Address the Most Urgent Need First
During my 21 years as an air-traffic controller, I’ve had a number of unexpected things happen, from a bomb threat to a helicopter pilot telling me that he had lost his engine and needed to land right away. I always remember what a veteran controller once told me: “It’s always going to get crazy—just don’t get flustered by it. Prioritize as you go, and that way you’ll get through the decision-making process.” It’s crucial to discern between a real emergency and something that can wait. For example, a departing flight that cannot get its gear to retract is less critical than an aircraft with smoke in the cockpit. For me, safety trumps efficiency every time.
Cherie Hitt is a supervisory air-traffic controller at the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.