As an aviation geek, I love listening to air traffic control audio, and always enjoy the VASAviation YouTube channel, which does a great job covering noteworthy air traffic control interactions. The channel has just uploaded a video involving an interaction between an air traffic controller and a JetBlue pilot. This one is interesting, because I don’t think either party looks good here…
In this post:
JetBlue pilot and air traffic controller argue over semantics
VASAviation has the air traffic control audio plus a visual depiction of a recent interaction between an air traffic controller at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and a JetBlue pilot. The JetBlue Airbus A320 had just landed, though the gate the plane was heading to was still occupied by another JetBlue aircraft.
The JetBlue pilot advised the air traffic controller that it would be 10-15 minutes until the gate opened up, so the air traffic controller had to keep directing that plane around so that it stayed out of the way of other aircraft operating on the ramp.
It ended up taking 24 minutes until the JetBlue plane at the gate pushed back, meaning that the JetBlue aircraft that had been waiting could finally proceed to the gate. This is where argument starts (just past the three minute mark in the below video).
Once the JetBlue aircraft at the gate pushes back, the air traffic controller gives the departing JetBlue aircraft permission to taxi. Here’s what happens next, when the controller gives the arriving JetBlue aircraft permission to pull into the gate (and I’d recommend listening to the audio, because the tone is quite something):
Controller: “JetBlue 2436, continue to the gate.”
JetBlue pilot: “I can’t, it’s blocked.”
Controller: “Continue to the gate.”
JetBlue pilot: “Ground, JetBlue 2436, how am I supposed to get to the gate if the JetBlue airplane that pushed in front of us at B8 is blocking the gate?”
Controller: “JetBlue 2436, it’s an approval to continue to the gate. If you want something else, I can move you somewhere else.”
JetBlue pilot: “Okay I’ll move forward to like gate B9, but I can’t go to B8 because it’s blocked.”
Controller: “Okay, would you like to just hold there for the rest of the day?”
JetBlue pilot: “Okay, you’re being completely unprofessional, and you’re messing up ground, and you’re feeding a safety issue. Just tell me which gate you want me to park behind, don’t tell me to continue to a gate that I can’t get to, that’s blocked.”
Controller: “Are you able to get there now?”
JetBlue pilot: “I will be able to get there in about 30 seconds.”
Controller: “So the clearance to continue is valid.”
JetBlue pilot: “It wasn’t at the time you gave it to me.”
Controller: “I told you to hold position prior. So the clearance to continue… okay, call the tower, let me know when you can copy the number.”
This is such a pointless disagreement
San Francisco air traffic controllers seem to have quite a few incidents, and I’ve written about ones involving Lufthansa pilots, Qatar Airways pilots, and United pilots. Often there’s one side that seems more right than the other, but in this case I think they both just sound like jerks who are more interested in technically being right and stranding their ground rather than finding a solution?
Essentially, the ground controller cleared the JetBlue plane that pushed back from the gate to start its taxi, and then the controller cleared the JetBlue plane that was waiting for that same gate to taxi there. Okay, the taxiway was still briefly blocked, since the JetBlue plane that just pushed back hadn’t yet started its taxi, but it was going to any moment.
But then the controller and the pilot basically talk past one another:
- The controller should have probably said “continue to the gate when able” or “continue to the gate when the company plane starts its taxi”
- The JetBlue pilot could have clarified the air traffic controller’s intent, confirming the instruction was to go to the gate once the other jet moved, but instead the pilot came in with an attitude (this is where the tone changes), as if he had no clue what the controller was suggesting
- It was unprofessional for the controller to ask the JetBlue pilot if he just wanted to hold at the current position for the rest of the day
- The two just kept talking past one another and doubled down because neither wanted to admit that they could have handled it a bit differently
As if this argument wasn’t silly enough, it seems that the debate continued off frequency, since the pilot was given a phone number to call.
An air traffic controller at SFO and a JetBlue pilot got into an argument over taxi instructions. Typically when I post about air traffic control interactions, it’s in situations where there’s reason for one party to be upset. This interaction is interesting because of how stupid the disagreement seems to be.
With how overworked air traffic controllers are, you’d think everyone could just stick to doing what’s necessary, rather than this silly drama.
What do you make of this SFO ATC and JetBlue A320 pilot interaction?