Fmr ticket agent admits he wrestles with guilt after checking in two of the hijackers who carried out 9/11

A former ticket agent is haunted by September 11, 2001, the day he checked in two hijackers on American Airlines flight 77 while working at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

Vaughn Allex recalled the odd check-in with the two men, Salem and Nawaf Al-Hazmi, who were running late for the flight. He explained that one of the men was “almost dancing” as he waited to board the plane in an interview with ABC News. The two men later took part in intentionally crashing the plane into the Pentagon, claiming the lives of 184 people.

“I blame myself, I thought, you know, if I had done something different, if I’d not let them on, if I just said to the agents, these two guys are late, let them get the next flight. We have one at noon. It’s no big deal,” Allex explained while standing in the airport.

Allex recalled that the men looked “confused” before making a beeline for his ticket counter only around 20 minutes to spare before the flight. He joked with the two new ticket agents that he was training, “watch, these two are for flight 77,” and it turned out they were.

He showed the new agents how to handle the late passengers and Allex recalled that they did “everything according to the book.”


(Video: ABC News)

“The check-in was odd. The two that I checked in, two brothers, one was kind of gruff and the other one was standing a couple of paces behind him. And this sounds odd, but this is what caught my attention. He was almost dancing, he was moving from foot to foot and grinning and looking around, and my thought was, here’s somebody that’s never been on an airplane and boy is this guy excited,” the former ticket agent who now works for the Transportation Security Administration said.

“And I kind of watched him for a couple of minutes as we went through the whole check. And he was totally unresponsive as far as whatever we asked him to read, to look verbally. He just smiled and danced and was oblivious to what was going on,” he recalled. “That’s the image I have, is the two of them standing there and the one just dancing, it was the oddest thing.”

Allex realized the following day after being called to a meeting with the FBI that the two late-arriving passengers were two of the hijackers.

“I started to run my hand down the list and I saw the names of the two people I checked in, and in that moment and that instant, that’s when I looked at him and I said, ‘I did it, didn’t I?’ And they said, ‘what did you do?’ And I go, ‘these were the two that I put in,'” Allex explained. “I think they, they knew exactly who they were looking for, but they wanted me to come to that conclusion.”

“And once we did, the interview strictly focused on these two individuals,” he said. “And the rest is history, that the whole transaction came back, I didn’t know all of September 11th until that moment on September 12th — I did not realize that I had checked-in two of the hijackers.”


Adding to the guilt of putting the hijackers on the plane was advice he had given just one day prior to 9/11 to a 64-year-old coworker and friend, “MJ” Booth, recommending that she take flight 77 instead of another flight.

“I said, first of all, it’s a better flight. It’s a transcontinental flight. You get a meal and a movie and it’s relaxing.” he said. “She said that sounded good, but that she’d never written a ticket that way and we were just transitioning to electronic tickets. Could I help her? So I wrote her ticket from Dulles to Los Angeles with a connecting flight back to Las Vegas. And then the following day, I saw that she had gotten on the flight on the ticket I’d written.”

Mary Jane Booth’s name is one of the 64 passengers and 125 people in the Pentagon who died as a result of flight 77 crashing whose names are memorialized at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.


His guilt began to ease after reading the 9/11 Commission report which showed that there were many government missteps that led to 9/11. His involvement in boarding the two terrorists was barely more than a footnote.

“The turning point for me, I had been interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. And it wasn’t until the 9/11 Commission report came out and I bought the book and here is this book with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages, and I’m on page three. I have a little paragraph and a footnote, footnote number 12.”

“That’s when it started to get better. That’s when I went — oh my gosh,” he said. “There were so many other people involved, there were so many innocent people that just touched on this. And I had just such a small, tiny five-minute part of it. But before that, it was — it was terrible.”

Ashley Hill

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