Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Job

This was posted by a fellow air traffic controller. I think that most controllers would agree with most of the expressions found in it. Not all of us work in the pressure cooker environments of a hub facility or busy center sectors. We work in facilities that range from towers that have single engine planes as the primary source of traffic to military bases to the busiest commercial airports. We don't work with a safety net--we are the safety net.

I think that air traffic controllers are the most arrogant group of people that I know...and that's okay. While there may be more than one way to make a sequence or vector an aircraft out of your airspace, each of us believes that our way is the best. If I thought that your way was better, I would do it your way. It's not, that's why I do it my way. We are quick to judge one another and even quicker to help one another. We are the ultimate team. We are responsible for the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of air traffic in the busiest and safest air traffic system in the world.

Enjoy. And remember...these people are my friends...


The job often sucks

Even for those of us who love it

We are not appreciated by anyone outside of our profession

We hold more lives in our hands in one average shift than a medical doctor does in his whole career

Pilots don't understand us

or even listen sometimes

but they rely on us to save their asses when they need us

and will probably never say thank you

Everything we say is recorded

We have to be prepared to defend every word we say in a court of law should the unthinkable happen

We are responsible for knowing more rules than humanly possible

Those rules are subject to daily change

We can't imagine doing any other job

We carry around in our heads the equivalent amount of data as the average metropolitan phone book

We don't have time to look anything up

We aren't allowed to make mistakes

We don't have a God complex

We are Gods

We receive more training than physicians

We can't make our "clients" wait in a waiting room until we're ready for them

We are always in control

We control everything in our environment

This affects our personal life in ways that a non-controller cannot fathom

Our spouses will never understand us

or what we do

We can't bring the job home

But it is always with us

We all have crash dreams

We will control traffic in our sleep

We never have to worry about a foot-high inbox when we come into work

We can't put an airplane back in the inbox to deal with later

We take extreme pride in the quality of our work, no matter how negatively the FAA, the media and some politicians portray us

No, you can not imagine the stress

We aren't able to tolerate a read-back error at a drive thru restaurant

Indecision is unacceptable in any scenario

We didn't invent the "Mooney spike" but we see the effects of it every day

We don't get bathroom breaks whenever we need them

We learn to hold it until we get a break

There is always something that needs to be done right now

We have a lack of tolerance for miscommunication

We get grumpy when we don't have enough airplanes to keep us busy

We get grumpy when we have too many

We are the only ones who know where we draw this invisible line between the two

We love gallows humor

When we retire, we will seek out, socialize with, and keep close friendships with other controllers

They are still the only people who come close to understanding us or are willing to put up with us

We get to retire "early"

But most of us wont live more than ten years after retirement

We expect people to say what they mean and mean what they say

Everything in life is either black or white

there is no gray

We can drink a hotel bar dry in about two hours.

We use anticipated separation when we drive

We can't understand people who don't know how to calculate speed differences to hit gaps on the highway

There is something "off" about ALL of us

We all want children to have "normal" lives and "normal" jobs

But we are so proud when they choose to become controllers themselves

We are not allowed to treat our depression or anxiety with FDA-approved medicine

Or even admit out loud that we suffer from either

We will lose our jobs if we do

But we can drink our weight in Jim Beam

As long as we are at least 8 hours from our next shift

Most of us look 10 yrs older than our age and act 10 yrs younger

We know all the different variations of the word "stress"

We are drawn to extremely dangerous pastimes

We will eventually be on blood pressure medication

We don't know what normal sleep patterns are

We're not allowed to use sleep aids

We work in the middle of the night

and on Christmas

and weekends

and your birthday

We will never have "normal" days off

We will never have a regular social life

We can't participate in our kids' school activities

We know that our worth isn't reflected by our position in the FAA or our rank in the military

A newly-checked out controller who can move metal will always have more of our respect than a member of management or a highly ranked officer who can't separate two flies with a screen door

Our friends won't understand that we can't just leave work

or get off work

or stop thinking about work

We are not "Disney-friendly"

People think that we are the guys on the ramp with the flashlights

and that we get to fly for free

We make more money than you do

But you have the house

and the cars

and the vacation home

and the time with your family

We have the clothes, the watch, the sunglasses and the attitude

We are fluent in three languages: English, Acronyms and Cursing

We speak all three simultaneously and loudly

Controller candy comes in two flavors: TUMS and Ibuprofen.

When a cold or flu strikes we just suck it up 'cause we can't take otc cold medication without being medically disqualified

We are brutally, ridiculously, ruthlessly hard on each other

We have thick skin

We will be the last person a pilot talks to on this earth

We will hear the terror in his voice

We will calmly use every tool we have to bring him down safely

We will hear his screams when we can't

We will never forget it

We will relive it again and again

We will go right back to work the next day and do it again

We aren't allowed to cry

When one of us fails we will laugh at him

When one of us succeeds we won't acknowledge it

We don't have time to pat ourselves or each other on the back

We have vectoring to do


Mike said...

'We are not "Disney-friendly"'

This in itself is enough to get you put on the no fly list.

John said...

We get to retire "early"
But most of us wont live more than ten years after retirement

When I hired into this job 18 1/2 years ago, the average lifespan of an air traffic controller was 22 months after retirement.

I think that fewer smokers, fewer heavy drinkers, stricter health regulations and better medicine have contributed to the dramatic increase in controller lifespan. When you figure that we are forced to retire at 56, that puts us dead before 66...and that really stinks.
Adrenaline is pretty hard on the body.