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.