SmackDown: Did Air Traffic Dad Really Do Anything So Wrong?

Filed under: Opinions

Two dads duke it out over whether or not Airport Dad should be given a time out. Whose side are you on? Credit: Getty Images

Airport Dad Was Wrong.

by Brett Singer

Some people don't mind that an air traffic controller allowed his kids to chat with pilots who were flying planes in and out of one of the nation's busiest airports.

Airplane Kid's dad was just having a little fun, right? As one of our readers put it, "I wish everyone would lighten up!"

Here's what I wish: That people with important jobs would take them seriously.

It's no secret that America has gone crazy for security, especially at our airports. All it takes is one incident for a new screening procedure to be put in place. (If you're annoyed that we have to remove our shoes, blame would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid.)

Despite the legitimate questions on how effective these methods are -- remember the lovesick guy who inadvertently bypassed security at Newark Liberty International Airport in January? -- these screenings are important. It shows we're doing something.

Feeling secure while flying is what gets many of us on a plane in the first place. We might get irritated when asked to throw out our water bottles, take out our laptops and pack sunscreen into insect-sized bottles. But we do it.

So, if the first order of business is actual safety in the skies, what follows is that airport security must be treated seriously. Not seriously in a frenzied, grab-every-person-with-a-head-scarf-and-strip-search-them way. No, we simply want the people who work for the aviation industry to treat us, and the regulations, with respect.

When an air traffic controller let not one, but two of his children direct flights at New York's JFK airport, it's not cute. It's irresponsible.

"Lighten up?" How about, "Do your job." Did the air traffic controller's actions actually put anyone in danger? It would appear not, since, thankfully, no planes crashed. But what if the pilots had been startled upon hearing a child's voice on their headsets that they bumped into the steering column, causing a bit of turbulence? (I am not exactly Captain Chesley Sullenberger when it comes to piloting knowledge, in case you were wondering. Just go with me here for a minute.)

Picture this: One of the overhead bins opens and something heavy falls on your kid. OK, nobody dies. But it's pretty startling. If you say that scenario is unlikely, you are correct. But, you know what makes the possibility of pilots being startled at the sound of a child's voice coming over their headsets while they're flying a plane completely impossible? If a child isn't talking to a pilot.

I hate to be a pill, but as a dad, I know that not every situation is appropriate for children. Taking the kids to work is something all parents should do, if they can. Those last three words are the important ones. Do you want an 8-year-old manning the 911 phone lines? Or tagging along to fight a four-alarm blaze? How about preparing your food? Is that acceptable?

Besides, the official version of this practice is called "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day." Not "Let Your Kids Do Your Job for You Day."

In response, the FAA has suspended the controller and his supervisor. Should they be fired? A commenter at writes, "Leave him alone and get back to something important like health care or our failing budget." It's a good sound bite, except that the FAA is in charge of aviation, not health care.

Even though no harm was done, and no harm was likely to be done, letting kids direct flights is at best silly, and at worst potentially dangerous. Whether or not the workers' actions are worthy of a pink slip is up to their employer. But whatever they decide, hopefully other air traffic controllers will think twice before putting their kids on the mic.

At least while my family and I are in the air.

Tom and I want to know whose side you're on. As competitive dads (but perfectly collegial work buddies), we will be continuing this argument at the next staff meeting.

A Lot Of Yammering Over Nothing.

by Tom Henderson

Is anyone dead?

Seriously, did anyone die because an air traffic controller at JFK International in New York let his kids say a few words into a radio in the control tower?

The dad was standing right next to them. He told them what to say. Other highly trained professionals were in the room. It's not like all the adults went out for doughnuts and told the kids to take care of things until they got back.

It's not like the kids improvised what they told the pilots. "Hey, Jet Blue 57, this is New York. Can you do a loop-de-loop? That would be totally awesome!"

None of that happened. All that did happen was that 49-year-old air traffic controller Glenn Duffy brought his son to work on Feb. 17 and his daughter the following day. Now, Duffy and the supervisor on duty have been suspended, and the nation's hens are clucking about the horror of it all.

Those in the hen house, do us all a favor. Take a deep breath.

Think about this. Aren't there better targets for your righteous indignation? If you simply have to pop a blood vessel over something, pick an issue that isn't so astoundingly trivial.

Again -- and I cannot stress this enough -- no one died. No one was in danger of dying. No one risked so much as a hangnail.

That's not just my expert appraisal as a guy who knows absolutely nothing about directing millions of tons in metal through the air. The Washington Post talked with Ross Aimer, a United Airlines pilot with more than 40 years of experience as a pilot. He backs me up on all this.

"I have listened to the ATC tapes [Air Traffic Control] and in my opinion I can assure everyone that at no time was safety compromised," he tells the Post.

Aimer confirms Duffy was there with his finger on the radio, ready to take over. It was a slow time at JFK. But if anything had gone wrong, Duffy would have stepped in immediately. And let's get something else straight. Duffy did not let his kids direct flights.

"Simply repeating words your dad tells you is not directing," Aimer tells the Post. "If it were, we could hire anyone to do this job and just give them a handbook with no training."

In an online chat with Post readers, Aimer talked with a retired air traffic controller who saw a lot of this type of stuff in his 26 years on the job.

"This is far from being the first time that this type of thing was done using either children, female visitors with sexy voices or others," he told Aimer. "Nor is it unique to the folks on the ground. I've known pilots to use flight attendants to handle the radio transmissions."

OK, I grant you, what Duffy did was not terribly responsible. But you know what's really irresponsible? The way we in the media latch on to these trivial but sensational stories and blow them all out of reasonable proportion.

The retired air traffic controller is right. These things used to happen all the time. People just didn't notice because they had lives. They were too busy to huff and puff about every trivial news item. And the stories didn't get reported in the first place. Reporters were too busy covering things like wars and Watergate.

I used to take my son to work. I took him with me to cover fires when he was a preschooler. This would have been a problem if he had squealed, "Whee! Fire fun!" and ran into the burning building. It could have happened. But there is a yawning chasm between what could happen and what will likely happen. People need to learn the difference.

And for all the hens out there, please don't sit near me on the airplane. Your clucking interferes with my naps.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.