Controllers -- Terminal or En Route?

n9088d

New Member
I'm a CFII and have been a pilot for 9 years. I'm currently going through the air traffic control application process and will be submitting my geographical preferences soon (including whether I'd like terminal or en route). This post is ONLY FOR CONTROLLERS who have experience in the real world in an ATC facility. Please don't respond if you've merely been selected or only have an academy date, etc. I'm only interested in people's input with actual experience for this topic.

Here's my question... controllers, do most of you prefer terminal or en route? Is it a wide mix of opinions? What are some of the most important pros and cons of each? I'm leaning toward terminal (MCI, a combined facility) at this point, but I'm having difficulty deciding between that and ZKC. Any input or advice would be greatly appreciate. Again, ONLY FROM actual controllers, please. Thanks!!
 

ATC RET 2003

No More Vectors
I did 21 years terminal and 4 years enroute. I liked terminal better because I knew it better. If I had started in a center, I probably would have liked IT better.

All of my terminal facilities were up/down. Tower time was usually no more than once a week... sometimes less. It was good to see the airplanes. That's probably the thing I missed most after changing to enroute.

I eventually reached the highest grade I could as a controller (GS-14) but only after moving four times. In a center, you will get promoted without having to move at all.

There was a thread a while back on this subject that had posts from some current controllers. Here's a link. ATLTRACON and queeno have worked at both facility types and Fox Xray, I believe, is enroute only.
 

n9088d

New Member
I did 21 years terminal and 4 years enroute. I liked terminal better because I knew it better. If I had started in a center, I probably would have liked IT better.

All of my terminal facilities were up/down. Tower time was usually no more than once a week... sometimes less. It was good to see the airplanes. That's probably the thing I missed most after changing to enroute.

I eventually reached the highest grade I could as a controller (GS-14) but only after moving four times. In a center, you will get promoted without having to move at all.

There was a thread a while back on this subject that had posts from some current controllers. Here's a link. ATLTRACON and queeno have worked at both facility types and Fox Xray, I believe, is enroute only.
Thanks for your reply. I appreciate your input. I found the thread you linked to very useful.

Here's a question for you... As I understand it, at MCI the controllers work 1 day up, 1 day down, and so on. Meaning they switch every day. Am I understanding this correctly? Is that a typical way a combined facility works, or should I realistically plan on spending much more time in the TRACON than the tower? That could possibly be a deal breaker for me as ONE of the biggest advantages for me of working terminal would be seeing airplanes.

Also... you mentioned promotions. There are typically no hindrances to making it to CPC (FPL) where ever you may be, correct? MCI is a level 9 facility at the moment, so my question is will I be able to make CPC pay within 2-4 years of starting there? I realize level 9 CPC pay is less than level 12 CPC pay, but that's okay with me. I'm curious about this because I am not able to relocate, so I'd be in it at MCI for the long haul.
 

whysoserial

New Member
I'm terminal and that's all I know. I can give you stories from friends who are enroute but I won't bother. I like terminal. It's easier to move around and I enjoy the view. My first facility was an up/down. I don't know how other up/downs worked but the one I was at, you were scheduled for either radar or tower for a given day. One might work radar for weeks in a row, same with tower. Depending on staffing, you could work both in a day. As for training, most seem to train you in the tower first and the tracon second. Can't guarantee that though. I'm at a tower only now, no surprises what you will work obviously. You'll get to the top of your pay quicker as you have less positions to check out on, if that means anything to you.

Don't get caught up in the facility levels and going for a 12. I hear people talk about mid to low level towers and they are talking about a 9 and how it's not a 12. SFO is a frickin' 9. Take it easy and move up, with terminal you can do that. A level 9 up/down seems like a great choice and if you are from that area, even better. Don't sell yourself out and take a 12 but would require you to move somewhere you don't want to, you'll end up hating yourself.

If you end up doing well in training, I don't see why you wouldn't be able to check out within 2-4 years. I don't know much about MCI though.
 

n9088d

New Member
I'm terminal and that's all I know. I can give you stories from friends who are enroute but I won't bother. I like terminal. It's easier to move around and I enjoy the view. My first facility was an up/down. I don't know how other up/downs worked but the one I was at, you were scheduled for either radar or tower for a given day. One might work radar for weeks in a row, same with tower. Depending on staffing, you could work both in a day. As for training, most seem to train you in the tower first and the tracon second. Can't guarantee that though. I'm at a tower only now, no surprises what you will work obviously. You'll get to the top of your pay quicker as you have less positions to check out on, if that means anything to you.

Don't get caught up in the facility levels and going for a 12. I hear people talk about mid to low level towers and they are talking about a 9 and how it's not a 12. SFO is a frickin' 9. Take it easy and move up, with terminal you can do that. A level 9 up/down seems like a great choice and if you are from that area, even better. Don't sell yourself out and take a 12 but would require you to move somewhere you don't want to, you'll end up hating yourself.

If you end up doing well in training, I don't see why you wouldn't be able to check out within 2-4 years. I don't know much about MCI though.
Another great reply. Thanks for the information. I'm glad to know more about the way up/down scheduling generally works. I'm definitely excited to have a great opportunity with a nice up/down facility nearby. I'm 45 minutes away from it though, and I'm only 5 minutes away from ZKC (level 11). I'm almost positive I'd like the work a little better at MCI, but ZKC offers a MUCH shorter drive and significantly better pay. Tough decision! I suppose it's possible the FAA will make it for me, but I need to get my decision made for my geo prefs.

This isn't based on anything concrete, but from the research I've done it seems that terminal people are on average happier with their situation than enroute folks. Of course there are plenty of exceptions. My goal here is to try to pinpoint what to attribute that to.
 

ATLTRACON

MODERATOR
There was a thread a while back on this subject that had posts from some current controllers. Here's a link. ATLTRACON and queeno have worked at both facility types and Fox Xray, I believe, is enroute only.
Wow was I chatty back then. Nice job RET '03. Hope to see you at Mark and Andi's sometime.

CJ
 

whysoserial

New Member
On another note too, I am also a pilot like yourself. Have been for 9 years. I've been an instructor, and have had other jobs flying. I still love to fly. I believe terminal would make more sense to you, not to mention being at an airport everyday. There is something to be said about that for someone who enjoys aviation.
 

n9088d

New Member
On another note too, I am also a pilot like yourself. Have been for 9 years. I've been an instructor, and have had other jobs flying. I still love to fly. I believe terminal would make more sense to you, not to mention being at an airport everyday. There is something to be said about that for someone who enjoys aviation.
Yes indeed. It's interesting you said that because I had that exact same thought. At the center I wouldn't even be anywhere near an airport. I wouldn't see a single aircraft my whole career, nor would I see an airport or weather (which are some of my favorite things). I'm pretty decided that I would enjoy terminal more, but I've still got to weigh the drive and pay factors. That's tough to do.
 

TripSix

Well-Known Member
Here's my question... controllers, do most of you prefer terminal or en route? Is it a wide mix of opinions? What are some of the most important pros and cons of each? I'm leaning toward terminal (MCI, a combined facility) at this point, but I'm having difficulty deciding between that and ZKC. Any input or advice would be greatly appreciate. Again, ONLY FROM actual controllers, please. Thanks!!
If you haven't guessed already, this isn't a question with a cut and dry answer.

Personally, I prefer terminal. Enroute, for me, was like putting on a cold, wet sock. Granted, I was "born" into a terminal environment...so enroute felt completely unnatural and I struggled with wasting all that "perfectly good space." On the other hand, I've also seen the "smacked in the head with a skillet" look from enroute folks transitioning to the terminal environment when they watch in horror at airplanes being vectored into each other (not literally, of course).

Both have their pros and cons. They are just different. Like most of us, you'll favor what you come to know. One is not easier, or better, than the other. I would say go with location first, and just roll with the punches in regards to what type of facility it is. However, since both are in the same area arrange a visit and get a feel for what they do.

One thing that may make a difference for you is movement. Terminal facilities allow more movement options (requirements, in some cases) than enroute facilities do. Those centers like to chain you to the chair once they get the hooks in you ;)
 

n9088d

New Member
If you haven't guessed already, this isn't a question with a cut and dry answer.

Personally, I prefer terminal. Enroute, for me, was like putting on a cold, wet sock. Granted, I was "born" into a terminal environment...so enroute felt completely unnatural and I struggled with wasting all that "perfectly good space." On the other hand, I've also seen the "smacked in the head with a skillet" look from enroute folks transitioning to the terminal environment when they watch in horror at airplanes being vectored into each other (not literally, of course).

Both have their pros and cons. They are just different. Like most of us, you'll favor what you come to know. One is not easier, or better, than the other. I would say go with location first, and just roll with the punches in regards to what type of facility it is. However, since both are in the same area arrange a visit and get a feel for what they do.

One thing that may make a difference for you is movement. Terminal facilities allow more movement options (requirements, in some cases) than enroute facilities do. Those centers like to chain you to the chair once they get the hooks in you ;)
Thanks for your thoughts. You guys have further sold me on terminal and reaffirmed what I was already thinking. Regarding your suggestion to arrange visits... I've been to ZKC twice (once within the last few months) and MCI once a couple months ago. I found the visits to be highly beneficial (and enjoyable!). One of the differences (of course there are many) that I noticed between the two facilities was the hustle and bustle of the center and the more quiet, low-key feel of the tower/TRACON (mostly, if not entirely, due to far fewer people in the facility).

If MCI and ZKC were the same distance from me and the pay was the same, this would be a no-brainer. MCI all the way.

One other question... you mentioned movement is sometimes required in the terminal world. What do you mean by this? As I am not able to relocate that could be a significant factor for me. I have always been under the impression that I'd be able to spend my entire career at MCI if I so desired. Does the FAA ship controllers from terminal to terminal without their asking? Thanks again.
 

ATLTRACON

MODERATOR
One other question... you mentioned movement is sometimes required in the terminal world. What do you mean by this? If you are happy to spend your career at MCI then so be it. This isn't the military where they make you move every few years. As I am not able to relocate that could be a significant factor for me. I have always been under the impression that I'd be able to spend my entire career at MCI if I so desired. Does the FAA ship controllers from terminal to terminal without their asking? Thanks again.
 

n9088d

New Member
That's what I thought. A couple people have brought up the relocating subject, so I just wanted to make sure. I have no desire to relocate somewhere for level 12 pay. I am guessing the point others were trying to make is, a) you have more OPPORTUNITIES (if, and only if, you want them) to relocate in terminal; and b) you'll only be required to relocate if you make a personal requirement for yourself that you must have higher than level 9 (in my case as that is MCI) pay.

Thanks for clarifying.
 

TripSix

Well-Known Member
That's what I thought. A couple people have brought up the relocating subject, so I just wanted to make sure. I have no desire to relocate somewhere for level 12 pay. I am guessing the point others were trying to make is, a) you have more OPPORTUNITIES (if, and only if, you want them) to relocate in terminal; and b) you'll only be required to relocate if you make a personal requirement for yourself that you must have higher than level 9 (in my case as that is MCI) pay.

Thanks for clarifying.
I apologize for the confusion with my "requirements, in some cases" remark. By "requirements" I mean those of the individual controller (for whatever reason), not the agency. Opportunities would have been a better word. It's generally easier to move around/within the terminal environment than it is the enroute environment.

Again, sorry for the confusion

=)
 

n9088d

New Member
I apologize for the confusion with my "requirements, in some cases" remark. By "requirements" I mean those of the individual controller (for whatever reason), not the agency. Opportunities would have been a better word. It's generally easier to move around/within the terminal environment than it is the enroute environment.

Again, sorry for the confusion

=)
No problem at all! I was with you. Just wanted to make absolutely sure. Thanks for your reply.

Merry Christmas.
 

Vector4Food

This job would be easier without all the airplanes
The only thing I'll add to this, is that working Terminal or Enroute would drastically differ depending on the airspace.

Some en-route facilities are far less busy/complex than others, same for Terminal airspaces.
 
n9088d,

I'm an enroute controller... I was hired straight into a center and have been there ever since. I have many friends in the terminal environment as well have visited many terminals.

Many centers are known as sign on die on... meaning once you certify they are not easy to get out of. This is due to many factors such as the amount of people at any given center looking to leave, the long training time, and investment made in a controller many times leads management to be not so helpful with letting people go. Also... many centers it can take a few years to certify, once you're done the last thing someone wants to do it transfer somewhere and train all over again. Working at a center is like working for a large company, they generally are a large compound with 300-400 total employees, other than the people in your area of speciality you can go 20 years without knowing 80% of the people that work in the building.

Everyone I know that has worked at both terminal and enroute say they prefer terminal. From what I have seen it's just more nuts and bolts ATC. Now, that's not to say that you would be unhappy at a center, I enjoy it and while at some point I think it would be interesting to finish up my career at a terminal it's not something that is a big deal to me.

One advantage to a center is they are all higher paying facilities and generally are located in the suburbs, if one is located in an area that you like it makes it a more attractive place to work. Terminals on the other hand give you far more flexibility as far as location, they are located in all 50 states.
 

darli328

Well-Known Member
n9088d,

I'm an enroute controller... I was hired straight into a center and have been there ever since. I have many friends in the terminal environment as well have visited many terminals.

Many centers are known as sign on die on... meaning once you certify they are not easy to get out of. This is due to many factors such as the amount of people at any given center looking to leave, the long training time, and investment made in a controller many times leads management to be not so helpful with letting people go. Also... many centers it can take a few years to certify, once you're done the last thing someone wants to do it transfer somewhere and train all over again. Working at a center is like working for a large company, they generally are a large compound with 300-400 total employees, other than the people in your area of speciality you can go 20 years without knowing 80% of the people that work in the building.

Everyone I know that has worked at both terminal and enroute say they prefer terminal. From what I have seen it's just more nuts and bolts ATC. Now, that's not to say that you would be unhappy at a center, I enjoy it and while at some point I think it would be interesting to finish up my career at a terminal it's not something that is a big deal to me.

One advantage to a center is they are all higher paying facilities and generally are located in the suburbs, if one is located in an area that you like it makes it a more attractive place to work. Terminals on the other hand give you far more flexibility as far as location, they are located in all 50 states.
Any tips on how to get certified faster? Also out of curiosity are any of the controllers you work with pilots? I got an offer for a center and am more then happy to take it but because I'm a flight instructor I feel like there will be days I miss "seeing" airplanes. Anyone a pilot at a center and ever get this feeling?
 

n9088d

New Member
n9088d,

I'm an enroute controller... I was hired straight into a center and have been there ever since. I have many friends in the terminal environment as well have visited many terminals.

Many centers are known as sign on die on... meaning once you certify they are not easy to get out of. This is due to many factors such as the amount of people at any given center looking to leave, the long training time, and investment made in a controller many times leads management to be not so helpful with letting people go. Also... many centers it can take a few years to certify, once you're done the last thing someone wants to do it transfer somewhere and train all over again. Working at a center is like working for a large company, they generally are a large compound with 300-400 total employees, other than the people in your area of speciality you can go 20 years without knowing 80% of the people that work in the building.

Everyone I know that has worked at both terminal and enroute say they prefer terminal. From what I have seen it's just more nuts and bolts ATC. Now, that's not to say that you would be unhappy at a center, I enjoy it and while at some point I think it would be interesting to finish up my career at a terminal it's not something that is a big deal to me.

One advantage to a center is they are all higher paying facilities and generally are located in the suburbs, if one is located in an area that you like it makes it a more attractive place to work. Terminals on the other hand give you far more flexibility as far as location, they are located in all 50 states.
FX.. thanks for your helpful reply. Those are just the kind of details I'm looking for. It's great to be able to get insight from folks who have experience. To reiterate, my decision has now moved on from figuring out which type of work I'd like better (term vs enr) to weighing the other factors such as drive time and pay. I'm right down the road from the center (5 mins) and 45 mins from the terminal (MCI). Plus the center pays significantly better. BUT... I'm convinced I'd like the work better at the terminal, especially since I'm a pilot. Interesting set of factors.

canadian_atc: just wanted to say thanks for that info too. Good point.
 
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