Listening to air traffic control onboard United Airlines

a blue square with a plane flying in the skyAs a former student pilot, I appreciate listening to “From the Flight Deck” (Channel 9) onboard United Airlines flights. While it is the captain’s prerogative as to whether or not to offer it on each flight, I have found it available more often than not. It brings the flights to life and enables you to track the flights’ progress, listen to other pilots in the area, and even be clued into delays before they are announced cabin-wide. Some of United’s pilots even use the channel to give mini-lectures about the aircraft you’re flying on and other information during the less active radio periods at cruise altitude.

Something I noticed recently was a change to the ground lingo used by the tower when communicating to aircraft nearing the departure runway. They used to advise pilots to “position and hold†when given clearance to taxi onto the takeoff runway. Now the statement is “line up and wait.†Before turning to the Google to find out why the change happened, I thought it must be to reduce the amount of airtime required to blurt it out. The new saying saves one syllable, and actually just seems faster to call out. Well, the real reason it was changed, as I found online, was to “conform with international phraseology standards.†Makes total sense, and upon further reading on other sites, it makes even more sense to avoid mistaking it with another current command, “hold position.†In fact, being reported today, a JetBlue Airways pilot was repeatedly told to “hold, hold, hold!†to avoid taxiing onto an active runway.

United is presently the only domestic airline that offers this unique eavesdrop into the communications between pilots and air traffic controllers. If you’d like to geek out more on the ground, check out live air traffic control action here.


  1. You’ve done a lot more flying then me, but the flights i have been on the pilots didn’t have it turned on. It was something i looked forward to, but alas it wasn’t available. I miss being able to hear the communications. It’s one of the perks of flying UA.

  2. Love listening to it. I listen every chance I get, while I’m reading on board. Now I understand certain things–like how much effort some pilots put into finding smooth air, while we’re circling around the airport, why the sound of the engine changes (often just because altitude is changing), etc etc. They usually tell you which channel to listen to in the airline mag.

  3. P.S. Meant to say WHY we’re circling around the airport, not WHILE–they look for smooth air throughout flight.

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