Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Listening in on United's Channel 9

By Mike Grasso

Among the variety of audio selections available on United Airlines’ aircraft is Channel 9, which is dedicated to air traffic control communications. This programming, unique to United, allows passengers to monitor the airwaves and listen in on discussions ranging from upcoming weather and pilot reports of turbulence. Although most of the communication between air traffic control and pilots is fairly routine such as orders to adjust altitude, occasionally some rather exciting conversations take place.

In one instance, I listened in on a JetBlue flight requesting a reroute due to a depleting fuel supply from unanticipated inclement weather. Conditions continued to deteriorate until the pilot demanded to immediately land the aircraft in a nearby city. In another example, our pilot was within 50 feet of landing on the runway at SFO when he decided to immediately abort landing and quickly ascend back up. The reason as heard on Channel 9: Onboard computer was warning of a spacing issue as another plane was landing on a parallel runway. Definitely some exciting activity and exchanges of words on Channel 9, although most of the time it is pretty tame.

Channel 9 is available on most mainline United Airlines (not United Express) aircraft, and is subject to pilot discretion whether to substitute alternate programming.