Getting Angry on the Aircraft Radios Gets You . .

That controller is really pissing me off!

Ever hear someone sound nasty and sarcastic on the aircraft radio? I’ve heard it, many times. I hope it was never you.

We are all human. Some days, life gets the better of us. The dog peed on the carpet. There was that fight with your companion. Traffic was bad on the drive to the airport. In flight, the air is very rough. You just want to take out your misery on someone else.

Maybe, right now, the air traffic controller seems to be ignoring you. Or, he’s so busy, he’s speaking at light speed. You’re fed up. That’s the last straw. You let him have it on the radio:

“You got time for Cessna 1234 Alpha*, or are you going to let me fly in circles until I run out of gas?!”

I’ll admit, a mean-spirited question, such as this, will get attention. Is it the kind of attention you want?

The reason sarcasm gets attention on the radio is because it stands out as something unusual. When someone lets an arrow fly on the radio, it draws attention. Everybody’s attention.

The aviation radio band is a party line. It’s frequencies are wide open and anybody can listen in. Not only can all other pilots on the frequency hear someone lose their cool, people on the ground with radio scanners hear it too. The supervisor on duty in the air traffic control facility may hear it, if he is listening in at the time.

When you speak on the radio, you are essentially on stage, performing for a fairly large audience. What kind of impression do you wish to make on stage? If it’s: “I can’t control myself,” you will probably succeed with one bad remark.

If the argument against showing your rear end on the radio is not compelling enough, consider this. You will always get better results from ATC when you leave the sarcasm out of the conversation. Air traffic controllers are people too, deserving the same respect and patience you would show to any professional.

Yes, I know there are controllers out there that sound grumpy. Consider that they are usually under a lot of pressure to perform despite fatigue, problems at home, and who knows what else. If you encounter a grumpy controller on the radio, overlook the tone of voice and pay attention to the clearance. The clearance is all that matters.

Professional pilots, and those that aspire to be professional, don’t lose their cool on the radio. If you are agitated, separate what is causing your agitation from what needs to be done to safely and professionally fly your airplane. Pilots call this act of separating the good from the bad “compartmentalizing.”

Put another way, toss the irritants in a mental strong box and save them for analysis after you’ve landed and walked away from the airplane. When you maintain a professional demeanor on the radio, you set the tone for ATC and for others who may be listening in. Keeping your cool on the radio is always the right answer, no matter what else happens.

*Maybe there is an aircraft out there with this call sign, but I doubt it. I made it up.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Vasko February 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Loved your story, but how about the reverse ?? An ATC taking it out on a pilot ? Happened to me just yesterday.

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JeffKanarish February 11, 2012 at 11:34 am

Really? Tell us about it.

Jeff

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Nascimento February 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Hello,
good article jeff!

I’m not flying yet, but it’s good to know this, and it happens all the time,…,on your job(what ever it’s), your family, with your friends,…,and on this case, how you told, just focus on the clearence, it’s what matters!

Thanks for sharing it, and keep writing about aviation’s daily!

And Vasko, tell us about your experience!

See ya soon!

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Patrick February 13, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Hi Jeff,
I had an incident where some unknown party was replicating everything said on the radio. I did my tail numbers and this unknown party copied everything that i said word for word. I thought at first that this was a joke….or an echo….The parties were drunk I think and were using a handheld on the CTAF. ATC was thinking I was repeating myself. So for a while I was angry. My Bose A20 headset has bluetooth so I called ATC and told them that there was a serial. ” talker ” ( lol). They gave them the third degree.
I did not lose my cool but I was frustrated.

Cheers.
Great topic. Keep it up

Patrick

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JeffKanarish February 24, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Hey Patrick,

The FAA and the FBI will pursue these kinds of incidents. A person doing what seems like a practical joke on the radio is actually committing a federal offense.

Thanks for the comment Patrick.

Jeff

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LC April 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hi.. JEFF ….thaks a lot for this website…its really helpful (more in my case english as a second languaje)
I’m an ATC in a PACIFIC No Radar airspace ….Iwas thinking in this matter of Angry…here is my story…(of course tail number… maid up)

One day I have an aircraft in a airnav UL203 at F350 going to SPIM and other one in UZ30 at F370 going to SPIM too…. the situation here is the this airnavs and other 3 more converge in one point “LIXAS” …so the first aircraft request F370 but they will be at the same time in the same point so we say “Negative due Traffic” so the pilot argue in the whole flight…he said he was alone and why etc..?…
sometimes we can’t give you a huge explanation by HF radio that usually are with noise …or we can lose the comm…so
we can not give you a clearence “N1234 the ATC..clear to climb and maintain F370 for ten minutes then descend to F350 due to traffic….this space required for keep separately for 15min longitudinally becouse is NO radar… and we usually do this for their safety…why they argued for his own safety? Maybe i am wrong…or you thing in other posibility so let me Know your point of view please…sometimes it happend and we dont understand why they get angry…even though we explain

Thanks …greetings (sorry about my grammar)
fly safe and be well..
LC

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JeffKanarish April 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Hello LC,

Thank you for writing about this situation. I can see it is very frustrating for you. That feeling may help you understand how pilots feel when they cannot have the altitude they request.

Usually, when a pilot requests a higher altitude, it is for two reasons.

1. In most cases, jets burn less fuel at higher altitudes. If the headwind is stronger than forecast at a lower altitude, fuel burn may become critical. The airplane may not be able to fly all the way to its destination at the current rate of fuel burn. Getting to a higher altitude where fuel burn is less, or where the headwind is lower, is extremely important.

2. The current altitude may be very turbulent. Turbulence can cause all kinds of problems including making passengers sick, and causing injury to crew members in the cabin. A pilot may request a higher altitude to escape turbulence.

These concerns are very important to pilots. Sometimes, it is critical to change altitudes, and pilots get very frustrated when they cannot fix a problem. They don’t understand why you don’t move airplanes off the track so they can climb. That may be why they get angry.

On the other hand, some pilot are just assholes. Do you know this word, asshole? It is used for people who think they should get everything they want, when they want it. When they don’t get it, they get upset, like little babies.

So, LC, I really cannot say for sure why the pilots you talk to get angry. Their situation may be critical, or, they are just assholes.

Good luck. Please keep writing to me with your questions. It is great to hear from an air traffic controller.

Jeff

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