MH17 Hits Close To Home For Me Today

Filed Under: Travel

Wow, I’m still just in shock. I’ve had a few surreal travel moments over the years, but today was a new one for me. Today hit very close to home.

I was booked on KLM today from Amsterdam to Chicago, departing at 12:40PM. That’s just 25 minutes after MH17 departed Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur.

I got to the airport at around 10AM by taxi, and as we approached the airport the first plane I noticed was the Malaysia 777 parked at a remote stand. It certainly didn’t seem unusual, but for some reason I took note of it. As unfortunate as it may be, I think post-MH370 you can’t help but notice Malaysia 777s.

Then I walked through the check-in halls, including past the Malaysia Airlines check-in counter, where I saw dozens of people checking in. I love airports so enjoy looking at various check-in counters to imagine all the places people are traveling, and that counter was no exception.


Then I got in the departure immigration queue, which took about 10-15 minutes. Usually I don’t talk to people in those lines, but for whatever reason I ended up in a conversation with the guy in front of me in line. It’s not often I get into conversations with strangers at airports, especially in immigration queues. He was on MH17 to Kuala Lumpur.

When I wrote about the MH370 disappearance several months ago, I wrote the following:

I’ve flown Malaysia Airlines several times before and have always enjoyed my flights on them. I’ve even flown the exact airframe that is missing, 9M-MRO, which feels somewhat surreal.

While it impacts us, I can’t even imagine how it impacts anyone that was involved directly in any way. Not only the families of the passengers and crew, but also the last people to interact with them, the check-in agents working that flight, passengers that may have sat next to them on connections, the people that were apparently booked on the flight but missed it, the crew hotel they were going to stay at in Beijing (how surreal it must be to have those 12 rooms empty), etc.

There aren’t words that can describe my sympathy, other than that I’m really sorry, that they’re in my thoughts, and that I’m sending the best vibes possible their way.

Today, oddly, I guess I was one of those “last people” to interact with one passenger… it’s just surreal.

My KLM flight didn’t have Wi-Fi, so I didn’t realize what happened until I landed in Chicago, and had dozens of texts from friends (aviation and non-aviation alike) along the lines of “holy crap, did you see what happened?” The taxi to our gate took about 10 minutes, and during that time I was shaking and kept mumbling explicatives, much to the confusion of some of the other passengers in the cabin.

My thoughts are with the families and friends of those involved. And my thoughts are also with Malaysia Airlines — how incredibly unfortunate.

For those of us lucky enough to not have been on the flight, remember to hug your loved ones and tell them how much you love them. This certainly hit closer to home than ever before for me…

  1. This whole story is just stunning, and I really feel for the Malaysian people. My wife and I flew MH371 back in January, and the flight was terrific. Most importantly, we LOVED Malaysia…the food, the culture, the people, everything. I hate seeing FB posts like, “Never fly Malaysian!” or “Don’t travel to Kuala Lumpur!” Malaysia is a phenomenal country, and my wife and I would go back in a heartbeat.

    My heart goes out to everyone even tangentially involved in this tragedy. Now I need to get on a cross-country flight myself…

  2. Terrible tragedy. Thoughts w victims and their families, and the people of Malaysia.

    Safe travels to all.

  3. I am more interested in that you took a cab to Schiphol rather than the train. I don’t know anyone else that has done that. Weren’t you staying in the city center?

  4. Flew EVA from Amsterdam to Bangkok two weeks ago and can’t help feel that it easily could have been me on the flight had I booked it on oneworld instead of Star…

    I hope Malaysia get through this and recover. Thoughts to those affected.

  5. Welcome home Ben. After what happened, i don’t even care about the trip report, as far as i am concerned you can just skip it. Would be weird to read about a premium travel experience that occurred at the same time as this horrible tragedy.

  6. What an unspeakably horrible situation this is. Perhaps it hits home in particular for those of who fly a lot and your chance encounter takes that to a whole new level.

    As others have said, safe travels to all.

  7. The pictures from Huffington left me in shock…I cant get the images out now, and just ponder about those poor souls….how they had no idea they were about to perish. Well said Ben, to hug your loved ones and never take granted the time we have here. So sad…..

  8. That is just insane!
    Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those who died today.

  9. Ben, can we chip in to send your Mom a case of Valium? I got shivers thinking about how close you were…she must have fainted!

  10. One of those moments that reminds us of what’s important (hint: not caviar in the sky). My heart breaks for those on board and their loved ones. Undoubtedly businessmen and women, families going on vacation, young people seeing the world.

    Ultimately we are all landing at the same airport, and we can only hope to maximize our time in the air and hope the landing is smooth and fast. Be well my fellow aviation friends, and hug your loved ones today.


  11. This is an incredibly terrible situation. In hindsight, the aircraft should not have been routed through an area of active military operations.

    Sure, it was flying 1,000 feet above restricted air corridor but Ukrainian military does not exactly have a great track record — they accidentally shot down an S7 jet back in 2001. It was a much smaller Tu-154 flying from Tel Aviv, Israel to Novosibirsk, Russia but it still resulted in 78 fatalities —


  12. I can feel your pain and closeness to the situation. I enjoy checking out different check in counters and aircraft also. Just love airports and flying, why I love you. Talking to one of the passengers was no coincidence. At least you can humanize and bring us back to reality of how fragile life can be. But please keep on flying and reporting the details. Be safe.

  13. Very, very chilling and scary. I can’t even imagine. Glad you’re safe and on sturdy ground.

    I hate for this question to sound overly practical and/or unfeeling in a time of tragedy, but… it strikes me as so unfortunate for Malaysia Airlines to essentially claim the only two major disasters in the 20-year history of the 777 within the span of a quarter of a year. That being said, losing two 777s out of your fleet seems like it would have to have a huge impact on the airline’s operations going forward, no? I would assume their insurance would kick in to cover some losses, but it’s not like you can just buy a 777 on demand from Boeing, I assume? I’m curious (after, of course, being horrified and appalled and heartbroken and frankly angry at the current situation) as to how MH is handling this from an operational perspective.

  14. My old company lost someone back on 9/11. It always haunted me because I know exactly what her day was like.

    Alarm, shower, quick check to make sure you got your toothbrush and contact solution in your bag. The drive to the airport, central parking, the click of then wheelie bag…. Boarding, taxi, takeoff… Then a commotion up front…What? What is going on?

    It’s the intimate familiarity with their last moments that strikes me…

  15. I was very moved by your account today. How close we come sometimes to the edge of life? How many contacts do we have with people who we never know their futures?

    I had a similar conversation with a guy sitting next to me on a plane once. We joked and laughed. I now know his story took a negative turn. I often wonder what I could have said to him that would have been different.

    Travel well fellow humans and lets treat each other in aiports, planes and in the world with respect.

  16. Wow. I just read what you posted and got goosebumps. Brings back memories for me when I was a Flight Attendant in New York and encountered a really bad storm halting all departures out of JFK. I remember delivering some drinks up to the pilots and looking out the window to see one of my favorite planes in front of us.. an MD-11. When we arrived in SFO later that evening, we found out that Swissair 111 had crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia and the pilots looked at us and said, ‘that was the plane that was in front of us in New York!’ I was at a loss of words and the vision of that plane has always been a vivid memory in my mind ever since.

  17. I am thinking there could be some Flyertalk or Boarding Area members on that first class or business. OW miles from Usair? It could be very possible…

  18. Very well said, Lucky. And my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who are impacted by this tragedy. And, a big hug out to all of them!

  19. We are thankful for your heart and your realness as you write Ben, especially on a day like today. Yet again, you were spared. I remember the RJ Hong Kong landing a while back too.. You’re blessed and we’re glad you’re ok. Thankful for every day of life!

  20. It’s always great to read in your posts that your heart is absolutely in the right place.

    Don’t know any of you really, but we are all connected, one way or another, so hugs to all of you as we hold the families of those kindred travelers in our own hearts.

  21. Glad you are safe Ben. I’m sure your conversation brought joy to that man. Sympathies to the families.

  22. One of my good buddies actually worked that flight at AMS as a load handler. I CANNOT imagine what he is going through right now. will be very interesting to see what is going to happen to MH in the future.

  23. This is a staggering loss on so many levels, the greatest, of course being the huge loss of life. War and political conflicts that lead to such senseless tragedy is just simply monstrous. I think we will all feel a littles sadder about this because of your short encounter with the passenger. Maybe someday you will be able to tell his family of your chat. No doubt it would comfort them. I know when I visit Malaysia in the fall, I will feel the shadow of what is now their national tragedy.

  24. I have to admit that (since I only make casual note of all the travel blogs I follow) my first thought on hearing the story was “oh no, I think Lucky is in Amsterdam and said something about flying out today.” I guess, like many, I feel a little connected to you, and was worried that someone I “know” was on the plane. Sorry about your surreal brush with the tragedy, but very glad that it was just a brush, and not you. Stay safe, cyber friend.

  25. This entire thing just makes me very, very sad. Thoughts with the victims and their loved ones. And safe travels everyone.

  26. I am glad you are ok
    Safe travels to all
    And my deepest condolences go out to all the people involved. Now I just hope and pray my countrymen were not knowingly involved in this.
    I just hope that one day cooler heads will prevail and the conflict will end as many average Russians (and for that matter Ukrainians) want

  27. Ben… we are glad you are back safely! Not sure we are in any mood to read any trip report or miles/points updates today. You take care Lucky.

  28. Wow. I can’t imagine the flurry of emotions. Thanks for sharing with us Ben. It’s such a tragedy, and there’s so much still to be learned from it. You’re one of a few areas where I have read the story and it jars me back into that reality that it’s not just some remote news story, it’s hundreds of lives senselessly lost.

    Safe travels to all.

  29. Let’s give Ben a break here folks. Enough with the unnecessary comments about how you don’t care to read a trip report/aren’t in the mood to read a trip report today.

  30. Well written and thoughtful post Ben.
    Glad you are ok.

    Condoleances to the families/friends of those affected by this tragedy

  31. Weirdly, I booked a flight on Malaysia Airlines from KL to LHR (Heathrow) yesterday, only a couple of hours before the news about MH17 hit. I’ve already had family and friends ask if I’m canceling my flight.

    Honestly, why would I? Poor Malaysia Airlines had nothing to do with this terrorist act – and yes, it is a terrorist act, and likely perpetrated by Russian separatists and the Russian government who are arming them, if what US intelligence is already saying about the incident is correct.

    British Airways, Lufthansa, Delta and several other airlines were all flying over that area around the same time – an area certified as ‘safe’ by international aviation authorities, I might add. It could have happened to any of them just like it did to Malaysia Airlines.

    That’s why I fail to see why a terrorist act from the ground, targeting just any old plane in the sky, would have any impact on my flying Malaysia Airlines now or in the future.

    I truly hope most other people have that type of common sense as well. Malaysia Airlines are an excellent airline with a terrific safety record, and do not deserve what is happening to them lately.

  32. Wow Ben way to take a tragedy and make it into a story about yourself. You say your thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims and yet 3/4 of this posting is all about you. Maybe next time you should try to just show your condolences rather than writing about yourself.

  33. Agree with Grant. This is Ben’s job. He travels, he blogs,and we all benefit. Either from tips and tricks so we can travel well when we’ve got the points, or just to escape the workday for a few minutes reading about cab fights in Warsaw or semi-nude humans in a lounge.

    Yesterday, he was flying in style. Or said another way, he was working.

    So was I. I was in a bunch of meetings that don’t matter much when I think about 295 people losing their lives because of a senseless war among people who should know better. But I didn’t get to leave those meetings to read the web and stay current. I bet most of you still worked as well – even if we were all sneaking peeks at Twitter.

    Cut him some slack. This article was about him – and his experience yesterday. If that annoys you, kinda wondering why you’re here in the first place.

  34. I am from Malaysia and is kind of shocked right now. I just can’t imagine the feelings of the loved ones of the passengers on board. I would felt troubled too if I am in your situation especially where you met and talk to them before the ill fated flight.

    MH’s 777 are their only widebodies with the old livery. The are going to be phased out in the next few years. I think they can reactivate a recently retired 777 to cover the gaps. Their interiors are quite dated with no first class and 7 abreast angled flat J seats. But they do have a generous 34″ Y class seat pitch.

  35. @Ron

    I saw a photo earlier, and from the debris I can recognize what were once foot support of those angle-flat seats. And I saw a body of victim tied to one of the seats. That’s where it really hits me….

  36. @j – this is Ben’s blog. This is something that has affected him and he is writing and expressing his feeling about it. If you don’t care for his writing then don’t visit his blog!
    For all of us that travel this is a horrible terroristic event that didnt need to happen. Our collective thoughts and prayers go out to each and every person involved. We all need to come together, not chip away at one another.

    Ben – glad you’re back safely, and keep writing. 🙂

  37. I keep thinking, WHY were commercial planes being routed over a war zone – especially one in which the combatants have RECENTLY used surface-to-air missiles?

    It just boggles the mind. It wasn’t just MH that was flying the over the area. Who decides how planes are routed, and why on earth didn’t that person or group not route planes around this part of the world rather than over it?

  38. airlines submit flight plans for routes they fly every single day, up to a year in advance. Basically this route was always using this flight path along with many others until yesterday

  39. Unless they are notified otherwise by local authorities of any dangers ( in which case the airline makes adjustments as needed. Like many of you, I wonder thought why inn earth some airlines didn’t take the initiative to avoid that area since the crisis first began (cost savings I guess)

  40. Terrible tragedy, but it does bug me the over-used articles and posts of people “too close to the tragedy”. You or your loved ones were there or not… there’s no middle that magically connects you to the sad event for you to use on your personal benefit. Even if the benefit is just the excuse to write a pointless blog post.
    Sorry, that’s what I feel. Let’s respect the victims and family with only important content about what happened.

  41. Hey Ruth, Ermin, and other jackasses,

    Ben was undoubtedly closer to the tragedy than you were and has every right to deal with those emotions in whatever way he feels appropriate without your judgement. The only rule of thumb for these types of situations to follow the ring theory which says you comfort the people closer to the tragedy than you and emotionally dump on the people farther away from the tragedy than you. He has every right to emotionally dump on the general public. I’m sure people who were closer to the tragedy than him are not reading this blog so it’s not an issue. These types of tragedies have far reaching effects and if you’ve never experienced being tangentially connected to a tragedy and yet emotionally devastated by it than consider yourself lucky and hope that nobody treats you the way that you’re treating Ben when it does happen to you.

    For more on ring theory:

  42. Pretty scary how people don’t realize Ben is monetarily profiting from this terrible tragedy. It’s naive not to think he didn’t think of the ‘click bait’ potential. If it was something as shocking and personal as he makes it out to be, write a Facebook post on your personal account, not on your money-making blog.

  43. @hayden
    Hey dunghead, stop being so self centered I think we have told off people simular to you and you guys still aren’t getting the memo..
    While I am not as well informed on the whole issue and blog financing as “some of you claim to be, I can tell you one thing.
    In this case I don’t care if he makes millions off this (this is just not the place for it) and if you don’t appreciate the continued analysis they have on Tv about the then turn it off and go back to living under a rock because I can tell you that all those reporters are being paid good money for going to such a distressed region (as they rightfully should be)
    The nerve of some people is truly amazing

  44. @ Roman, I totally agree. It seems that some here are either jealous of Ben or frustrated that they themselves never came up with such an ingeniously worldly career.

    This blog is about Ben, and his travels. However, that being said its also about us – the benefactors. We all strive to travel the way Ben does, we collect our miles and points as diligently as possible mostly thanks to his advice and tips. My wife and I are much better off thanks to his reports, blogs, articles, links and commentaries.

    For those of you find fault, don’t return. The rest of us remain steadfastly behind him and his blog.

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