Chaos in Airworld? The 1981 PATCO Strike

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  05.07.13 | 8:00 AM ET

In the wake of last week’s sequester-driven air travel delays, Jalopnik looks back at a short-lived 1981 strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, better known as PATCO. It’s a fascinating case study. Here’s writer Michael Ballaban:

As soon as the strike began, airlines reported losing $30 million a day. PATCO predicted insanity, with planes crashing into each other, hundreds, perhaps thousands (millions? billions?) of flights cancelled, and women and children crying and men gnashing their teeth.

The FAA began immediately to implement its contingency plan, which included asking airlines to voluntarily delay or cancel some flights, asking pilots to be a bit more vigilant, and calling in perhaps the best air traffic controllers in the world, the United States Air Force.

And after all that… nothing. Planes kept flying. Nobody crashed. Nobody died. Everybody still got to where they needed to go.

It spelled the end for PATCO.

Tags: Air Travel

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

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