GM travel and communications personnel worked feverishly to arrange the flight after normal air travel was thrown into disarray by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The effort encountered several roadblocks, including the U.S. ban on foreign carriers on the days after the hijackings of four airliners.
As the crammed airbus approached an unusually quiet Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Saturday evening, the travel-weary occupants cheered. In this group of executives from GM, Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler, Delphi and Visteon and dozens of U.S. journalists, bonds had been created.
Many of the passengers knew that had it not been for GM, they still would be stranded in Germany, waiting on standby.
The flight was originally slated for Friday, Sept. 14, but a GM delegation heading to the Frankfurt airport by bus turned around after hearing that the flight was canceled. Another contingent of passengers waited at the airport - some for up to 12 hours - as a daylong effort to get the plane rescheduled ensued, finally ending with a plan to fly on Saturday to Toronto before driving to Detroit.
During the daylong wait, those stranded at the Frankfurt airport took turns sitting, reading, making calls home and passing nuggets of news about the attacks in New York City and Washington to fellow passengers.
GM personnel held periodic meetings to give updates.
As GM's bus again headed to the airport Saturday, word came that the flight had been OK'd for Detroit, apparently a result of GM's efforts to assure U.S. government officials that the passenger list would be tightly controlled. Each passenger had faxed a copy of his or her passport to GM on Friday.
After more than a five-hour wait at the airport, the nine-hour flight took off at about 3 p.m. Frankfurt time. There was a round of applause.
GM spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin said passengers included Wayne Cherry, vice president of the design center, and Bo Andersson, GM's executive in charge of worldwide purchasing.
Martin said GM's priority was to assure secure transportation home for its employees.
"There was no chance," he said, "for somebody with some bad intention to get on the plane."