29/01/2013 16:14 GMT | Updated 31/03/2013 06:12 BST

Why Having Parents Who Are Air Traffic Controllers is the Best Thing Ever

Once my Dad also was on shift whilst I was flying back from New York, which meant that for a short period of time, he was directing the aircraft that I was currently flying over the Atlantic in. When he told me later that he had done so I was amazed, but he didn't seem to think that it was much of a big deal.

Before I start this article, I feel as if I should make a clarification about my parent's jobs.

They were Air Traffic Controllers.


My Dad's job for a great deal of his career was communicating with pilots flying from London Heathrow to New York over the Atlantic, telling them where to go. My Mum's job was dealing with flight delays and planning out flight routes across UK airspace, particularly for big events like the Olympics when the entire world's population had to fly from airports all over the world into a single airport within something like 14 hours. They met and fell in love at work. They didn't work in the control tower. They didn't even work at the airport. They worked at a huge control centre in Swanwick, near Poole in Dorset, where all UK National Air Traffic control is based.

Now I say I've used their jobs in the past tense. Don't worry, they haven't been fired. Nor have they died as a result of a terrible Air Traffic Control based tragedy. Imagine that. No wait, I can't. How does that even work? I mean, they were nowhere near planes and they worked totally different shifts.

No I am using the past tense as they have both just retired. They've had more than 60 years of experience between them, but that's it. No more. No more day shifts. No more night shifts. No more in-depth conversations with me about the ins-and-outs of navigation and why a super Boris Island won't work because all the geese in the Thames Estuary would be blended into a jet engine.

I shall miss it.

In fact, I will miss more than just their conversations about work. There were many great things about having parents doing such a niche, crazy, technically demanding and mentally ridiculous job:


We were able to go down the M4, I could point any plane in the sky and my Mum or Dad would be able to say "Oh that's the BA3596 heading to Copenhagen" without batting an eyelid.


My Dad's job involved contacting pilots whilst they were flying the plane, telling them where they are and where they would need to go next. So essentially they would start with a 'call sign' directed at the aircraft so they know to respond, say "hello" and then would more or less say "up, down, left, right" to the plane and so on.

Once my Dad also was on shift whilst I was flying back from New York on a school trip, which meant that for a short period of time, he was directing the aircraft that I was currently flying over the Atlantic in. When he told me later that he had done so I was amazed, but he didn't seem to think that it was much of a big deal.

He also directed Concorde quite a few times whilst it was in service. Does he ever talk about navigating Concorde loudly in the household or have a big picture in the hallway with the words "I NAVIGATED YOU" tattooed on the photograph? Nah. It wasn't that much of a thing apparently. I actually think he's talked more about making spaghetti bolognaise (he does do a good spaghetti bolognaise) than communicating and helping to navigate the fastest passenger plane that has ever existed.

In fact, to this day I'm not sure whether him directing aircraft was the coolest thing in the entire world, or the scariest. I mean, don't get me wrong he was very well trained and I am not doubting his ability, but he does always need assistance with setting up a Tom Tom before a long car journey.


Whilst dealing with any utilities or credit card company on the phone, my parents were taught the superpower ability to throw across any personal details at lightning speed.

"What's that, you want me to spell out my name?" I would overhear them say whilst sitting in the kitchen. "It's Golf Lima Echo November November, Bravo Romeo Yankee Alpha November."

They didn't even notice that they were doing it.

(I would later bulk up the confidence and try to do the same later, but would only be able to muster "Scarlet Charlie... er.... Octagon... Tesco Tesco. Bacon Ryan... Yacht.... erm.... Arnold.... Netherlands? ")


I've talked a lot about my Dad here, but don't let this overshadow my Mum. Mum was working during the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption (no I didn't know how to spell that I just copied and pasted it from Wikipedia). As ash cloud particles were floating in the air potentially clogging up aircraft engines, it was her department's decision for all UK flights to be immediately grounded at the nearest airport for several consecutive days. You might remember what happened next: travel chaos ensued, millions were left stranded on holiday or in unfamiliar countries, insurance companies were left substantially out of pocket...

So, that's right Ladies and Gentlemen. The Bryan Family for a short period had helped cause the entire airline industry to fall on to its knees.

To be honest, I bet you aren't that surprised.

What didn't help my Mum during this very difficult time at work was my general ignorance to it all. "Why would this ash cloud stuff be that much of a concern?" I asked her, whilst eating my cereal first thing in the morning whilst she had her 'I'm so tired I might just sleep whilst standing up' coming-back-from-nightshift face.

"Because, Scott, we wouldn't like planes falling out the sky now would we?"

I was working in retail at the time. Seeing what she was dealing with at work I decided not to talk about my daily pains of working in a local shop to my parents for a while.


My parents also once hired out Final Destination from the local Blockbusters, thinking that it was a comedy film.

No, really.

So you can imagine, I was watching the film with my parents at the tender age of 14, terrified that in the film's first few scenes, a plane with all of the main characters in is starting to disintegrate before blowing up in the sky.

How did my parents try to reassure me?

"Don't worry Scott. The plane wouldn't blow up technically in that way. The roof would rip off about ten, maybe fifteen seconds later the engines blowing up would only separate the plane in thirds not half..."

Great. Thanks.


And finally... Why was my Mum and Dad's job so absolutely awesome?

They wore massive headphones with the ear bits the size of dinner plates at work, thirty years before East Londoners realised that wearing these types of headphones were really quite trendy.