Air Traffic Control Stories

Date Received: February 17, 2000
Following are accounts of actual exchanges between airlines and control towers from around the world:


The controller was working a busy pattern and told the 727 on downwind to make a three-sixty (do a complete circle, usually to provide spacing between aircraft).

The pilot of the 727 complained, "Do you know it costs us two thousand dollars to make a three-sixty in this airplane? Without missing a beat the control tower replied, "Roger, give me four thousand dollars worth!"


PSA was following United, taxiing out for departure. PSA called the tower and said "Tower, this is United 586. We've got a little problem, so go ahead and let PSA go first". The tower promptly cleared PSA for takeoff before United had a chance to object to the impersonation.


A DC-10 had an exceedingly long roll out after landing with his approach speed just a little too high. San Jose Tower: "American 751 heavy, turn right at the end if able. If not able, take the Guadeloupe exit off of Highway 101 and make a right at the light to return to the airport."


Western Airlines had a term for its second officers. The term was "GIB," which stood for, "Guy In Back." The term was strictly unofficial and was actually frowned upon by the management at Western. It seems that some wise-guy pilot had been browsing through a dictionary and had made the discovery that a "gib" is a castrated tomcat.


It was a really nice day, right about dusk, and a Piper Malibu was being vectored into a long line of airliners in order to land at Kansas City.

KC Approach: "Malibu three-two-Charlie, you're following a 727, one o'clock and three miles."

Three-two-Charlie: "We've got him. We'll follow him."

KC Approach: "Delta 105, your traffic to follow is a Malibu, eleven o'clock and three miles. Do you have that traffic?"

Delta 105 (long pause and then in a thick southern drawl): "Well....... I've got something down there. Can't quite tell if it's a Malibu or a Chevelle, though."


Unknown Aircraft: "I'm $&!% bored!".

Air Traffic Control: "Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!!"

Unknown Aircraft: "I said I was %$&! bored, not $&!% stupid!"


O'Hare Approach Control: "United 329 Heavy, your traffic is a Fokker, one o'clock, 3 miles, eastbound."

United 329: "Approach, I've always wanted to say this...I've got that Fokker in sight."


The German air controllers at Frankfurt Airport are a short-tempered lot. They not only expect one to know one's gate parking location but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (a PanAm 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747 (call sign "Speedbird 206") after landing:

Speedbird 206: "Top of the morning Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of the active runway."

Ground: "Guten morgen! You vill taxi to your gate!" The big British Airways 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and slowed to a stop.

Ground: "Speedbird, do you not know vare you are going?"

Speedbird 206: "Stand by a moment ground, I'm looking up our gate location now."

Ground (with some arrogant impatience): "Speedbird 206, haff you never flown to Frankfurt before?!?"

Speedbird 206 (coolly): "Yes I have, in 1944. In another type of Boeing. I didn't stop."


Tower: "Eastern 702, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on 124.7."

Eastern 702: "Tower, Eastern 702 switching to Departure ... by the way, after we lifted off, we saw some kind of dead animal on the far end of the runway."

Tower: "Continental 635, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on 124.7; did you copy the report from Eastern?"

Continental 635: "Continental 635, cleared for takeoff roger; and yes, we copied Eastern and we've already notified our caterers."


Added August 30, 2015
A Pan Am 727 flight, waiting for start clearance in Munich, overheard the following:

Lufthansa (in German): "Ground, what is our start clearance time?"

Ground (in English): "If you want an answer you must speak in English."

Lufthansa (in English): "I am a German, flying a German airplane, in Germany. Why must I speak English?"

Unknown voice from another plane (in a beautiful British accent): "Because you lost the bloody war!"


While taxiing at London's Gatwick Airport, the crew of a US Air flight departing for Ft. Lauderdale made a wrong turn and came nose to nose with a United 727. An irate female ground controller lashed out at the US Air crew, screaming: "US Air 2771, where the hell are you going? I told you to turn right onto Charlie taxiway! You turned right on Delta! Stop right there. I know it's difficult for you to tell the difference between C and D, but get it right!" Continuing her rage to the embarrassed crew, she was now shouting hysterically: "God! Now you've screwed everything up! It'll take forever to sort this out! You stay right there and don't move till I tell you to! You can expect progressive taxi instructions in about half an hour, and I want you to go exactly where I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you! You got that, US Air 2771?"

"Yes, ma'am," the humbled crew responded. Naturally, the ground control communications frequency fell terribly silent after the verbal bashing of US Air 2771. Nobody wanted to chance engaging the irate ground controller in her current state of mind. Tension in every cockpit out around Gatwick was definitely running high. Just then an unknown pilot broke the silence and keyed his microphone, asking: "Wasn't I married to you once?"


Tower: "TWA 2341, for noise reduction turn right 45 Degrees."

TWA 2341: "Center, we are at 35,000 feet. How much noise can we make up here?"

Tower: "Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 727?"

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