How to deflate arrogant authority

This is mostly for fun, but there are lessons here.   When someone is losing it, and letting you have both barrels verbally, how do you handle it?

Actual Exchanges Between Pilots And Control Towers.


Tower: “TWA 2341, for noise reduction turn right 45 Degrees.”

TWA 2341: “Center, we are at 35,000 feet. How much noise can we make up here?”

Tower: “Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 727?”


From an unknown aircraft waiting in a very long takeoff queue: “I’m f-ing bored!”

Ground Traffic Control: “Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!”

Unknown aircraft: “I said I was f-ing bored, not f-ing stupid!”


O’Hare Approach Control to a 747: “United 329 heavy, your traffic is a Fokker, one o’clock, three miles, Eastbound.”

United 329: “Approach, I’ve always wanted to say this…I’ve got the little Fokker in sight.”


A DC-10 had come in a little hot and thus had an exceedingly long rollout after touching down.

San Jose Tower noted: “American 751, make a hard right turn at the end of the runway, if you are able.

If you are not able, take the Guadelupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the lights and return to the airport.”


A Pan Am 727 flight, waiting for start clearance in Munich, overheard the following:

Lufthansa (in German): “Ground, what is our start clearance time?”

Ground (in English): “If you want an answer you must speak in English.”

Lufthansa (in English): “I am a German, flying a German airplane, in Germany. Why must I speak English?”

Unknown voice from another plane (in a beautiful British accent): “Because you lost the bloody war!”


Tower: “Eastern 702, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on frequency 124.7”

Eastern 702: “Tower, Eastern 702 switching to Departure. By the way, after we lifted off we saw some kind of dead animal on the far end of the runway.”

Tower: “Continental 635, cleared for takeoff behind Eastern 702, contact Departure on frequency 124.7. Did you copy that report from Eastern 702?”

BR Continental 635: “Continental 635, cleared for takeoff, roger; and yes, we copied Eastern… we’ve already notified our caterers.”


The German air controllers at Frankfurt Airport are renowned as a short-tempered lot. They not only expect one to know one’s gate parking location, but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (a Pan Am 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747, call sign Speedbird 206.

Speedbird 206: “Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of active runway.”

Ground: “Speedbird 206. Taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven.”

The BA 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and slowed to a stop.

Ground: “Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?”

Speedbird 206: “Stand by, Ground, I’m looking up our gate location now.”

Ground (with quite arrogant impatience): “Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?”

Speedbird 206 (coolly): “Yes, twice in 1944, but it was dark, — And I didn’t land.”


While taxiing at London’s Gatwick Airport, the crew of a US Air flight departing for Ft. Lauderdale made a wrong turn and came nose to nose with a United 727. An irate female ground controller lashed out at the US Air crew, screaming: “US Air 2771, where the hell are you going? I told you to turn right onto Charlie taxiway! You turned right on Delta! Stop right there. I know it’s difficult for you to tell the difference between C and D, but get it right!” Continuing her rage to the embarrassed crew, she was now shouting hysterically: “God! Now you’ve screwed everything up! It’ll take forever to sort this out! You stay right there and don’t move till I tell you to! You can expect progressive taxi instructions in about half an hour, and I want you to go exactly where I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you! You got that, US Air 2771?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the humbled crew responded. Naturally, the ground control communications frequency fell terribly silent after the verbal bashing of US Air 2771. Nobody wanted to chance engaging the irate ground controller in her current state of mind. Tension in every cockpit out around Gatwick was definitely running high. Just then an unknown pilot broke the silence and keyed his microphone, asking: “Wasn’t I married to you once?”

TAP – A friend of mine flew for BA, now retired.  He flew me in the cockpit across the Atlantic to Heathrow on one occasion.  I was amazed I was allowed to be there as a mere passenger wired up to listen in to communications with ATC, but he’d arranged to fly the plane which I had booked on specially, granting me an upgrade to club and other favours.  This was in the good old days when the world hadn’t gone security-crazy.  He had similar control tower stories to relate, one also being from Frankfurt.  The tower announced a long delay with several jumbos waiting on the tarmac to take off.  Some American pilot responded on air with ‘Shit’.  The tower immediately responded with, ‘which flight said that?  you must immediately report yourself’, spoken in a German accent.  There was a silence which followed. Broken when one flight reported in with ‘this is Flight number …., British Airways.  We definitely did not say ‘shit’, which was then followed by dozens of other flights doing the same thing in turn.

As authority becomes more and more threatening, and technology makes us all easier to isolate, such responses might be becoming more rare than they were twenty and more years ago.  But it’s good to remember our sense of humour in the face of the arrogance and assaults of the powerful.  They would love to take it all away from us.  Gordon’s post says all we need is love.  I’d only add to that.  We also need a laugh.


4 Responses to “How to deflate arrogant authority”

  1. ian says:

    Brilliant, I love reading this sort of thing, and often, humour can repair a broken situation when nothing else could.

  2. nick says:

    It must be a stressful job in the control tower, so it is great that they can have a light moment with a bit of sarcasm, I would expect it more from the pilots.

    In my experience ‘arrogant authority’ have long memories and take the opportunity to remember and get revenge when they can

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