Air Traffic Controller Sleeps On Job, Adds to Nightmare of Flying

Sasha Brown-Worsham

As if aviation and plane travel weren't frightening enough given you will likely be groped, treated rudely, and dosed with radiation, try this on for size: overworked air traffic controllers work too many late-night shifts and fall asleep on the job.

It may sound like a comedy spoof, but it's very real, indeed. Wednesday morning, two planes attempting to land at Reagan International Airport in Washington, DC, found that the control tower was unmanned. At first they suspected that the one controller who was on the night shift had been locked out of the tower, but later it was revealed that he was actually asleep. Um, can we say terrifying?

This is also not the first time something like this has happened, according to CNN. They cited at least four more errors in the past few years that were caused by controller fatigue. 

The controller responsible for the Wednesday incident has been suspended, but it turns out he had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt said that the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident. He told CNN:

In my 25 years as a professional airline pilot, I've never seen anything happen like this. I am outraged by it. We're going to make sure something like this never happens again.

Um, you think? You darn well better! This is even more disturbing than reports of fatigued doctors (though those are disturbing, too). At least the doctors are on the ground, right?

Look, flying is already a consumer nightmare. We're paying unbelievably high prices to be ferried on tin cans of moving germ factories. Prior to boarding, we have to put up with being fondled by the TSA, told we can't change seats (this happened to me when I flew to Amsterdam last month and wasn't seated with my husband), and generally kicked about.

While on board, we're treated rudely (especially if we have kids), offered no food unless it's an overseas flight, and subjected to cramped conditions and tiny bathrooms.

We're already worried about terrorism and bomb threats. We can't carry on any liquids unless they're in a bag of a certain size, and forget razors or lighters or scissors. And now we also need to worry about the controllers falling asleep?

Thanks, but no thanks. I would rather drive. Until we can get back to a better system of flying, I see no reason to leave the ground unless I absolutely have to. At this point, it isn't worth the hassle and risk.

Does this make you want to drive, too?


Image via GoTRISI/Flickr

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