Airliners Circle While Controller Takes A Break

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For most workers, taking a break to visit the restroom is not a big deal. But if you are an air traffic controller, and you've been at your post over two and a half hours, and the only other worker on duty is a trainee not qualified to take over for you, well, it could mean that two Southwest 737s will have to fly holding patterns for 18 minutes. That's what happened at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport last Friday, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). Before leaving the tower to go to a restroom, the controller called the Boston Tracon and asked them to hold incoming flights, NATCA said. The controller was scheduled to work alone from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Also, while the controller was away, the trainee answered a call from a pilot of a Lifeguard Flight that was requesting to taxi for takeoff to Teterboro, NATCA said. The trainee told the pilot he would have to wait 10 minutes for the controller to return. The pilot said he had lungs on board. "Is there anything you can do?" The trainee said no.