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  • Patricia Northrup

A Christmas Miracle

Updated: May 11, 2023

Sometimes it is the smallest things that touch our hearts and create a moment that we know we will remember. A small, very small Christmas miracle happened to me that will stick with me for a while.

When I first got hired on with the airline and we were issued our keys, they gave us 3 keys. The “CR” key, our “MJ” key and the cockpit door key.

1. It is funny how things get their name. The CR key opened all the doors at the American Airlines flight academy. So, when you went to training, you would have access to the building at any hour. The simulators run 24/7 365 so you never knew when you may be showing up for training in the middle of the night or a holiday. CR stood for CR Smith who was one of the first CEOs at American Airlines starting in 1934. He was a war hero, a politician and a photo of him hangs proudly as you enter the building. We have since gone to an electronic door system that is activated by your Company ID….but that old CR key, still works for now.

2. The “MJ” key pretty much opens up any other lock you may find along your journey in the American Airlines system. A jetbridge door in El Paso, flight ops in Boston…stuff like that. I have no idea what the “MJ” stands for.

3. The cockpit door key got my attention from the moment I acquired it. It is slightly bigger than the key that opens your Samsonite suitcase and it was used for opening every cockpit door at American Airlines. Believe it or not, it opened any cockpit door of any Boeing aircraft on any airline. I will be honest with you though, as I would turn that key in the lock after returning from a restroom break, I would think to myself, “It would not take much to open this door. I bet if I put a screwdriver in this lock it would turn.” The key was as small and as flimsy as the lock it operated.

That flimsy lock was all that stood between the hijackers on September 11 and the controls of those airplanes. It was no surprise to any pilot that the cockpit door was breached as we had all turned that lock a hundred times.

The other day I had my keys out….the three very keys I was issued on June 1, 1999 when I was hired at American Airlines. As I returned to the flightdeck, I tossed them in a cubby (was an old ashtray) and thought that it was a bad idea. You know when you do that because you are too lazy to just put something away? I was and it was.

About 5 hours later as I was on the crew bus headed for the parking lot after my flight, I realized that my keys were still sitting in that ashtray. Dang it. I start doing research and I find out that the plane was towed to the hanger. I call Maintenance and talk to the tech that towed the airplane. No keys. I call the Manager on Duty at the terminal to see if a gate agent grabbed them… keys. I call back for the next two days. No keys. Bummer. Lost.

I knew the keys could be replaced but only two of them. Since September 11, all the flightdeck doors have been replaced with entry proof doors that no longer use keys. That key that symbolized for me the most significant world event in my life, was gone. It always reminded me to be vigilant and thankful. That key was the reason that my military service took on so much meaning and why our world has been forever changed. It was just a key but it was so much more to me.

Andrew took all 3 girls to NY to visit his family and I met them at the airport on the flight back to LA right before Christmas. It was about 6pm on December 23rd , I was early, so I went up to flight ops just to check my mailbox. As I walked past the offices, I saw that a light was on.

Angela who should have left much earlier was still there because she did not want to battle traffic before the holidays. I explained that I had lost my keys and asked her if I could have them replaced.

She brought over to a little pail and turned it over and there must have been 50 keys……a sea of CR and MJ keys on all sorts of keyrings. But sitting right on top was my keyring with all three keys. I will be honest, I started to tear up when I saw that little cockpit door key. I just could not believe it found its way back to me. Seeing that Angela was confused at my emotional response to these three little keys, I explained the significance of that particular key. She mentioned that she wondered what that funny little key was when she put the keys in the pail. She had never seen a cockpit door key before.

My Christmas miracle…after 20 years my little cockpit door key is back with me and will stay with me so that I will never forget how everything changed that day 18 years ago. The “why” of how I have chosen to live my life and spend my precious time. Hard to believe that can be wrapped up in a little piece of metal but I guess it is.

Remember your “why” as we enter the new year… will help fill each day with meaning. Live with purpose and may God Bless you richly in 2020!


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