Sunday, February 3, 2008

Against All Odds

Congratulations to the New York Football Giants for defeating the now 18-1 New England Patriots, 17-14. Since I'm not a fan of either team, I wasn't too excited to sit down and watch the game. You can imagine how glad I was that I did. The Giants would not be denied tonight, as they played tenacious defense and did just enough offensively to win. Their nearly ten minute drive to start the game set the tone and they kept constant pressure on Tom Brady, who never seemed to get comfortable. While Eli played well, the MVP of this game was the defense.

Against all odds, this unit that began the season 0-2 finished 14-6 with ten consecutive road wins including three in the playoffs. They are the fifth wild card team to win the Super Bowl, joining the 1980 Oakland Raiders, the 1997 Denver Broncos, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers. They join the 1988 San Francisco 49ers as the only team to go 10-6 in the regular season and win the Super Bowl. They defeated three division champions – arguably the three best teams heading into the playoffs. I am reminiscent of the 1997 Arizona Wildcats run to the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, when they defeated three #1 seeds, including then 34-1 Kansas, North Carolina (Dean Smith's final game as head coach) and the defending National Champion Kentucky Wildcats.

It's amazing what people can do when the odds are stacked against them yet they perform as a team. I have seen it every day for nearly 20 years as an air traffic controller. We perform at a near perfect level each and every day because we perform as a unit. The airplanes move day in and day out because of that teamwork. Now imagine if Michael Strahan wasn't there to play defense tonight and instead, you plugged in a rookie. Well, Justin Tuck had five tackles and two sacks, so perhaps they still win. What if he's not there either? What if you took four starters from the Giants' defense and four from their starting offense? How do you like their chances now? How about if they had to play with eight men on defense against New England? How do you like their chances now? Unfortunately, that's what we face every single day. We are working the same traffic with less controllers, less sectors staffed, less assists staffed. No offense to our new hires, but #1 draft picks are few and far between. Even so, they still have to learn the playbook. Imagine having to learn the playbook the day of the Super Bowl? That's the position we're in. The difference is the understaffed Giants lose the Super Bowl – the understaffed controllers lose airplanes.

Against the odds, airplanes keep departing and landing safely. Often times, we're playing defense because we just don't have the staffing to play offense. We're playing catch-up with the airplanes, putting airplanes into holding or leaving them on the ground because we simply do not have the staffing to accommodate the traffic. The FAA attributes these delays to "volume", when in 2001, with adequate staffing, we handled that volume. It's apparent these delays are due to staffing, whatever BS line this administration wants to feed the flying public.

Check out the story from Sunday's Washington Post. FAA Chief Operating Officer Hank Krakowski: "'We have some places that are under a little bit of strain,' Krakowski acknowledged, pointing to facilities that control air traffic in the Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas areas, which are some of the nation's busiest." No worries – just low staffing at Chicago (American and United hub), Atlanta (Delta hub) and Dallas (Delta and American hub). Hank says the three busiest airports in the country are under a little bit of strain. I know people at those facilities. "A little bit of strain" in this case is like saying a woman is "a little pregnant".

I won't bash the media too much, since I have some dear friends who have written some wonderful pieces for us. I also know that the message is getting out and the writers are making a valiant effort to tell the balanced story. I just want to go on record as saying this is not about money and this is not about a contract dispute. This is about controllers leaving in unprecedented numbers – beyond the wildest predictions of the FAA – because of the dreadful work environment. The FAA knowingly and willingly created this work environment, forcing people to the exits. They froze the wages of those who dared to remain and slashed the starting wages of the replacements. I have never seen so many people resign or flat turn down the job in my 20 years.

Tomorrow, I return to work with thousands of my brothers and sisters around the country. We go back, knowing how much we love our job and hate our employer. Hopefully, we'll have a fourth quarter drive up our sleeve tomorrow – and the next day – and the day after that.

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