Benny Jetson's alarm clock goes off at 4:00AM. He momentarily thinks about hitting the snooze button, but changes his mind. He needs at least two hours to wake up before going into work. His shift starts at 6:00AM. Because air traffic controllers are needed twenty-four hours a day (not the same guy for that whole stretch, fortunately), it takes major string pulling to get a decent shift.
Benny hopes that he's working with his usual crowd. Working with new hires or controllers he's never worked with adds to the stressload. Like he doesn't already have enough. His supervisor, Larry, is waiting for him at the door of the briefing room. Larry is a stern man with twenty-plus years of air traffic experience. As a former military pilot, Larry thrives on order and perfectly polished shoes.
"It's about time Benny. You're thirty-six seconds late!" Larry barks.
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. It won't happen again, sir." Benny says as he makes his way to his post—in other words, his desk. He has a headset and sits in front of a couple of screens that give him the 411 on all the happenings in the air and on the ground.
Not all traffic controllers are former pilots. In fact, most controllers wouldn't know the inside of a flight deck from a joystick in an arcade—Benny is one of those controllers. He uses flight plans to predict what pilots are doing and where they should be going. Benny only needs to know how to read those flight plans, and he can do that fine.
Larry starts the daily briefing with new information about the weather. There's a chance of afternoon showers. Furthermore, Larry updates the other air traffic controllers on any new rules and procedures before they sign in for the day.
Benny picks up his nametag and headset, then sets his coffee at his AOR (area of responsibility). That's a cute little acronym they make up for you when you don't get an office.
It's a smooth first shift. He puts in his two hours guiding the pilots through take-offs and landings, but doesn't need to do much adjusting since the weather is holding up and there are no delays. He takes his break and gets back to work, to enter another easy shift of simply giving pilots clearance.
There's a bit of concern when a flight arrives ahead of schedule and Benny has to ask the pilot to stay in the air until the flight before him lands, but Benny is quick acting enough that it isn't a problem.
After his third break, the afternoon showers begin. They need to shut down a runway due to flooding, which causes a lot of congestion at the airport. Flights are being delayed left and right and Benny has to work even harder monitoring flight plans as they change every couple of minutes due to weather and runway closures. It could be worse, though. There could be a plane malfunction. Pilots are used to flying in bad weather, but when an engine fails, it's a little more stressful—and even more stressful to guide that pilot to land and alert the response staff.
Pilots may be prepared to handle anything...but that's some scary stuff right there. Luckily, the rain is all that's getting in their way today.
By his last two-hour shift, the rain has let up significantly, though there are still some flooded areas that make creating Benny's daily dance of the planes a little less smooth. But he's a pro and he handles it as such. By 4:00PM, it's finally quitting time.
After around eight hours (not including his breaks) of talking to pilots and staying extra-Karate-Kid-alert, he's ready to take a quiet ride back home, listen to some adult contemporary radio, and spend the rest of the evening taking it easy. He's got another 6:00AM shift tomorrow and he needs to be well-rested.