Kids Take Over JFK Air Traffic Control, and I Think It’s Hilarious

I assume by now you’ve heard about the kid that made a few calls to airplanes in the JFK tower, right? Lots of people seem to be Kid Air Traffic Controlflipping out over this, but honestly, I think it’s pretty funny. I mean, no harm was done, and I can’t imagine it could have been done either.

Don’t get me wrong. This was just a dumb thing to do. It sounds like at least one of the controllers had a kid or two on a school break, so he brought them up to the tower. That’s a huge thrill for any kid (especially dorks like me), but if that’s all that happened, I don’t think this would be plastered on the nightly news. No, it’s when the kid took over and made some transmissions to airplanes that the sh*t hit the fan.

Like I said, that was a really dumb thing to do, especially since these guys will be lucky if they somehow still have a job, but I think all these people flipping out about it just need to chill out. If you listen to the kids’ transmissions, they sounded very professional to me:

Kid: Don’t be a fool, JetBlue 171, you know what a landing like this means, you more than anybody. I’m ordering you to stay up there.
JetBlue 171: No dice, New York. I’m giving the orders and we’re coming in. I guess the foot’s on the other hand now, isn’t it, kid?

See? Harmless. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t exactly what happened. It actually was far more boring than that:

Kid: JetBlue 171 contact departure
JetBlue 171: Over to departure, JetBlue 171 . . . awesome job

Oooh, scary. The world is gonna end! As Rob Mark wrote over on JetWhine, “The kid never controlled anything. He said the words his dad told him to say, nothing more.” (You can listen to the tapes here.)

That’s the reality here. If the kid wasn’t quick enough or some sort of situation developed, you know that the controller was right there ready to take over. There wasn’t any harm here, and I really don’t think there could have been. The pilots clearly weren’t concerned.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this guy loses his job and that’s a shame, but I understand it. People are going crazy over this, so somebody’s head has to roll. He screwed up, so now he’s going to have to pay. Bummer, because I thought it was pretty damn funny.

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62 Comments on "Kids Take Over JFK Air Traffic Control, and I Think It’s Hilarious"

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Andrew
Guest

I completely agree…I think people need to take a page from the book of the pilots in this situation. They knew there was no safety concern whatsoever, and took it lightly. Everyone else should do the same.

Andrew
Guest
I don’t disagree with the spirit of your commentary, Cranky — situations like this always seem to be pulpits for people who like to scream bloody murder about the tiniest things. But at the same time, I’ll share some comments I made to a friend of mine who forwarded me this story when it broke knowing I was an airline biz nerd and asked what I thought: “As someone who used to fly a *lot*, this scares me a bit, especially at an airport as large as JFK. Planes are enormous tubes of meat and flammables: I think it’s reasonable… Read more »
Skylerman
Guest

I think the entire country is just a little uptight right now and we all feel that we have to blame something or someone for what looks like incompetence. Yeah, it was a dumb thing to do, but the talking heads on TV have decided to make a big deal about this and I think it is way out of proportion… Must be a slow news day… no Tiger sightings….

I’m sure the children that got a trip to the tower are thrilled that their dad took them to work and think of him as a big hero right now

Andrew
Guest

The is the first Andrew again…meant to add in my original comment that some of the people freaking out about this are almost as bad as that guy in the AP story that ran a couple years back about “go arounds”, where he said something to the effect of thinking his life was about to be over because of the catastrophe waiting to happen as a result of the go around…similar type of manufactured media hysteria.

I’m just saying if I were a passenger on Jet Blue 171 and found out about this, it wouldn’t bother me.

DC
Guest

Wow! You’re not going to slam a government worker? Is this the real Cranky or did someone get your password? heh heh

notanoldiesfan
Guest

<>

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

You’re kidding, right? If a kid (under his parent’s control, mind you) comes to my job and I can’t focus, then I probably shouldn’t have my job.

Just another example of media mass hysteria over nothing.

Eric
Guest

I cant really add to anything that you have said or what others have posted. This is yet another media-driven ‘wag the dog’ thingy that makes sheeple feel better about themselves by blamestorming others. Nuff’ said….

I commented because that pic of the Late Great Lloyd and photoshopped eTrade baby made me spit my morning coffee out in laughter. It’s gonna be a good Friday…thanks Crank.

Graham
Guest

I blame this on the 12-second news cycle. And Nancy Grace. Everything can be blamed on her, I find.

AndrewBW
Guest

(waving to first Andrew) The is the “second” Andrew — I see us both posting here more often, so I’ll append my other initials from now to avoid confusion. :D

David SF eastbay
Member
If this had happen in the tower at Waterloo, Iowa we would never have heard about it, but being JFK it’s news. I’m surprised we didn’t hear the head of Homeland Security saying it was not a ‘terrorist’ event. They like to say that for everything that happens now a days. Bad judgement and he never should have done it unless maybe it was a slow Saturday morning and told the pilot my ‘junior helper’ it going to clear you. Then at least everyone in hearing distance would know what was going on when a childs voice was heard. You… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

So if this controller is forced to leave, who is going to take over? Here’s the answer: nobody. JFK Tower is already understaffed as it is and people can’t just be hired and start asap, even with the requisite ATC training. It takes years and because of inactivity in the past regarding recruiting and training and higher rates of retirement coming up, the whole country, and JFK too, will be left with a shortage of controllers.

So, bottom line: we need this controller.

Simon
Guest

Having been in the tower at LGW as a teenager on work experience (but not allowed anywhere near anything important), I entirely agree. Which is annoying, because that picture makes me want to say “surely you can’t be serious?”

Davester
Guest

Running the tangent from the FAA, I thought you might find the following link amusing. Apparently, the FAA put a picture of Eastern Airlines on their 2010 “Portfolio of Goals” report. Maybe they last updated their goals 19 years ago?
http://whatsbrewin.nextgov.com/2010/03/_although_eastern_airlines_went.php?oref=latest_posts

James
Guest
re: “I think the entire country is just a little uptight right now” I wonder if that will ever change. We live in a country where an accidental opening of an alarmed door shuts down an entire airport. Or a kid brings a lego gun to school and is suspended, and parents spend their days scoping out potential sex offenders in their neighborhoods. Disproportionate concern over extremely low probabilities of trouble. In this case it’s not the action, rather the media riling up people with headlines like “Kids Direct JKF Traffic” — (I realize CF’s post title is in jest,”)… Read more »
Rob Mark
Guest
As someone said earlier, in a perfect world no one would have probably said anything about this. Hell, the pilots didn’t even care. Sure it was a dumb idea in retrospect, but the controller in question didn’t think it was THAT dumb or he would never have tried it. But this is New York where all the worst of our memories since Pearl Harbor are buried. And those days placed fear – rational or not – into everyone, every single time they get on an airplane or even think about it. That’s really why people have lost their minds over… Read more »
Mere
Guest

Agreed! So funny (and cute)! Adios!

Matt
Guest
I’d agree that the controller definately should be punished, but definately not fired. I’m sure he was plugged in and ready to go if something came up. No one was hurt … punish him, dont take his job. When i was younger (pre-1999) my dad was an air traffic controller and I used to go to work with him all the time. I loved it … its probably the main reason I am into aviation, plane spotting and the airline geek that I am. Now we’re not talking about a high volume tower like JFK, but it was at a… Read more »
Paulstewartholte
Member
When I was a 19 year old college kid, I used to work at an airport and became friends with one of the tower controllers. She used to let me up in the tower all the time and I would “control” airplanes, under her supervision. This kid was doing exactly the same thing. As a pilot for a major airline, I personally think it’s awesome. As a matter of fact, I wish the controllers in Paris spoke that well, then maybe there wouldn’t be so many violations. I hope this guy keeps his job. Not sure if you remember that… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Matt wrote: … but I did get to tear the paper strips with the flight information off the printer and put them in the plastic holders for everyone (at the time that was a huge thrill to be able to help out). What you just said is the sad part to this. That kid must have been thrilled out of his mind and couldn’t wait to tell all his friends what he got to do. Now because of this he must feel really bad. You know how kids are, he will think it’s his fault his Dad is in trouble… Read more »
Paul
Guest
There is an expectation of professionalism on the part of everyone who operates in our national airspace system. We have the safest airspace on the planet (FAA staffing, operational warts, and all) as a result. While having this kid issuing clearances to moving aircraft in the air and on the ground is clearly harmless, the lapse in professional conduct is pretty glaring. There is an expectation on the part of the flying public that we comply with all of the rules, without going out of the box. Having a child transmitting valid clearances to passenger carrying jets is out of… Read more »
BF
Guest
This is a great example of how the sensationalism of a ten-second soundbite and a snappy headline always trumps (and sells more media than) the reality behind the situation. As those of us who listen to ATC streaming from JFK on LiveATC.net know, this particular controller was one of the best, and indeed news reports tell us he’s done the job for about two decades. Even in the short one-minute clip we’ve all heard, which was posted in the LiveATC forums (from which this whole brouhaha sprung, though the clip had been there about three weeks, to enthusiastic albeit limited… Read more »
Tony
Guest

I’m sorry but as harmless as it seems, anything could have happened at the drop of a pin. It needs to be dealt with severely in order to discourage this type of activity in the future.

For those who have forgotten just how quickly something that seems innocent can spin completely out of control, I offer this link:

http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/28/world/tape-confirms-the-pilot-s-son-caused-crash-of-russian-jet.html?pagewanted=1

Andrew
Guest

Tony wrote:

I’m sorry but as harmless as it seems, anything could have happened at the drop of a pin. It needs to be dealt with severely in order to discourage this type of activity in the future.
For those who have forgotten just how quickly something that seems innocent can spin completely out of control, I offer this link:
http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/28/world/tape-confirms-the-pilot-s-son-caused-crash-of-russian-jet.html?pagewanted=1

Your link is a story about a kid who was ACTUALLY FLYING the airplane. I think that’s a huge jump from the situation being discussed here.

The Traveling Optimist
Guest
Nothing happened. Good. Make sure it never happens again. Better. I see no difference between the ATC tower and the cockpit door of an airplane, particularly in the middle of one of the busiest air sectors in the world. Yea, the pilot played along but certainly wasn’t expecting the voice of a child in an environment where split-second decisions affect flight and safety. The Delta pilots had that same argument when their 727 crashed in Dallas. If anything goes wrong with the flight attendant at the controls we’ll be there to catch it, they said. Fourteen people died who didn’t… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
I think if I was sitting on United listening to the pilots talking to the tower and heard a child say ‘United 123 cleared for takeoff’ I would have smiled, I would have realized children were not running the air traffic control system, and I would not have started running up and down the aisle screaming we’re going to die children are in the tower. It still wasn’t a good move on the guy doing it at JFK during the evening rush, but I don’t think he would have done it if JFK was in total chaos at the moment.… Read more »
BF
Guest

(Re: Your earlier comment about the kids blaming themselves, not your most recent one.)

David SF eastbay
Member

BF wrote:

@ David SFeastbay:
That is precisely the case, according to the NY Daily News:
http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/03/05/2010-03-05_we_cost_dad_his_job_kids_who_took_over_for_air_traffic_controller_blame_themselv.html

I think I missed that there were two kids. All this uproar over nothing bad happening. Oh brother!

Well President Obama better never have his kids in the oval office while he’s at work. They could start a nuclear war. Oh wouldn’t the Repbulbicans have a field day over that……..lol

BF
Guest

The real cause of the Cuban Missile Crisis?:

comment image

oldiesfan6479
Guest

Janet: “The system worked.”

Dad: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

Kid: “Jetboy 171, cleared direct KCI…oh wait, I mean MCI.”
(Ahem, Cranky ;-)

Chris
Guest

I’ve listened to ATC transmissions for several years now and i’ve heard more ‘unprofessional’ communications where professionals were involved. This is all just the media being the media.

Christina
Guest

Cranky your article was spot on! There was no danger for the passangers or crew. The childs father obviously was standing right there and told the child what to say. But I do agree it wasn’t the best judgement on the fathers part, not something he should be fired for though. My career is in aviation and we can not bring our children to work because we maintain & repair aircraft; having kids around when a aircraft is be repaired is definately more of a safety of flight concern, than a child communicating their fathers directions to a pilot.

Hunter
Guest
@ The Traveling Optimist: Like many of the others, you’re REALLY stretching it here. Comparing a child “parroting” his father’s instructions into a mic to a FA flying an aircraft? Apples and oranges, and a perfect example of how we’ve all lost of our sense of fun, adventure and humor. I see this as no different than a child on a field trip to the fire station playing on the truck or speaking into the radio and catching a little “bug” of the wonder of what it means to do that job. Feeling inspired and maybe even carrying that inspiration… Read more »
Mike
Guest

sad part is this…. as hard as we’re trying to promote aviation careers to young people, the poor kids who saw their parents suspended for this will probably be scared off now.

bellsmyre
Guest

I had a listen to the recording and found the adults harder to understand than the child.

jaybru
Member
It certainly was cute! But, wouldn’t you have been a little concerned that maybe someone around the airport had hacked into the Tower frequency? It made me chuckle a little, thinking back to my that-week EAS-contract flight to/from my old hometown airport. Sitting in the 9-seater, with a pilot who looked like he could have been part of the “Take Your Kid to Work” thing, but without Dad, or anyone else sitting next to him! Regardless, a well done job. Couldn’t have asked for anything better. Returning, my fellow-passenger asked the pilot how long he had been flying for this… Read more »
BF
Guest
JayB wrote: But, wouldn’t you have been a little concerned that maybe someone around the airport had hacked into the Tower frequency? No. Did you listen to the recording? The father acknowledges that it’s his son and makes a joke about “that’s what you get when the kids are off from school.” Moreover, the father himself is continually directing the pilots throughout, much more often than the few times his son does it on the brief clip. Not picking on you, but our culture loves juicy soundbites. How many people out there have formed a strong opinion or gotten out!raged!… Read more »
Randy
Guest
Yes, it was cute. Regardless, it was a distraction for the controller at one of the busiest airports in the country. If the controller had forgotten about an aircraft cleared to cross or land on that active runway, Cranky’s post wouldn’t have been so jovial. I was on a USAir 737 heading from LAX to San Diego in 1991, first up for departure on 24L when another USAir 737, flight 1493 was cleared for landing. The controller had forgotten that she had cleared Skywest 5569 into departure position on the active runway and for it to hold. After waiting for… Read more »
Carl
Guest
As someone with my only connection to the airline industry being a full paying passenger, some of you people need to lighten up and listen to the clip. All the kid ever said was “Cleared for Takeoff” and “Contact Departure” with a “good bye” or “adios” thrown in. All of the aircraft movements were performed by the father, with no delay noticeable. It seems to me that the father was well in control of the situation, and if something were to have come up requiring his full attention he would have been able to give it his full attention, in… Read more »
jordan
Guest
Ya know what! As all you Americans sit here on your high horses, giggling and laughing over how funny this is!! The father put these kids in the spotlight, so the blame is on him. HE SHOULD BE FIRED!!!!! I’ll take the additional delays at JFK.. it already is a long taxi out anyway!! I do not want kids (I do not care if they are doubled up on headphones or not) clearing planes for take off or landing! You all sit here laughing about how nothing happened! Correct! But what IF something had happened! You all would not be… Read more »
SluggoAAFA
Guest
Cranky, Great post. I remember back in the 70s, when things were a LOT more militaristic, that I went to Washington Center’s location in Leesburg, VA and got silent when the controller found a pilot with my real name and had him talk with me….I was too nervous to do anything, and really wish I would have talked, but I didn’t. This kid did an OUTSTANDING job, albeit mirrored what his father told him. With all those people crying how stupid this is, it’s a safety concern, then shall Pegasus Airlines remove their safety demo’s that showcase kids in their… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Actually this was more safe than the normal routine. When a senior controller is training a new controller the primary controller is listening intently to every word the trainee is saying. When a senior controller is giving the same instruction himself for the 400,000 time your mouth is on autopilot.

jgjohnson2
Member
This was wrong. Get off the “so cute, and of course nothing happened”. What about the “sterile cockpit” thing: why? NO DISTRACTIONS. JFK is a fairly busy place, and NO DISTRACTIONS would seem to be the natural order of work. Of course, this harmless deviation from procedure could happen thousands, milions of times with no problem. Just like the driver “I was only taking a 5-second look at my text message”; the cyclist “it was just a 5-minute ride to the store, no helmet needed”; the annoying “I only double-parked for a few minutes; can’t bother anyone”. Rules have a… Read more »
daren_siddall
Member
I can just imagine that if a VIP, such as a politician or celebrity was in the control tower and had been allowed to make a few calls under supervision it would have been news for very different reasons, generating positive PR for them and the airport. Sure, the controller made a stupid decision and sadly will pay the price with his job and probably career, but I feel that in these situations things just get all out of perspective. With all the other issues facing us in the world, these things seem to take up an inordinate amount of… Read more »
K
Guest

The Daily News has the more interesting “updates” in the case, for those still paying attention. Pilots rally to his defense:

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/03/06/2010-03-06_pilots_high_on_controller_in_jfk_mess.html

Not funny
Guest

Oh yes, distracted pilots and air traffic controllers are gosh darn hilarious! Fire those fools.

Not funny
Guest

@ Hunter:

Would you think it was cute if a kid was on a firetruck responding to a real fire? This kid was interfering with active operations of an airport with thousands of lives at stake. It’s not at all like “visiting the firehouse”.

jaybru
Member
Cranky, C’mon, gotta work a little harder to us stirred up! I’m sure someone by now has joked: “Air Traffic Control, so easy even a caveman, er, a kid can do it!” And, like you said about being a dork. Me too. Wish my Dad had had a job like that and he took me to work. Wow! Along those lines, a few years back, well, more than a few. I had a next door neighbor who was a controller in Washington Center at Leesburg, Va. They had open houses nearly every year (I don’t think they do that anymore)… Read more »
thetravelingoptimist
Guest
Here here, Randy and Not Funny. This is simply not funny. A kid on a fire truck at the station? Fine. When that 4-alarm bell goes off? That kid better not be anywhere near the controls much less at the scene. Let the kid play ATC with any of a million Nintendo/Xbox/Wii/Playstation games from Best Buy. Let the kid’s dad post it on YouTube and pray that it goes viral for all to see and enjoy. Take the kid to work, by all means but don’t touch the friggin’ buttons! It’s not funny. And the haranguing and baying for blood… Read more »
Ridor9th
Guest

C’mon! If you say no to kids, how will they LEARN?

They eventually have to experience at least something in their lifetimes. I applaud the fathers who lets their kids to experience what it is like to work in Tower.

It helps them to understand how serious this job is and they WILL realize how it requires their 100% attention from day one.

People who overreacted need to STFU.

R-

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