a.m.
As the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, unfolded across the nation, all Shari Schlaman could do was sit on the couch of her Saugus home and watch the television.

The United Airlines flight attendant was nine months pregnant and expecting her daughter at any moment. But despite the joyous time in her life, Schlaman, a 22-year veteran flight attendant, was unable to pull her eyes away from the TV as events unfolded.

Schlaman, a San Francisco International Airport-based flight attendant for long-term flights to regions of the Pacific Rim, was worried that one of her United colleagues was in danger.

"They had blocked access on the computer," she said about the inability to check the status of United flights online.
Shortly after midnight, her water broke and Schlaman was taken to the hospital.

"I did not want a 9/11 baby," she said.

What Schlaman did want was her mother to be part of the birth of her first child. But her mother was still in Schlaman's home state of Florida. And with flights all over the country grounded, Schlaman was left to deliver her baby without her mother by her side.

Instead, her mother talked to her on the phone through the birthing experience.

Two days later, her daughter, Claire, was born.

Even as Schlaman's role as a mother began, her familiarities as a flight attendant would be forever changed as a result of 9/11.

During an interview at her home Saturday, Schlaman, now 46, remembered driving home from the Westwood hospital with her husband, Brett, and days-old baby in the post-9/11 world.

"It was dead," she said of traffic on the major freeways. The same was true for the skies, as Schlaman remembers seeing not one airplane among the clouds.

While driving, she saw the banners and posters hanging from the overpasses with the phrase, "We will never forget."
Schlaman was off for six months, during what she calls the "height of the security drama."

But when she came back to work, her occupation and its goals changed.

"We're basically now the line of defense against terrorists trying to get into the cockpit," she said. "We're not just waitresses in the sky."

More security in airports and in the skies meant more training for flight attendants and any other airline employees.
Schlaman said she and her colleagues have been taught self-defense techniques and are trained to be more vigilant of passengers and their behaviors in the plane.

The responsibilities have led to a change of how she thinks people view her occupation.

"Since 9/11, people really pay attention to the safety demonstrations," she said.

The changes in security procedures, however, came after many long-established regulations for flight attendants that even included annual weigh-ins to ensure that females were meeting the weight limitations. That practice has since ended.

With all the experiences Schlaman has gone through as a flight attendant, she remains passionate about her career choice.

Schlaman said United has taken her to six continents and to all 50 states in America.

She even jokes that United introduced her to her husband, Brett, whom she met during business trips to San Francisco.
Personally, Schlaman sees her career as a match for her outgoing personality. Knowing that she could never enjoy a "9 to 5 job" in an office cubicle, she decided to apply to various airlines at the age of 25, when she finished touring the world with the musical group "Up with People."

She received her acceptance letter from United on her birthday and after completing flight attendant training, and she spent years flying the continental U.S. before becoming a lead flight attendant for lengthy international flights to destinations like Sydney, Australia.

Most of all, Schlaman enjoys the changes that the job brings.

"Honestly, no two days are ever the same," she explained.

Additionally, Schlaman is able to fly around the world with her family. Her seniority with United allows her to generally organize her own schedule. On average, she works eight to 10 days straight out of the month.

She doesn't see stopping anytime soon and plans to continue her position for years to come.

"They'll drag me off the plane," she joked about retiring.


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