September 10, 2001, First Officer Steve Scheibner packed his suitcase and waited for the phone call finalizing his assignment to fly American Airlines Flight 11, from Boston to Los Angeles. The call never came. In My Seat recounts the events leading up to Flight 11 and the subsequent death of Tom McGuinness in the seat that should have been filled by Steve Scheibner.
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On an emotional level at first it didn't really sink in and I think a lot of people that are close to an event like that.
You know you're kind of in a sort of a dream state for a little bit, you're kind of trying to figure out what happened and and I finally started to piece it all together later on that evening and when he finally did get ahold of me, he just kept saying it.
Wasn't me, don't worry it wasn't me well, I've been with American Airlines since 1991, so we're coming up on my 20th anniversary with American I've been a pilot a little bit longer than that.
I was first employed by the Navy.
A fluke p3s out of Brunswick Maine and I was on active duty for eight years.
I got about thirty five hundred hours of p3 time in those eight years and then I got hired by American Airlines and currently I fly the Boeing, 757 and 767 airplanes.
It's interesting because you don't know, what's gonna happen, September 11th, when you're living, September, 10th and I just remember September 10th, because September and New England is beautiful.
It's not quite fall, but it's it's cooler, then it would be other places and I'd.
Take him to the library and I was sitting outside drinking a coffee while they were in the library and for the first time really thanking the Lord, because I felt safe, I thought well we're all here and it's safe, and what in the world could ever happen in Georgetown, Maine September 10th is a date.
That means you know a great deal to me, because I did what I normally do on September 10th the day before I'd become available to go flying and my flying is in blocks of days of availability.
So I was available to go flying on September 11th, so at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and September 10th I sat down at the computer and I logged in like I normally do and to check to see if there was any unassigned flying for the next day and sure enough.
There was one trip that was available on September 11th.
It was American Airlines flight 11 out of Boston's Logan Airport to Los Angeles.
It was a two-day trip, got back on the second day.
Left I think at about that I was 7:40 7:45 in the morning, something around that timeframe and I looked at it and there was no pilot assigned to it yet so the next thing the night that what I do is I, go and check and see.
If there's any reserved pilots available now I know I'm available, but there might be some other guys available and it just so happened on September 11th 2001.
There was only one guy available to go flying on that day, and that was me so I've been through this drill a lot of times over the years, I went and I.
In fact, I told my wife I said I said I'm going to Los Angeles tomorrow, I went out to the car and I opened up the trunk and I got my my dirty luggage out of the trunk and I, threw it in the washing machine and I packed my bags with the new clean stuff and took it back out to the car and I said I'm going to LA and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
In fact, in those days what's called crew scheduling at American Airlines would actually assign my name to that trip.
I ironed, his shirt, which I always do and put his epaulets on his shoulder and found the ID, and you know, made sure he had everything packed he needed and we just prepare when you're a when you were military family.
You prepare in a certain way when you're an airline family, it's the same thing, there's just a routine and kind of a checklist.
You go through to prepare for dad to leave on a trip.
The the final assignment comes via the phone call, so they make you know positive contact communication with you, it's not just in the computer, they'll call and they'll say: hey want to let you know, you've been assigned a trip now.
I might know that already by looking into the computer, I could already see that, but a real person will call you and say Scheibner.
It's now your trip, and now at that point, once you have that phone conversation, even if a line pilot wants to they can't bump you off that trip.
So they've only got a 30-minute window of opportunity once that phone call gets made, it's a done deal I waited for the phone call and the phone never rang, which is not completely unusual.
It's not the norm, but it's not completely out of the question either.
In fact, I didn't even think about it for a while.
It was later on that evening.
I thought, hey, you know they never assigned that trip to me and then I really didn't give it another thought, because what that means is I still get paid, but I've got I've got tomorrow off I'm still available to go flying, but they never finalized an assignment.
So I guess I.
Can you know brush off my ambitions to do something else? That day, what was taking place unaware I was unaware of was the fact that it, fellow by the name of Tom McGuinness, who was one of those line holding pilots a little bit senior to me.
Tom was celebrating his birthday on September 10th, with his wife and his children and Tom did what I did that afternoon about three o'clock in the afternoon.
He went over to the computer and he logged in and he looked and he saw that that flight was open, but my name had been penciled in and he knew he was in still in that 30-minute window of opportunity.
So Tom called down to American, Airlines and said: hey, you know, I just want to check with you.
Am I legal to take this trip? In other words, can I bump Scheibner off that trip and they did what they do with the computer down there and they got back to him and said yep you're legal for that trip.
But you got to give us a call back in the next.
You know twenty minutes, or else we're gonna finalize the assignment I assumed that Tom had some sort of conversation with his wife and he called back.
He called American Airlines and he said yeah I'll take that trip.
So at that moment they erased my name off the trip they assigned it to Tom.
I didn't know any different because they never called and Tom showed up for work that day on September 11th.
As you recall, on the East Coast, it was a beautiful day that day they pushed back off the gate on time and they took off on time and the Tom was actually flying.
It was his leg to Los Angeles that day and they flipped about 23,000 feet and Tom engaged the autopilot to take him the rest of the way to Los Angeles, and at that moment all hell broke loose on the airplane.
There's not another way to to Express.
Emily is yes what what whoopsie are you in? Damn what CDU in, which is left lost and we're up in the air and your face good in LA and the conscious not answering the call whatever? Why are you sitting in? What's the number of your seat? Okay, I'm in my jump seat right now? Okay, that's! We are after you deploy defended a number one since tab and r5 is some staff.
Can anybody get up some cockpit and anybody get up to the cockpit people chanting you can get into the cockpit? We don't know who's up there.
Does anybody still, then? Yes, we're still here, okay, I'm staying on the line of will? Okay, what's going on honey, okay aircraft is erratic, again very right.
See there I didn't have a TV on I didn't have a radio on.
We were just doing our squark and I'm pretty soon the the head contractor called me.
His guys had called him because they realized that Steve wasn't home and he called me and said you know.
Where is Steve today and I said well he's in at the Navy.
He had gone to work for the Navy that day since he didn't get an airline trip and the problem with the contractors was they were scared.
They thought he had been on that flight and they were gonna, be dealing with this distraught woman who had just lost her husband.
It really started to come home to me the emotional gravity of what happened when my cellphone started to rain, but a secretary at a school that I used to attend.
Looked at my cellphone number.
She was the first person to call and I answered the phone and Evie was on the end of the phone, and she heard my voice and she started crying and when she started crying I I started crying, and so she was just happy to hear my voice and it wasn't two minutes after I got off with her that somebody else called friends of ours from down in Texas I thought.
You know, I need to get ahead of this and make some phone calls so I called home and I called two different places.
I still didn't realize that that was a flight that I was supposed to be on.
You know I'm watching it on TV like everybody else, and it didn't click with me.
I knew the flight number everything it still didn't.
Click with me when it.
Finally clicked with me, was later on that evening.
I thought you know, I wonder who was on that flight and I thought? Well, maybe I can go find out the names, because the media wasn't going to give you the names for a few days, but maybe there's a way through the login process at American to find out the names and so I did I did what I did the day before on September 10th I logged in and when the screen came up in front of me.
It looked exactly like it did the day before when it had that trip, and it had my name penciled in except this time it had this trip sequence.
My name wasn't there and it said these three words: sequence failed con, that's code at the airline's for the trip never made it to its destination, wow.
What an understanding sequence failed continuity, and at that moment, when I got that visual look at the screen, I was overwhelmed.
It I said you know what I packed my bags to go on that trip and then I was even more curious who had bumped me, but the words can't describe that moment of realizing that you should have been someplace.
You asked me about guilt a little while ago yeah, you do have a twinge of guilt.
20 years ago, I wrote a life objective, and my life objective goes like this: it's to seek trust and glorify God through humble service and continual prayer to raise up qualified disciples as quickly as possible, so that someday I might hear God say well done my good and faithful servant.
The events of September 11th took that life objective that I already had and it intensified it.
For me, the fire just keeps getting hotter as I get older, but someday I want to stand in the Lord's presence and I wanted to say well done.
I would hate to get in God's presence and have him say: oh yeah, Scheibner I see your names down here.
Well, you know, I have a seat.
I need to hear the Lord say.
Well done my good and faithful servant.
That's what's on my plate and that's what's driving me these days.
Why does God take one and leave another? It's not because I'm, a better person or God wanted to do more with me than he wanted to with Tom I.
Think in God's providence, that's obviously his choice.
What has stuck with me all these years is.
The fact that he did leave me behind is that I need to act like I'm living on borrowed time, because I am I, can look and see my smoking hole and it was on national, TV and I saw where I should have died, but I didn't and now there's an obligation that comes with that.
I've got to live my days with a sense of urgency.
I have to make sure I get the most out of I'm, not the most.
For me, that's I think we live in a world where everybody's kind of out to get the most for them.
This is not about me.
This is about the distinct privilege I've been given to know that somebody died in my place.
What I know is that somebody died in my place, not once but twice.
That's where God comes into the whole thing for me see: Tom, sat in a seat that I was qualified to sit in and by all rights.
That was my seat.
That day, I should have been in that seat.
In fact, I've sat in the very seat of that airplane that tom was and I flown.
All of the the 757s and 767s American Airlines owned.
So I know what it's like literally to sit in that seat, but I am still all these years later still qualified to sit in that seat and I could've, but Tom didn't die for my sins.
You see God sent his own son to die for my sins.
Jesus Christ was the other one who died in my place and he hung and he bled and he suffered on a cross to pay a price for me that I wasn't qualified to pay.
I couldn't have hung on the cross.
I didn't have the same qualifications, so one guy sat in a seat that I should have said in the other hung and bled on a cross.
One is far more significant than the other, that's not to trivialize.
What happened to Tom is to elevate and glorify what God did for me and for mankind on the cross.