"And that's when he bit me. Right there." Cristina Jones extends her hand to show the teeth marks below her thumb on her left hand, where alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid bit her in their struggle aboard Flight 63 high over the Atlantic last December. Hermis Moutardier bears wounds from her battle with Reid too. They're just not so visible.
One minute they were flight attendants who adored flying to glamorous destinations for American Airlines. The next, they were on the front line of a war. For Jones and Moutardier, that transformation happened the day two planes from their airline were used in the biggest attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor. They simply didn't know it then.
In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Jones, a single mother, tried to comfort her 7-year-old son Ian, telling him that the chances of something like that happening on one of her planes were "slim, so slim." It was harder to reassure herself. But she had to work and within two weeks was back in the air. Moutardier, in a chilling instant, remembered working with one of the crew members killed. A month after she returned to work, she suffered a panic attack so paralyzing that she didn't want to get on another flight. Her supervisor told her to go home, but Moutardier willed herself on board. "As a flight attendant, you learn to leave your feelings at the door," she says.
The flights each woman flew last fall were largely uneventful, but many passengers were scared and jittery. "Even if they didn't say anything, you could see it in their faces," says Moutardier. Others, Jones recalls, reacted to the attacks by being "really very respectful and cooperative." But as time passed, Jones says, "it went back to business as usual," with some passengers flouting the rules and behaving rudely. Attendants traded tips on how to distinguish potential terrorists from passengers with air rage.
Those tip-trading sessions proved useful on Dec. 22, when the two flight attendants boarded Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. Although both live in Florida, each holds French citizenship, speaks French fluently (Jones spent part of her childhood in Antibes, Peruvian-born Moutardier is married to a Frenchman) and flew the Paris route often. Flight 63 was jammed with 185 passengers that pre-Christmas Saturday morning. Baggage problems delayed takeoff from Charles de Gaulle Airport an hour, but everything seemed routine once the plane was airborne. Then a passenger aroused the flight attendants' curiosity. He was a "huge" man, 6 ft. 4 in. and more than 200 lbs. He refused to eat or drink anything, even water, odd behavior on a transatlantic flight that could last up to 10 hours. Jones had been cautioned by another flight attendant to be wary of passengers who didn't accept food on a long flight, so she asked the man three times if he wanted anything. "Usually I think, 'Yeah! Less work for me.' But something about him...seemed strange," she recalls.
Moutardier joked that maybe he was on a diet, but she too asked him if he wanted to eat. "I talked to him in French, assuming he was French. He said he didn't speak French. I wanted to be nice, so I asked where he was from, and he told me Sri Lanka." She didn't believe him. And she was right. For he turned out to be Reid, now 29, a British citizen who investigators believe was an operative in the al-Qaeda network.