Take Your Mini Air Traffic Controller To Work Day

Hi Readers! That’s what it was for two days in February when an air traffic controller took his two kids into the tower and actually let them direct plane traffic at New York’s JFK Airport. Read all about it here and here.

As a Free-Ranger, I am all for bringing kids into the workplace and even having them help out. But not at a job where lives are at stake.

I know that the dad, Glenn Duffy, was right there, no doubt shadowing every move and making sure the kids didn’t say, “East,” when they meant “West.” But I find the whole thing rather  indulgent on his part, like throwing a birthday party that could double as a Trump wedding. Yes, we want to show our kids that we think they are wonderful. But no, an 8-year-old does not have to direct air traffic for that to happen. An 8-year-old  don’t have to help perform surgery, either, or feed the lions at the zoo. (Or the killer whales!) If you want an 8-year-old to feel — and start becoming — grown up, teach ’em how to make dinner.

I have no doubt that the pilots and passengers were in little peril. But there’s no reason for them to be in the hands of a third or fourth grader. Free-Range does not mean free-wheeling. Or, God forbid, free-falling! — Lenore

Cleared for take off. I mean landing!! Sorry! Landing! PHOTO: Library of Congress

P.S. I should add — after reading your comments — that I, too, think that firing the guy is way beyond what’s called for. Overkill.

84 Responses

  1. Eh… I think this is a whole lot about nothing. Speaking as a pilot, the fact is that safety begins and ends in the pilot’s hands… the air traffic controller is a (very important) tool in the pilot’s bag of tricks for getting around. Anything the ATC tells the pilot to do can be ignored if the safety of the aircraft is in jeopardy… having a kid do radio calls that the father probably whispered into his ear is really not that big a deal. Frankly, having heard the recording, it seemed to brighten the pilots’ days, which is great considering the mess that the aviation industry is in these days.

    Reminds me of an old joke: What’s the difference between an air traffic controller and a pilot? When the pilot screws up, the pilot dies. When the air traffic controller screws up, the pilot dies.

  2. I would have to listen to the audio again, but when I heard it the first time it sounded to me like that child was simply telling the planes which frequency to listen to for their takeoff instructions. If my (admitted cursory) listen was correct, there weren’t any lives in danger. And the pilots themselves seemed to get a kick out of it. Honestly…I don’t think I have a problem with this, provided it’s limited to routine instructions that don’t have any impact on the actual movement of the plane.

  3. I agree with PP. Big deal. Did any harm come of the kid making the calls? No. Do you really think his dad was not listening in and giving him the commands, and ready to yank the mic out of the kid’s hands if ANYTHING unusual cropped up? NO! Maybe he shouldn’t have done it. But I don’t think he needs to lose his job over it, as I’ve heard people calling for, and I don’t think anybody was ever in danger.

  4. From the articles it looks like they are going to fire him. He’s probably a great air traffic controller, a difficult and thankless job.

    Hope he doesn’t have any outstanding student loans. No doubt the kids have realized this is not a good career path due to overreactions by management. So it was a good lesson for them.

  5. I was hoping that you would pick up on this story, Lenore, but a bit disappointed by your take on it.

    People taking their kids with them to see what they do at work is a VERY longstanding tradition, and a wholesome and positive one.

    I hope that all of those who are inclined to criticize this father will, first of all, listen to the recording of the tower transmissions and realize that all parties found the presence of the kid amusing, and not in the least a source of concern. Then, perhaps check the comments on this story from pilots, controllers, and extremely-frequent-flyers like myself, about 95% of which say there is absolutely no harm here.

    I thought a large part of the Free-Range movement was learning to distinguish between real, plausible dangers, and harmless and potentially-constructive freedoms. I would argue that this situation is very much the latter.

    The only real tragedy here is that an involved father of a bright, precocious kid is likely to be wrongly disciplined due to the media’s ratings-driven hysterical spin on what should be a cute human-interest story. You have to love the “adiós” to the Aeromexico flight…

  6. Much ado about nothing. I can hear the kid now asking Dad, ‘Did you get fired because I used the microphone?”

    i agree with David, this is a non-risk situation that’s being elevated to “high risk.” Surely New York has bigger things to worry about than this?

  7. Darn. I scrolled down to read this first when I saw it in my feed reader, since I immediately thought of you when I saw this overhyped story on the news. When my boyfriend and I heard the teaser for the segment we were appropriately shocked, but when we heard the actual recordings, the worry disappeared and both of us found it heartwarming. The kid wasn’t telling the pilots to change speed or direction mid-air, or one of the other high-intensity situations that we think of when we think of air traffic controllers. I really think this is a non-issue.

  8. Listen, the guy is supposed to a professional and that behaviour was NOT professional. I don’t care if he was there giving instructions or not, it was UNPROFESSIONAL. As I wrote on my own blog: “My dad is a respiratory therapist and you did not see him dragging my ass to the hospital to teach me how to intubate patients. But he would been there right by my side! He could have told me exactly how to do it! And the patients would have obviously KNOWN I was a kid! Duh! What’s the harm??”

    I firmly believe that a CHILD had no business interacting with the pilots. If I were an air traffic controller, I would be furious that someone belittled my PROFESSIONAL career like that.

  9. I agree with David. I think this is an unfortunate situation where a father was penalized for being a good father and teaching his kids about his job. No one was harmed, the pilots seemed perfectly fine with the situation and since the father was right there, he would have been perfectly capable of immediately correcting the situation if necessary.

  10. When I first heard the story I was as shocked and outraged as the reporter.

    However, the child in question spoke clearly and wasn’t goofing around. As “solinox” pointed out, it only makes sense that the dad would have been prepared to take over immediately.

    Shouldn’t the pilots have said something if they thought this endangered their passengers? i.e. “Can you put your dad on the line?”

    Safety issues aside, I think adults should expect to deal with other adults when they are working. I admit I can be a curmudgeon about this, e.g. when I’m trying to call someone and I get their five-year old’s barely intelligible recording asking me to “pwease weave a message.”

  11. I think it is interesting that folks are judging by the content of the conversation. This simply leads to a messy gray area of judgment. Sure, in THIS case, the conversations were harmless. Overall, I think there needs to be a clear distinction of whether or not a CHILD should be allowed to interact with pilots via air traffic control transmissions. When it comes to air safety, I would really prefer there not be “gray areas.”

  12. As far as the legality there is no grey area. It’s as simple as the fact that the kid (probably) doesn’t have a radio license – at least this would be the case in Canada where I am licensed to fly. However, I still stand by my opinion that there was no risk in this particular case, and people are overreacting in the extreme.
    Sure, the father should probably be disciplined – perhaps given a day off without pay, but there was no harm, there was no risk; rather it was a simple infraction of some relatively minor rules in the grand scheme. The only reason people are freaking out is because this involved airplanes, and we all know that airplanes are the tools of terrorists.

  13. I just thought of an interesting parallel from my own childhood.
    I was about five years old, and my dad had a friend who worked for CN Rail… he actually let me drive the engine! I certainly wasn’t qualified, and someone might have run out onto the rails in front of me and I could’ve killed them… but the fact is, the risk was minimal and this is the same when it comes to some kid talking on the radio… no difference. I’ve let ten year olds “fly” the airplane too… believe it or not, nobody died!

  14. i agree with gord- and lenore. this was a bad idea. it wasn’t legal. it probably wasn’t all that unsafe, but in this case the restrictions are in place for good reason and should be obeyed. i don’t think the guy should lose his job. a day or even a week of unpaid vacation and a warning in his employee file would be sufficient, imo.

  15. I’m in agreement with most of the above here. No harm done. I’m disappointed by the take on it as well.

    I was reading on a site another ATC trainer who said that normally when they’re training there are two headsets jacked together so that if the “rookie” makes a mistake, the instructor can take over. I’m of the thought that that is what is going on here – evidenced by how fast the dad cut in with the ‘that’s what you get when your kid is not in school’ bit.

    This kid was not left by himself, he was not shouting out whatever came into his mind – he was helping his dad do his job supervised by his dad – something kids up until recently were able to do unless they worked in finances (a bit of a joke there…). I can’t imagine how terrible this kid is going to feel if his dad is actually fired. Here we have a child doing his best, a child who is being appreciated by all the pilots, and then he’s told because of him his dad is going to lose his job. Damned shame.

    No lives were in danger. In fact, I remember **distinctly** an article put up here, one that was advocated as a great read, that suggested one of the eight-or-so “dangerous” things we should let our children do is drive… remember? Drive on our laps in an open parking lot. I’m sure we can come up with a bunch of ‘what-if’s’ for that scenario too that will make us sound just like the nay-sayers in this story:
    “What if a pedestrian is walking across the lot?!”
    “What if another driver comes around the corner of a building?”
    “What if the kid takes a right instead of left and ends up on the street?!”
    All of which can be answered by: The parent is right there to fix the situation.

    Same for this. And as our pilot friend Gord said in the very first post, “Anything the ATC tells the pilot to do can be ignored if the safety of the aircraft is in jeopardy… having a kid do radio calls that the father probably whispered into his ear is really not that big a deal.” This is really not a big deal.

  16. As an addendum: I do agree – a little punishment for not following workplace protocol should be sufficient. Firing and nation-wide coverage? No no no no and no.

  17. From the video I just watched, it really seems like it is much ado about nothing. He was right there on the mike, he could have overridden the kids if they had given the orders incorrectly, and the planes were most probably standing still waiting for the departure orders anyway. Suspend the guy for a day, explain that the _next_ person who tries it gets their butts kicked from here to the South Pole, and go on with life.

  18. My spouse is an air traffic controller. While I’m pretty sure there was very little actual danger here, I am also not in favor of kids–even closely supervised ones–talking on the frequencies. Air traffic control is a job where people’s lives are at stake. It should be reserved for trained adults. As Lenore said, there are plenty of areas where kids can learn to be competent and independent that are more appropriate.

    That said, I’m more in favor of saying “Don’t do that again” than I am of starting to fire people.

  19. Ditto what Cagey said.

    I used to go with my dad to the hospital to help him “see” patients. But he always sat me down nearby with a book, while he actually did the work.

  20. I agree this should never have spun out the way it did. As stated by another poster, the dad was a professional and as such you either trust him to keep passengers safe or you micromanage his every move. He was assuredly *right there* and passengers were never in any danger. I am a professional – is it wrong for me to bring my child to work?

    The only reason this hit the airwaves is b/c of a group that airs air traffic transmissions and THEY don’t see the kid being there as an issue. Time wasted over nothing and a good man will probably lose his job.

  21. I don’t think the guy should be fired, but I do think what he did was inappropriate and unprofessional. While the messages the child spoke were extremely simple, the point was made on the news yesterday that the children shouldn’t be in the control room because of the potential for distracting the controllers who *are* directing planes for more than just take-off clearances. And considering that every year we hear at least one story of planes nearly colliding (on ground or in the air) because of a controller failure, this should be taken seriously.

  22. What about the other people in the tower? Didn’t anyone tell the dad this was a dumb idea, but because it’s unsafe, but because it could get you fired?

  23. Was it an error in judgment to allow the child to do this without appropriate permissions? Yes.

    Is it SO GRAND as to have his father lose his job?

    For crying out loud, NO.

    Discipline. Suspend for a day. A writeup in the file.

    How about we look at how this situation can be worked to advantage? How about a day where ATCs can take their kids to a smaller airport and let them make the calls for small planes? How about arranging for a day when kids are in and can be encouraged toward the profession?

    The pilots were charmed. They flew their flights with a smile on their face.

    I think the reaction is bigger than the incident and being played up for the OMG! factor. Do a retrain, a reiteration of what exactly the rules are and how and why they CANNOT be broken for any reason, and move on as lesson learned.

  24. a VERY bad idea – for two reasons:

    reason one: see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroflot_Flight_593

    reason two: incorrect and non-standard communication procdures for take-off cleareance was one of the main reasons for the Teneriffa collision

    servus

    markus

  25. My father was a avid private pilot and we would often listen in on and participate in radio transmissions. AND, my first job at the tender age of 14 (! this was the early 80s) was to direct air traffic at a county airport very near the International Airport in Houston – i.e. there was steady traffic. There was no danger in the child speaking on the radio, though in the current climate it was an unfortunate decision. I sincerely hope no one loses their job over this.

  26. Markus:

    Again, we have to distinguish between REAL dangers and highly-hypothetical ones based on far-fetched what-if scenarios.

    In the case of the Aeroflot flight, you had a child at the controls of the plane, which was certainly not the case here. And even then it was something of a freak accident that the pilots were not able to recover control.

    And as to the crash in Tenerife, with which I am very familiar, the primary cause of the accident was the arrogance of the KLM pilot, and its secondary effects (the First Officer being unwilling to overrule him even though he correctly understood the tower instructions). That tragedy was caused by the hubris of seniority and experience, not by inexperience.

    In high-pressure environments I will put my faith in real, compassionate human beings every time – and some levity and humanity can contribute to a SAFER environment. “Sterile cockpit” thinking is how we end up with planes flying around with pilots sound asleep. We are not robots, and don’t actually perform well when we try to be.

    I wish we were hiring at the moment. I would be delighted to hire this dad, should he unjustly end up unemployed.

  27. Hmmm. I know this isn’t the same thing, but:

    When a 5-year-old uses a cellphone to call for help and saves his mother’s life, he’s applauded as a hero.
    He’s not castigated for being too young to use a phone.

    And…since being an air traffic controller is a high stress job, maybe – just maybe these little kids voices under supervision relieved some of the stress of the moment for the controllers and the pilots so used to the same old, same old. Considering what Gord, your first commenter, the pilot, said, I suspect this is another case of “the devil is in the details.” In other words, the presence of a child in the control tower and his little voice on the radio, is giving fits to “controlling administrators” who are acting much like Zero Tolerance School Administrators. I wonder how this story got out?

  28. I don’t really see how this is a free-range issue. Helicopter parents are just as likely to take their kids to work aren’t they?

    I generally support child-friendly workplaces. I don’t think it is unprofessional to have your child at work per se. Letting them get in the way of the job would be, but not taking them in and letting them try their hand at the routine bits that aren’t particularly sensitive.

    I can see a case for air-traffic control rooms to be no-go areas for *anyone* who doesn’t have to be there from a distraction perspective. But if they have the resources and procedures in place that they can manage visitors then I don’t really see why one of those visitors can’t be a child.

  29. I agree with Lenore. It was inappropriate. It didn’t turn out to be an actual danger because of the way in which he did it. But it was inappropriate. There are more questions than “is it really dangerous” to ask when determining whether something like this is acceptable. There are laws and regulations that guide these things, that others have pointed out, and that the father should have been aware of, and probably was.

    And I’m not as certain as some that he shouldn’t be fired. What he did showed very, very poor judgment in an arena that depends on good judgment.

  30. david,

    i agree with you that flight 593 was a very exteme example showing what can go wrong if you have untrained people (or children) in the wrong plave at the wrong time

    i also agree with you on “hubris of seniority and experience” being the main cause for that crash (imho the main burden is for the KLM cockpit crew to carry) ..

    but the use of non-standard procedures and communications (both by KLM and the traffic controllers) was also determined to be one of the causes leading to the accident

    imho threre are places where children should not be – neither should be non-trained adults .. not so much because of something they might do wrong, but they might – not knowing WHEN to shut up – provide a critical one-second distraction

    let me aks the question differently … would you want nuclear power plant personel bring their children into the control room? the chance of something bad happening in the short time being there are very, very low .. and the chance of the presence of the child (or non-trained adult) affecting the actions negatively are even lower .

    but do we want to take that risk?

    it is sad that one cannot take ones children everywhere ..

    servus

    markus

  31. What I want to know is why this even qualifies as news. Who brought it to the attention of the media? Shouldn’t this be handled as an internal personnel issue?

    Personally, it doesn’t seem to me that the air controller did anything very bad, if it was bad at all, and it certainly seemed to brighten the pilot’s day. But it’s ultimately none of my business.

  32. Virginia, good point. EVERYTHING is news now, though.

  33. I think it’s important to think about risk vs. benefit in this case.

    In the (thankfully very rare) case of a child walking home from school who gets kidnapped and killed, the risk is very very small. In addition, there is a risk to the child if you don’t ever let the child walk home from school (or do similar sorts of things that allow the child to be independent or learn about the world on their own). To most of those on this site, the risk of restricting the child’s independence is the worse risk, because the problematic consequences are so much more likely to happen.

    In the case of the child on the ATC frequencies, the risk is also very very small. However, there is not really a risk we’re balancing this tiny risk against. Children are not going to experience the damaging consequences of helicopter parenting simply because they are not allowed to talk to the planes at Dad’s or Mom’s work. There are plenty of other ways they can learn to be independent. Because of this, I judge this situation differently. The risk to pilots and passengers in this case is tiny but real. I would accept it if there was another issue that made it really important for the kids to talk to the planes. But because there isn’t, I do not support the taking of this small risk.

  34. The furor over this is ridiculous.
    If we trust this guy’s judgement to conduct air traffic (one of the world’s most stressful jobs) in and out of JFK (one of the world’s busiest airports), shouldn’t we trust his judgement on whether it was safe to let his kid speak over the radio?

    And comparing this situation to a doctor letting his child intubate a patient is wrong. A more appropriate analogy would be a doctor letting the child listen to a patient’s heart beat through a stethascope or asking a patient to say “ah”.

  35. This is much ado about nothing. We should be worried about our always-running-for-the-next-term legislators who are threatening to block health care reform passage by introducing hundreds of frivolous amendments, rather than this.

  36. Jennifer — exactly. There’s no downside risk to saying, “no, sorry, kids, this is for the professionals who’ve learned to do this and earned the right.” In fact, there’s a certain benefit in segregating things that have to be earned before they can be indulged.

  37. I’m a veterinarian. My kids can use my stethoscope to listen to our pets’ hearts. They have been at work with me, but I don’t let them listen to my patients for the exact reason cagey gave: it’s unprofessional.

  38. Listening to the tape it was clear that the father was present, the pilots were amused and no one was in danger. Probable should have not happened but this was clearly media hype and it well create undo fear in some who fly. Not much of a story from my perspective.

  39. How many of you have jobs where you can just show up with your kids, let them do your work and that’s ok with your employers? I know I don’t. It was unprofessional and stupid. It says that permission has been granted to other employees in the past but this guy didn’t even bother asking.

    If his precocious, bright, brilliant child is turned off from this profession just because his daddy is being disciplined for breaking the rules then this probably isn’t the right job for him anyway. I don’t know about the rest of you but I prefer the people directing, flying, repairing any vehicle that I am in to respect the rules and regulations.

  40. There in nothing at all cute about this situation.

    Both the air traffic controller and his boss who had knowledge of this incident of having those children use the official tower to aircraft frequency need to be at the least . . .fired. Believe too, that the people involved should be criminally charged.

    Having worked in the transportation industry on class one railroads, I can testify that only authorized personnel were allowed to operate train to train, or train to base communications. Our radio transmissions were tightly prescribed, exact to the point and brief. There was no chit chat or squeaky voice children yammering. Know of one situation where an operating employee allowed a private citizen “rail fan” to pass along a radio message from his passenger train to the terminal dispatcher. That conductor lost his job as a result.

    With the movement of transportation equipment governed by radio communication, there is absolutely no margin for error. It is inconceivable that an air traffic control would allow children to radio transmit take off instructions to a working passenger aircraft. How does the pilot know that it’s not a bogus transmission?

    When the lives of hundreds of people are at stake it is serious stuff.

  41. While I think the fury this has invoked is a bit over-the-top, I still think it was probably not the best choice the father/air traffic controller ever made. Yes, I’m sure it was GREAT for the kids. They got to go back to school and brag about how they spent their day off directing air traffic. Heck, I’m 30 and I’d go back to work and brag if someone let me do that. But… There are just some areas where I think a line has to be drawn.

    The doctor-patient analogy is flawed, in my opinion, because the doctor-parent could and would ask the patient’s permission before letting a non-medically-trained person (and a kid, to boot), take his temperature or listen to his heartbeat. In this specific case, there was no way for every single person impacted by this decision to give his/her permission to be handled by a non-professional. Were the pilots asked beforehand if they were comfortable with a kid handling the airwaves? Were the flight attendants? Were the passengers?

    Sure, the kids performed relatively low-risk tasks, and that shows that the dad was not entirely irresponsible, but in my mind even the most low-risk air traffic control task is best left to someone with training. Maybe that makes me a little paranoid and non-trusting of kids… I guess I have to be OK with that. Everyone has their limits.

    But I also think the response has been pretty overblown. A good chewing out from his supervisor probably would have sufficed.

  42. ATC? Heh. When I was 8 years old, I was allowed in the cockpit of a Lufthansa jet (IIRC it was a 707 … it was a looooooong time ago!) on a transatlantic flight, got to sit in the pilot’s seat, disengage the autopilot, and turn the yoke – and the pilot wasn’t even my dad! He even showed me how to follow the instruments and put the plane back on it’s original course.

    It was the COOLEST THING EVER! And lo and behold, nobody got hurt! (Of course, there was another experienced pilot in the next seat, keeping another pair of eyes on everything.)

    Less than a decade later, I got my own private pilot license, and a few years after that I served in the Air Force.

    Having listened to the audio, I’d have to say that those kids were at least as professional on the radio as any other ATC I’ve ever dealt with.

    I don’t have a problem with what this dad and his supervisor did. Personally, I’d be far more worried about a policeman or a fireman bringing his kids to work – and that’s been done without anyone being harmed, too.

    Of course, I’m biased – I come from a time and place where we brought our prized rifles to school for show-and-tell on Fridays, and bragged about how many rabbits we’d bagged with it for that weekend’s stew.

  43. I don’t have an issue with this at all. The kid was obviously taking it seriously and not goofing around. The father was clearly right there watching his every move. I doubt that kid was coming up with this stuff himself – I imagine he was reading off something or saying what his dad told him to say. The pilots seemed amused by it and the kid had fun. If anything had gone wrong, the father was right there to step in. What’s the problem?

  44. It is getting too hard to live anymore. Somebody always ready to pounce on you for doing something that could have been dangerous if you hadn’t done it in such a perfectly safe way!!!

    If the pilots were fine with the boy repeating his father’s words, then so am I!!!

  45. Not a big deal to me. I almost always support Lenore’s stance but in this case I think the consequences of the reaction are the true issue. What is the message the children are hearing? You are too stupid ( or insert some other negative word) and you lost daddy his job. What a shame.

    And enough of the zero tolerance for chris’ sake.

  46. I like antsy’s comment “It is getting too hard to live anymore”.

    It comes from people taking everything WAY too seriously. And yes, it is possible to take air traffic control (or even life and death themselves, for that matter) too seriously.

    What’s the point in living if we can’t have fun along the way?

  47. Hrm…poor judgment at best. Things happen everyday that could potentially lead to loss of life and limb should a host of a dozen other terrible things happen simultaneously, which they did not.

    When I first heard of it I was reminded of a time my 3rd grade teacher brought her child to school and later found out he had head lice…okay so perhaps he infected some other students (which none were reported) and whilst scratching madly some kid could have then caused lesions which got infected…you see where I’m going. It just isn’t that big of a deal. Sure some terrible things could have happened, but they didn’t. As for reprimand, the man’s been embarrassed enough by this public roasting; time served.

  48. I’m a 911 dispatcher and have taken my kids to work numerous times, but have never once let them speak on the radio, not even a “10-4”. First, as others have said, it would be unprofessional, and second…what if the very next transmission was an officer screaming for help? Or something else serious? Were that to happen, I might not be as focused as I should be if I’ve been more focused on coaching my kid thru talking on the radio, not to mention that that tape would be played in the media til the end of time with a kid’s voice talking!

  49. The media and all of us civilians that haven’t personally dealt with ATC in flight matters should probably let the professionals judge what is appropriate. By all accounts that I’ve seen here of pilots, ATC, and others – this does not seem like a major breech.

    Slap the guy on the wrist at most. Get the media the heck out of things they don’t care to understand. Stop the media from promoting unecessary panic just to stir up controversy.

    Beancounters with no training in what I do that worry about unlikely litigation and more unlikely risks are making my job increasingly family and learning unfriendly… and I am an eduator.

    Why don’t we let the professionals determine what is risky – without the ominous hovering of the hungry media?

  50. My dad used to take us out on high rise construction sites. Work with heavy construction gear, tools, “small thermo-nuclear devices” etc.

    I think this has gotten a little out of hand. Dad was in control.

    Give the guy some credit, the kid was just doing the talking , getting the thrill of his life, tap his wrist and let it go.

    I was on ham radio 50 years ago, working w/ torches, power tools, building and tearing apart different devices ( I realize it’s not sending ATC) but come on, the things our parents or we did would get most kids arrested these days.

  51. Granted, I haven’t flown into any big airports (that would be, flown while I was in control of the plane), but there’s a lot more to flying than listening to the ATC. Pilots are in communication with everyone all the time, unless you have some idiot who forgot to switch to the right frequency, then they can’t hear ATC either. ATC is pretty nice to have when you have a lot of planes in patter, like at JFK, but they aren’t so essential that all planes in the air crash if the ATC isn’t there or doesn’t do his job. As long as the kids weren’t just saying whatever they want and were following the directions of the adults, I don’t see a problem. It could have been a thrill for them, as well. Pilots are like gods to kids, and those two got to direct them. Looking at the transcript, they did a pretty good job.

    Kudos for the image. The PBY is one of the classic WWII aircraft!

  52. If the dad wasn’t aware that this was inappropriate, his training went awry somewhere. FAA regulations are created for a reason. As an aerospace engineer, my workplace always dreaded plane crashes, because they meant new regulations to make planes safer and more work for us. However, I’d rather fly on the safest possible airplane, thanks. Why do you think flying is so much safer than driving?
    Since nothing bad happened, I think firing is an excessive response, but I don’t think it was appropriate at all to have kids doing a job you need a LOT of training and special licensing for, even with massive supervision. When I was in grad school, I ran a wind tunnel for a ton of “get kids interested in science” demonstrations. Even if I had hovered over them telling them what buttons to hit, I would’ve caught hell for letting the kids turn the thing on/off, even though the only risk was to the machine, not anyone’s safety. We didn’t allow industry adults who were renting wind tunnel time run it on their own, either. It was a multi-million dollar piece of equipment, and we didn’t want it broken. When specialized training is required, there’s usually a good reason.

  53. While I don’t necessarily agree with all out fury and rage, I do think that this blatant lack of judgment definitely suggests he is not responsible enough for the job. Air traffic control is a competitive, high demand occupation- one of the highest paying that does not require a degree. I 100% back firing him. Unacceptable.

  54. i dont like that really. but… mm 🙂

  55. we have to take more care 🙂

  56. This is definitely a whole lot of nothing, Dad was right there telling the kids EXACTLY what to say during one way traffic.

  57. I don’t think it’s a big deal. The kid should not be hanging out in the control room all day but to sit and talk to the pilots for a few minutes is not a big deal IMO. Maybe they could arrange for school kids to come one at a time for a 15 minute stint in the control room. For planes ON THE GROUND. I mean, come on. This isn’t surgery or intubation like someone suggested. It’s a voice and words. I don’t agree with you on this one Lenore.

  58. I thought it was cute and everyone reacted a little irrationally. eh.

  59. The controller and his supervisor NEED to be fired.
    Never mind that the kids did little other than parrot their father’s words. Never mind that the father was supervising them. The point is that the NYC area is the WORLD’S BUSIEST air corridor, covering the biggest terrorist-threatened area in the world. People in air traffic control do not to be splitting their attention from the air traffic to their kids. This is a high pressure, highly important job where the people need their eyes on the sky, and our safely, and NOT on their children. Children in that environment are a potentially dangerous distraction to those whose attention MUST be on their jobs.

  60. I agree that it was poor judgment on the dad’s (and the supervisor who let him) part, but I don’t think he should get fired over it. Suspending for a time? Yes. Fired? No. And, to be honest, I think the suspension should only happen if such a regulation is on the books (if it’s not on the books, there’s not really anything to back up the suspension, as the rule would essentially be an ex post facto one). If it’s not on the books, consider making such a rule if deemed necessary. If it is, then both the ATC and his supervisor (and perhaps the rest of the department, to make sure everyone is clear on the regulations as a whole) should have some retraining.

    For one, a supervisor knew about it before hand (at the least, he knew about the kids coming in). That means, the ATC knowing whether or not having visitors in the room is even in the regulation anywhere is moot, because his supervisor should have known and should have brought that fact up. If this was something that was on the books and said that you could/would get fired for doing, then why did his superior let him do it in the first place?

    Second, you can’t really compare an ATC’s position to that of a hospital nurse/physician or 911 operator, because these two positions carry with them a reasonable expectation of dealing with life-threatening situations (that’s kind of the point of both 911 and a hospital). Planes don’t crash every day, and as a couple people have mentioned already, a) what happens is ultimately up to the pilot, and b) planes aren’t going to fall out of the sky because the ATC blinked. Sorry, you can’t go on about how this guy should be fired because of everything that could go wrong if an ATC looked away for a second and in the same breath talk about how safe flying is.

    bmj2k — Last I checked, NYC was in neither Israel, nor Iran.

  61. Dragonwolf- last I checked, NYC has a hole in downtown Manhattan where two towers used to stand, foiled subway bomb plots, a consistent record of arredted terrorists, and a possible terror trial.

    An ATC does not have a reasonable expectation of life-threatening situations? Seriously? You show very little understanding of the job.

    I never once argued how safe flying is. I do think it is, but the risk is huge. How many sucessful water landings were there before Sully? There is (allegedly) only one.

    Funny how many people comment without knowing what goes on in an air traffic control tower in a major territory.

  62. Just saw a comment from a retired Canadian air traffic control who said he used to do this with Boy Scouts, Air Cadets, and Church youth groups. Many people who are shocked about this story must be picturing the boys in John Cusack’s role in “Pushing Tin”!

  63. From wisegeek.com

    Law enforcement jobs are often ranked as some of the most stressful jobs. Again, there’s the issue of protecting a community, using force judiciously, and personal risk associated with the job. Air traffic controllers have some of the same problems. No one wants to be responsible for mistakes that could hurt huge numbers of people, and decisions may have to be made quickly and accurately in order to accommodate changing conditions or circumstances.

    From Yahoo answers

    As soon as I saw the question “most stressful jobs”, I automatically thought of air traffic controller. I think that’s # 1

    From LancasterFarming.com

    The job of an air traffic controller is one of the most stressful jobs anyone can have.
    Respected sources such as the Wall Street Journal Almanac list air traffic controller as one of the most stressful jobs in the country, ahead of mayor, legislator and airplane pilot.

    Larry Dixon spent 30 years as an air traffic controller. He has never forgotten the “close calls” and feelings of “whew” that his job gave him everyday.

    From wctv.tv

    According to health magazine, people with the following professions pull their hair our more than others.
    Here’s the top ten:
    1) Inner City High School Teacher
    2) Police Officer
    3) Miner
    4) Air Traffic Controller

    And you say kids in the control tower is no big deal.

  64. I think we’re all, for the most part, in agreement with a few things, but arguing the small stuff.

    It seems that the majority of us agree that the dad should not be fired. At most, he should be given a reprimand and (thank you litigious society), rules laid down so it doesn’t happen again.

    IMO it’s a real shame that we’ve gotten to the point that we don’t trust our kids enough to shake a stick, yet (as someone pointed out above), we applaud them when they can pick up a phone and dial 911. I find issue with that vast dichotomy.

    We treat our kids like infants, yet if they murder, we treat them like adults.

    We make allowances for kids under 18 to have sex, but the moment they turn 18, they are child molesters.

    We have no “coming of age” for kids anymore outside of the label “adult” at 18 and “you can drink!” at 21.

    (The we here refers to society in general, not necessarily the people on this particular site.)

    What do they have to bother looking forward to outside of scrutinizing zero-tolerance eyes and a Just-Over-Broke for life situation? Why become a doctor when you can get sued for malpractice and lose everything? Why become a pharmacist for the same? Why bother with anything high-profile if all it is is a way for people to beat you down with it? Why aspire as a child or even as an adult? Here’s a kid who sees that because his father believed in him, regardless of whether or not the kid belonged in that room – his father is going to lose his job.

    What – message – does – that – send?????

    I believe we’ve gone wrong somewhere. Someone above said it is getting “too hard to live,” and I agree fully. In looking at this story… there should not have been one. It’s just a shame where we’re heading in this country. Literally – I am afraid for my children. Think too far outside the box anymore and you’ll be punished. It’s insane and inane all rolled into one.

  65. I don’t have a problem with this either.

    And you know what? If terrorists had, right at the split second that the dad had his attention diverted (although he obviously had his headset on and finger on the button, and we all know how realistic the “terror” argument is) hijacked a plane, and the only thing that could save those people is one smooth talking, cool-under-pressure ATC… Well, maybe those people just deserved to die. Take it up with God, weaklings.

  66. Whilst reading this post and comments: At first I agreed with Lenore! Then I agreed with those who disagreed with her take on the issue! Then I read another post and agreed with Lenore again! And then I didn’t! And so on…

    So that made me ponder what this is really about and whether it is a free-range issue or not. And I decided that because of the mega media hype surrounding this incident, it is an important free-range issue. It’s another example of our country’s (the media) obsession with rooting out all those BAD PARENTS. To clarify, it’s one thing if thoughtful people discuss an incident like the one above and form opinions about the parent in question; it’s another when the media takes over and, in effect, makes a judgement as to what is good parenting and what isn’t. And we know that flushing out those BAD PARENTS from their hidey-holes is a lot more exciting than headlines saying, “Top News: ACT Father Takes Son to Work, Everything Worked Out Fine!”

  67. bmj2k – So if an adult had been at the controls, the terrorists would have just given up? What???? You could have had ANYONE (pick your favorite military, movie star, whoever) at the controls and we’d still have a hole there. The point of that was to ignore the ATC and do what they wanted. ATC does not have a remote control OFF button to press to stop pilots from flying into buildings.

    By the way, the best stress relief is laughing. Maybe the kids did some good that day. And if I was on the plane and the pilot had broadcast the exchange to the passengers I would have smiled too. Lighten up people.

    How many kids of policemen get to press the siren button, or the ambulance siren. Maybe we should outlaw that. A passerby might hear it and react to a perceived threat and be caused some discomfort. Can’t have that can we? I can hear the lawyer ads now, “Have you been the victim of an uncalled for siren blast?”

    I agree with another poster that pointed out that one of the 10 dangerous things we should allow our kids to do is sit on our laps while we drive. Since more people are killed in cars than planes shouldn’t that be illegal? Maybe the parent should lose their license forever over it.

    I’m sorry about the snark attitude, but this is just crazy.

  68. As an unschooler of two kids (an 18 and 11 yr old), I was hoping this blog would contain a unique perspective. I must say I am surprised that the majority opinion out there so far seems to be “so what?” while the opinion of FreeRangeKids is what I would have expected from the majority.

    Meh. I know we are “supposed” to be outraged by this, but I just can’t summon up enough to care. Personally, I think there was no danger, it was cute, it was a good learning experience for the kids.. well, right up to the point that they learn how rigid our society can be.

  69. I think some people are overlooking the fact that there are certain things that YOU AND I are not allowed to do either, because we’re not trained.

    I don’t “trust my kids enough” to let them drive the car because I don’t trust a 40 year old adult who’s never had a driving lesson to do it, either. I don’t “trust my kids enough” to let them do lots of things, because there are some things that it is the job of trained and licensed people to do.

    There are some things that should stay the province of those who are trained to do it, even in “controlled conditions” like the one described above. I totally agree that the dad didn’t put anyone in danger, but not everybody gets to do everything that seems fun, and nice, and a “learning experience.”

    For some of us, this isn’t about how much we “trust kids” and “don’t want to make them stay babies;” it’s about who should be operating the controls of ATC in real time. The people who are trained to do it, that’s who. That’s the way life is. There are lots of things kids can participate, and learn from. It doesn’t kill their curiosity and joy and make them into babies to learn that there are some jobs that people are trained and certified to do, and other people aren’t supposed to do them. In fact, part of maturity is learning that you don’t get to do everything that seems fun until you’ve worked for it.

    It’s not that there was some impending disaster risked because of this — it’s evident that the father did have good enough judgment to stay in tight control of what happened. It’s just that it was inappropriate, and I’m surprised that he didn’t know better. I didn’t say above that he should be fired, I’m just not going to be so quick to insist that he shouldn’t be, for such a violation of professional protocol and trust.

  70. Good post. I can’t believe they did it two days in a row though.

  71. For all of those people citing “professionalism” here, I am left wondering… just how do people (of any age) gain experience if they don’t actually get to try things out?

    Doing something under strict supervision after some time of observation seems reasonable to me.

    Was this incident inappropriate? Probably. Worth firing the dad for? No, not in my opinion.

  72. When I heard about this on the news the other day I remember saying to myself “how cute” but I can see how it has become a big ordeal. There are definitely certain instances in which children shouldn’t be allowed in the work place especially directing plane traffic. I’m sure the fathers intentions were good, but as an frequent traveler it definitely makes me nervous. Every time I get on a plane I am frightened for many reasons and I don’t need another reason to be scared.
    It was certainly inappropriate and I personally don’t feel that the father’s job should be in jeopardy.

  73. Sure, I spent a year working in animal hospitals working under the supervision of veterinarians. But I also had finished 3 years of school. And I was an adult.

    I worked in clinics as a teenager, but within my capacity as an assistant. I didn’t try to be the vet. And I still learned a lot about the career just by observing and working withing my training at that time. It’s absurd to think the only way I could have gained any experience in the field would be by pretending I was something I wasn’t.

  74. There are a couple of things that I think are wrong about this comment stream: first, most comments focus on the kids. Second, several others focus on the pilot. There’s not much on the passengers.

    Chances are, the passengers don’t care, and should not be asked to care, about “free-range kids,” giving pilots a chuckle, or overworked, underthanked air traffic controllers. They expected, and had a right to expect, that all critical safety operations relating to their flight would be handled up to professional standards and federal regulations, not to served as a child’s empowerment lesson or for someone else’s amusement. And the fact that the tape reveals no moment of apparent jeopardy does not mean that one could not have arisen in a moment, and have had a bad outcome owing to whatever momentary delay the bring-your-child-to-work situation created. Very Uncool; happily and luckily, nothing bad happened and it’s not likely to happen again.

  75. Pilots and controllers all over are saying that this was not a problem at all – mainly only people who THINK they know how ATC works are the ones who are concerned. That was most of us, I think, the first moment we saw the headline. I have come to realize that in the past, this was not an unheard of occurrence. Other happy children have been given this opportunity, children of controllers and children visiting with groups.

    I wish someone who works in ATC would explain something to me. Are the controllers who are dealing with the hairy, scary air situations working in a different physical area than the ones dealing with planes waiting on the ground for take off? That was the impression I was getting from one former controller’s words. If that is true, it might make a lot of people who were concerned about the incident feel better about it.

    I was reading the comments this morning on NBC New York. Almost everyone was in support of this man and his family and supervisor! Maybe people are getting tired of wanting good people’s heads all the time!

  76. I’m having fun with this idea that it’s totally not a free range issue because context doesn’t matter. It *could* be dangerous, so we can’t ever let it happen!

    Oh, wait. Hot dogs *could* be dangerous. Walking *could be dangerous. Germs *could* be dangerous.

    And, clearly, letting this kid do things the right way was a horrendous error in judgment because someone else might let their kid do it wrong.

    Looks like it’s time to break out the hot dog warning labels, the Thudgard, and the gLovies because all those things *could* be dangerous, and it is clearly a horrendous error in judgment to forgo them, because some other parent might not be as vigilant.

    Either judgment under specific circumstances is important or not. Either you have to account for every safety possibility or not. There is no “sometimes it’s okay to make absolutely sure nothing ever happens because lives are at stake, but sometimes it’s okay to go ahead and risk those lives when they’re your own children rather than strangers.” That’s a double standard, and I’m actually ashamed of you, Lenore, for using exactly the language you spend most of this blog refuting.

  77. As far as no emphasis being on the passengers – no. There is none because when you choose to fly, you do choose to put your life in the hands of someone else that has control of the situation. There’s a reason they’re not broadcasting real-time what is going on in the cockpit between plane and tower… it’s none of the passenger’s business – nor would they want it to be, really. From what I gather, it’s pretty much your standard, run-of-the-mill, protocol, pilot jargon.

    It’s true, as someone said above, that it seems the only people getting panties and briefs in a wad are the ones that don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes. We had this same lack of attention regarding the 13-year-old girl who was going sailing around the world… all the free-range in the world couldn’t stop the majority of the posters from saying just how dangerous because “what-if.”

    Seems like sometimes we have our good moments – when the risk is walking to school… and our bad moments when the risk is something we don’t understand and want to pass judgment on.

  78. I agree with the previous commenters – I also have no problem with this. I would have no problem flying on planes that allowed parents to dictate the words to kids to say on the radio. I would have no problem letting my family fly with me.

    I work for a large financial institution that holds huge sums of money. I would have no problem having my child stand over my shoulder and type in the final command to issue a transaction. IMHO this is a mountain made out of an anthill.

  79. […] Take Your Mini Air Traffic Controller To Work Day Hi Readers! That’s what it was for two days in February when an air traffic controller took his two kids into the […] […]

  80. I’d much rather be on a plane with this kid on the radio than at the grocery store where some parent is letting their kid drive the cart into my Achilles tendons. Way more dangerous in my opinion.

    And I’m pretty sure you can still be a professional even when you let your kid listen through your stethoscope or talk on the radio. Those things have nothing to do with professionalism. If this guy had left his kid in the chair while he went out for a smoke break, then we can talk about unprofessional.

    This story has nothing to do with professionalism. It’s other people – armchair quarterbacks – who know nothing about the job, sitting on their couches watching the over-sensationalized news and telling others what to do. And as I teacher, I know this from experience. Are there aspects of every job that are inappropriate to let a child do? Of course. I wouldn’t even bring my kid to work with me. I work at a rough school, and my little one doesn’t need to hear how I’m spoken to on a daily basis – I don’t need him getting ideas, they’ll come soon enough when he’s a teenager!

    Also I find it wonderfully ironic that I read this right after the article about George G. and the 2,000 abductees every year. Yet this is OMG SAFETY ISSUE even though it’s once again the media blowing something way out of proportion and the entire country is now convinced that our entire infrastructure is in terrible jeopardy because someone’s kid said “adios amigos!” on the radio. But BUT BUT DIANE SAWYER SAID WE WILL ALL CRASH AND DIE! AND THE TERRORISTS! THE TERRORISTS ARE WAITING FOR THIS TO HAPPEN!

    Give me a break.

  81. My father was an ATC and I can’t tell you how many times I did this as a kid. I think my husband even got to do it as an adult once when we went to see him at the control center. This is absolutely no different than if your dad worked in a toll booth and you took the quarters from a driver.

  82. It is very late to comment on this discussion, but I think the dad was right bringing his child to work. Period. Do you really believe that every second of an air traffic controller’s day is spent with absolute perfect concentration? Really? I bet the father was more focused in the moment because he didn’t want to screw up in front of his kid than he is most of the day. How many plane crashes happen when air traffic controllers are quietly going about their job with no children in sight? And how many crashes happened on the one day, for the few minutes when a child actually got to see what dad does for a living and say a few words to the pilot? None, probably because the dad was really focused taking pride in his job while his kids were gobsmacked at how cool dad actually is. This whole thing has been blown way out of proportion and I support the dad for having the courage to take his kids to work. How ridiculous of a statement is that? The courage to take his kids to work… sigh

  83. I think, that being a Pilot, there are always some risks involved and that will always be like that. No matter how the technology changes aslong ase there is a human in the cabine he is risking his life

  84. What I want to know is why this even qualifies as news. Who brought it to the attention of the media? Shouldn’t this be handled as an internal personnel issue?

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