Channel 9 – Let Them Listen In

Most companies keep their back operations separated from their customers’ view.  After all, who wants our customers to observe us when things aren’t going right?  For years, United Airlines has bucked the trend and let their customers (passengers on the plane) listen in to the conversations between their pilots and Air Traffic Control. 

It is a simple, yet brilliant idea.  The in-flight audio programming is accessed by plugging in a pair of earphones (which they also provide you) into your arm rest and selecting which XM satellite radio channel you want to listen to.  If you tire of Country, Urban and Rock, you can tune in to Channel 9 and hear what your pilots hear.

Boring, right?  Not for me!  Call me a geek, but on my 6,000 mile journey last week, I listened to Channel 9 almost the entire time.   OK, ok, to be honest, there were long periods of silence while we were smoothly flying for hours between major cities, but there were some moments of excitement.  Since my flight number was printed on my ticket, I could easily identify when Air Traffic Control told our pilots to watch out for another airplane which was headed towards us and would be passing (safely) a mile from us.  I watched out the window and within a few minutes, saw a large jet pass us going the other way.  I know, I know, brief moment of fun!

On the other hand, when we approached any major metropolitan area, the channel became alive with chatter.  I found it extremely interesting to listen to the patterns of communication between pilots (not just ours, but all on our frequency) and the local Air Traffic Controllers.  When there were problems (such as a 90 minute delay while we waited in the air for a broken down plane to get moved off the runway), I knew what was happening.

When we had another 2 hour delay while sitting in line on the runway, I was fascinated by the chatter and directions being given by the tower.  I ended up arriving at my destination a few hours later than planned, but I felt like I was kept in the loop the entire time. 

Apparently, it is up to the pilot’s discretion on whether or not to share the channel with the passengers and I applaud those pilots who are customer focused and share it on every flight.  Thanks for the great idea, United and how about upgrading your Customer Service and do the same, all you other airlines?

Thanks for reading,



One response to “Channel 9 – Let Them Listen In

  1. I listened to Channel 9 both ways on a recent LGA-DEN trip. It was nice to know when the turbulence was going to end, but I do wish they could find a way to share that kind of info with the whole cabin. The crew seems to have been trained to not say anything about the flight in advance, as if a phrase spoken by a flight attendant is a legally enforceable contract.
    Lighten, up, say you “hope” the flight will land early, and smile! Ugh.

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