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Insanity at JFK: Young Child Acts as Air Traffic Controller

March 3, 2010 | Posted in: Airline News,News,Pilots,Travel Tips

JFK child air traffic controller

This is all over the news, but still seems unbelievable: a young child – age is unclear – actually directed traffic at JFK International Airport.

This was two weeks ago, and an investigation is underway.

The child can be heard – on tape! – directing pilots for departure, apparently under adult supervision; incredibly, you can hear one adult saying the following to a pilot:

“This is what you get guys when the kids are out of school.”

That adult, and others, are no longer directing traffic, pending the outcome of the investigation.

No harm done? In this incident, it looks that way – but may I remind you about the fate of Aeroflot Flight 593?

Back in 1994, the pilot allowed his 15 year old son to sit at the controls – and the boy somehow disabled the “automatic pilot”. The plane went down, killing all 75 passengers and crew.

20 Responses to “Insanity at JFK: Young Child Acts as Air Traffic Controller”

  1. MB says:

    I don’t know why this is such a big deal. The father was right there. It’s not as if the kid actually had control of the planes. Should it have been done? No. But the reaction to this story has been overblown.

  2. Rick Seaney says:


    I disagree. Whether the father – or mother – was “right there” means nothing to me. This goes so far out of bounds of any pretension to professionalism. And safety. Anyone else?

    Thanks for the opinion,

  3. AC says:

    The whole airline industry has gone outside any bounds of pretention of professionalism. This doesn’t surprise me, but in the wake of all of the other airline issues, a parent telling their child “ok, now say “____”" is barely worth getting upset over.

  4. Rick Seaney says:


    I’m beginning to think I’M the only one “upset” about this. Anyone…?


  5. Houghton says:

    Rick, I think that you are the only one upset here.
    Letting a child give simple instructions while clearly being coached and supervised is not the same thing as letting a child operate the controls of a comercial airliner.

    I commend the parent whom had to take their child to the office for the day.

    Cheers, Kevin H

  6. Richard says:

    No, this is actually a big deal and should be made very aware of to the public. An air traffic control tower, especially one at JFK that is one of the busiest in the country and perhaps the world, is no place for a child to be in, supervised or not. There are near misses in the skies around NYC all the time and things can go wrong in a split second. An adult’s undivided attention needs to be on their job in that tower and someone doesn’t need to worry about moving a child out of the way in order to take control of a situation. It would be different if the person had simply been off duty and wanted to show their work area to their child. But to let a child be in a position where hundreds or thousands of peoples’ lives can be at stake is a grievous error in judgment.

  7. John says:

    If every person who sets foot on a plane is required to go through security screening why is it that a child should be allowed to act as a air traffic controllor for the fun of it. That is not childs play. The control tower operations is part of our national security. Whats next are we are going to let kids play with the nuclear launch button because the parent thinks it is cool. That parent should lose his job as an air traffic controller for his lack of good judgement.

  8. Sandra says:

    The safety of everyone on that radar screen was compromised while that child was in the controller’s seat – parent right there notwithstanding. If I was on one of those airplanes when that occurred, I would be livid.


  9. Rick Seaney says:

    Hi, Houghton,

    No, as it turns out, I’m not the only one who is “upset” here. Take a look at some the letters above.


  10. Rick Seaney says:


    I would be too.


  11. Carl Weaver says:

    The fact that nobody got hurt is no testament to this being okay or safe.

    Would it be okay if a police officer let his kid handcuff someone in the line of duty? We can all agree that no, it would not be okay. Yet, if that went wrong possibly only a few people would be hurt or killed. In the air traffic control tower incident, hundreds of people could be killed by some kid, regardless of whether a parent is there or not.

    The person who did this showed poor judgement. Is it a terminable offense? Possibly. Certainly a good reprimand is warranted.

  12. Rick Seaney says:


    As you point out, the consequences of this lapse could have been tragic.

    Thanks for writing.

  13. Mark says:

    I think that even allowing a child into the control tower is totally inappropriate. However, I can’t think of a scenario that would cause disastrous results from this incident, if the child was properly supervised, and it was isolated incident. Admonishment and possibly punishment are in order, but we don’t need to blow things like this out of proportion for the sake of our own indignation.

  14. Cathy says:

    It wouldn’t be the first time that dad said “Say this” and the kid thought it was funny to say something completely different. When supposedly capable air traffic controllers make a mistake it is a tragedy. If this kid made a mistake it would be murder (or at least manslaughter), not by the kid but by the parent. I for one would not want to have been in the air at that point.

  15. Jack Smothers says:

    This parent is an idiot for this stunt. No question here.

  16. npanit says:

    Anybody in the air traffic control area needs security clearance. Sure no child should be allowed in there in the first place … with parent right there or not.

    My opinion? Termination is not too severe. At the very least relocate the guy to a no-risk post preferably with lower pay.

  17. Rick Seaney says:

    My advice?

    If you can’t get a sitter to watch the kids, take a sick or personal day, and stay home with them.


  18. tazman53 says:

    The young man had control over zero. The plane was sitting waiting to take off and the pilot transfers to departure control and they give the final approval. People get over this cable news spent the whole day going nuts over nothing.

  19. Rick Seaney says:


    I think you’re in the minority on this one.


  20. CaveatEmpty says:

    “..the whole day”? LOLz — Now, the whole week !
    and talking-head newsers INSIST on saying “take-offs and landings” !?!? Makes ya wonder who’s really the crazy ones.
    (40-year pilot)

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