I love the radio

I love YouTube. Some of the videos will leave you in stitches from laughing so hard. Other don’t have video, just audio. One I was pointed to recently was “JFK Bad day at the office –ATC.” It runs about nine minutes, and it is but a snippet of a typical day in New York. Having flown in and out of there for years, I recognize the controller’s voice and his frustration.

As much as I dread the delays and issues of flying into New York, some of the funniest transmissions have come from there. When you fly into John F. Kennedy International from the south, a common clearance is to cross the HOGGS intersection at FL180. One of the Mexican airlines (I don’t recall which one) was given that clearance, which he read back. A few minutes later, the controller, stunned that the flight in question was still at the previously assigned altitude, said, “Hey, I told you to cross HOGGS at one-eight-oh.” The response? “Some days you make it, some days you don’t.”

What can you say to that?

An Air China 747 once was taxiing at night at JFK and seemed to be determined to just bully his way to the runway. I could hear him making his way around the airport while I not-so-patiently waited to get out of the ramp. The final straw was when he cut off a Delta flight that was also exiting the ramp. The Delta crew queried, “What the hell is Air China doing?” The frequency—and this is truly rare at JFK—got totally silent. A second later, it was the controller cursing. “I don’t know what the hell Air China is doing! Air China doesn’t know what the hell Air China is doing! All aircraft just stop. Air China, taxi to the end of the runway, and you are cleared for immediate takeoff. Just get out of here!” It could only happen in New York.

Proof that controllers have a sense of humor came from the JFK ATIS one day: “Attention all airmen. Managers and supervisors working radar. Speak slowly and succinctly please.” Classic.

Others have circulated lists on the Internet over the years of things that have supposedly been said on the radio. Some I believe, some not so much. Some have been so distorted that the airports involved are clearly wrong. Some are urban legends. Some controllers are also famous. There was one at La Guardia for years who had a reputation among pilots for being a horrible ground controller. Airplanes would somehow end up facing each other, or getting farther away from their gate, or just parked somewhere for no apparent reason. One time the airport was a parking lot for airplanes hit by weather delays, and everyone was trying to ask a question. At one point, there were no responses from Ground, so it got quiet for a few seconds. A different—but all too familiar–voice came on: “All aircraft please stand by. Controller change in progress.” A second or so later, a pilot keyed the mic and said what we were all thinking: “Oh, boy. Here we go.” That had to hurt.

I’m sure you all have your tales of things said and heard. Send them in, so we can all share a chuckle or two.–Chip Wright

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  • Bob

    You just can’t write an article about this without giving honorable mention to the infamous Boston John!