RENO — Twenty-nine air traffic controllers from nineteen major U.S. airports have united to demand on-duty nap time from the Federal Aviation Administration. The protesters began hunger strikes to raise awareness of their right to sleep after the latest of six recent incidents in which air traffic controllers were discovered asleep on the job.
“We’re not embarrassed about napping. We just want what every other American earning $109,000 a year has,” said protester Derek Potter, air traffic controller in Arizona. “During an eight-hour shift, we want the right to close our eyes and tune out the high-stress, chaotic world around us, at least once every twenty minutes, for about ten minutes.” The twenty-minutes on, ten-minutes off proposal has sparked a national debate among the air traffic community.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union of air traffic controllers founded in 1987 in response to the Reagan firings of 1981, has come out against their hunger-striking members. “We’re asking these controllers to take a bite of a sandwich and rethink their strategy,” said executive VP Patricia Ullmann. “Since the Reagan era, our union’s stated policy is to do whatever the federal government tells us to do. It’s fairly simple rule to remember.”
Regional NATCA vice president Phil Zilonis said Tuesday, “if these controllers want sleep, they should have trained to become golfers or teachers or rock stars. We warned them long and hard. They spent months in sleep deprivation training before starting their duties. We have plenty of people lined up who are willing to give up the folly of sleep for a hundred K a year.”
Hank Krakowski, head of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, resigned Thursday in response to the latest sleeping incident at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, in which a controller fell asleep for sixteen minutes while on duty. One of the hunger strikers, Jerry Santorini conceded that sixteen minutes was an “unspeakable dereliction of duty. Ten minutes should be the max while planes are actually within sight. That’s all we’re asking.”
Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt accepted Air Traffic head Krakowski’s resignation and immediately issued an order to assign three U.S. Army band members to each of twenty-six major airport towers throughout the nation to reassure the public that flying is safe. “These army band members are to be stationed with their musical instruments directly behind air traffic controllers in airport towers during the midnight shift. If band members see the air traffic controller nodding off, even just a little, then they will tune their instruments and begin playing the song ‘Pershing’s Own’ or even their ‘Festive Overture for Band.’”
President Obama praised the FAA plan and assured the nation’s flyers that “we have things under control now, given these band assignments. I only wish their repertoire included a few pieces from Motley Crue.”
The hunger-striking controllers said in a Monday press conference that they have been subject to great abuse since beginning their strike. “People have tried to taunt us with Milky Way bars and Taco Bell burritos. That is the price we pay for standing up for justice. They know our weak spots, but we haven’t given in yet.”
Caleb Johnson, a twelve-year-old son of protester Larry Johnson, Chicago, spoke at the strikers’ press conference Thursday. “My father’s only crime is that he wants to rest a little bit while planes are circling, not landing so much. What kind of a country are we? Those things have auto-pilot anyways.”
The protesting controllers received added support following their press conference when U.S. Congressman Daryl Jacobs announced, “I am totally outraged by these incidents. This is absolutely unacceptable. All other Americans, especially congressmen, get regular napping times on their jobs, except maybe circus performers. The combination of safety and napping is a national priority, and I am committed to working 24/7 until these controllers get their cot time.”
The hunger-striking controllers said they would continue their protest on the job until they passed out or fell asleep, “whichever comes first.” One of the striking controllers, who asked not to be identified, admitted that their hunger strike has a loop-hole which allows a mild, early morning consumption of lightly-salted Kettle chips.
In response to the air traffic controllers’ hunger strike, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced that it had set up an investigation into the benefits of on-duty napping for cross-country freight truckers.