It was certainly strange, landing at Beirut airport and seeing an American flag flying over a building at the end of the runway. As a stewardess, regularly on this flight between Frankfurt and Damascus, I had seen it before but the bearded stranger in the window seat was very interested when I pointed it out to him. He was one of the few staying on the plane and going on to Damascus.
As a Lufthansa flight we had, as usual, played loud Wagnerian music on the way down through the light clouds, over the sparkling sea and the tower block suburbs, heading towards low mountains before banking to land. Now, while we waited on the tarmac and he asked for a beer before we had to close the bar, the bearded stranger could see the military helicopters drifting around the city. I told him about the route change. Normally it takes ten minutes from Beirut to Damascus, but in these days of Lebanon’s Civil War we needed to head back out to sea, passing over the US 6th fleet, go north to the Syrian coast then east and south down to the Syrian capital. No civil aircraft flew over the mountains, it was seen as too dangerous. But then it wasn’t so safe on the ground: not long after that flight the US barracks at the end of the runway was blown up by a suicide bomber, killing 241 US servicemen.