What is the proper way to contact a new air traffic control facility after you have be instructed to do so by the controller you are currently interacting with?

As a practical example: Here in Northern California, I will typically contact NorCal Approach on 125.4 to get flight following. If I travel ~50 miles north, approach will tell me to contact Oakland Center on 132.2. When I contact Oakland Center, what is the proper way to announce myself?

My original CFI instructed me to say:

Oakland Center, Tail Number, with you on 132.2

However my new CFI, says that is incorrect and in fact alluded to the idea that perhaps it was ridiculous. His instructions were:

Oakland Center, Tail Number

However, the two times I had used the more abbreviated version above, the controller seemed unsure of my intentions and I had to state (in plain english because I was not sure how to communicate this) "NorCal Approach just sent me over to you".

What is the proper way to handle this situation?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The controllers know which frequency they are talking on. There really is no need to tell them. You should, however, state your present altitude, since they need to verify your mode C indication on first contact. "Oakland Center [callsign] maintaining 3500 ft" $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 16:42
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ A lot pilots used to use the phrase "with you", but it is non-standard and adds nothing of value to the radio exchange. It simply wastes (sometimes valuable) air time which could be used by someone else. As J Hougaard says, you don't need to use the frequency, unless you are calling flight service who monitors multiple frequencies but doesn't broadcast on all of them at the same time. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 17:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Also, the phrase "with you" is frequently mocked and is part of a running joke on certain boards populated by professional pilots. I suggest listening to LiveATC for a busy Center, and seeing if you ever hear that phrase from a top-level pilot. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 17:04
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Just about the only time that it's reasonable to say the frequency is when (as occasionally happens) a controller wants you to go to another frequency that she is also handling. She will say, "N2222, change to my frequency 123.4". An expedient response is to change to that frequency (without reading it back beforehand), then say "N2222 up on 123.4". Likewise, there is actually a legit reason for saying "with you" - when you request a temporary frequency change e.g. to Flight Service. When you're done talking to them you flip back to the original controller and say "N2222 back with you." $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 17:26
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ By the way, props for just using plain English when you didn't know the expected phraseology. It might not always sound pro, but ordinary language gets the point across just fine. They are people on the other end of the radio, after all. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 11:09

3 Answers 3


In your situation:

Oakland Center, Aircraft Identification, Altitude

For example:

Oakland Center, Cessna 123AB, Level four thousand fife hundred.

See Aeronautical Information Manual, 5-3-1: ARTCC Communications.

b. ATC Frequency Change Procedures.

2. The following phraseology should be utilized by pilots for establishing contact with the designated facility:

(a) When operating in a radar environment: On initial contact, the pilot should inform the controller of the aircraft’s assigned altitude preceded by the words “level,” or “climbing to,” or “descending to,” as appropriate; and the aircraft’s present vacating altitude, if applicable.

1. (Name) CENTER, (aircraft identification), LEVEL (altitude or flight level).

2. (Name) CENTER, (aircraft identification), LEAVING (exact altitude or flight level), CLIMBING TO OR DESCENDING TO (altitude of flight level).

Exact altitude or flight level means to the nearest 100 foot increment. Exact altitude or flight level reports on initial contact provide ATC with information required prior to using Mode C altitude information for separation purposes.

(b) When operating in a nonradar environment:

(1) On initial contact, the pilot should inform the controller of the aircraft’s present position, altitude and time estimate for the next reporting point.

(Name) CENTER, (aircraft identification), (position), (altitude), ESTIMATING (reporting point) AT (time).

(2) After initial contact, when a position report will be made, the pilot should give the controller a complete position report.

(Name) CENTER, (aircraft identification), (position), (time), (altitude), (type of flight plan), (ETA and name of next reporting point), (the name of the next succeeding reporting point), AND (remarks).

AIM, Position Reporting, Paragraph 5-3-2.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ On a flight level, is the correct phraseology LEVEL FLIGHT LEVEL x? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 0:35
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @SimonRichter Yes, but it does sound odd. In level flight regardless of altitude, pilots commonly omit the adjective LEVEL. In the flight levels, this avoids a level level. Roger, Roger? $\endgroup$
    – Greg Bacon
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 11:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised AIM is not mentioning this, and I am unfamiliar with FAA to search for it, but EASA-land (CAP 413 page 19-20) also requires standing instructions from previous frequency (eg. assigned heading, speed, rate, or cleared level) $\endgroup$
    – Radu094
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 18:43

This depends on how you were instructed to change frequencies.
There three main ways this can happen:

Services Terminated ("dropped")

Bugsmasher 12345, radar services terminated, squawk VFR and try Podunk Approach on 123.45 for further advisories.

This happens to folks on VFR flight following when two facilities can't coordinate a handoff because of workload or some other issue. You're not "in the system" anymore so when you call the facility they suggested you're making an initial call like it's the first time you're talking to anyone:

Podunk Approach, Bugsmasher 12345 10 miles west of Smallville VOR three-thousand five-hundred level, request VFR advisories

or one of the many local variations on that request that controllers prefer.

You're going to have to go through the whole process of giving them your information (type, altitude, destination) again, because they have no idea who you are: You're just another VFR blip on the scope.

New Frequency, New Controller ("Handoff")

Bugsmasher 12345 contact Podunk Center on 123.45

This is probably the most common situation when you're talking to ATC: The controller is sending you to another sector that knows you're coming. They have your flight strip and know who you are and what you want, so your check-in is

Podunk Center, Bugsmasher 12345 three-thousand five-hundred, climbing to five-thousand five-hundred.

The new controller needs to verify your Mode C (altitude) squawk which is why that information is included in the call. Level, Climbing or Descending is also important (so if the Mode C is different than what you reported the next time the radar paints you they know why and don't have to consider it a Mode C error).
The controller will then give you an altimeter setting (because they're required to), and your flight continues as it did under the previous controller.

New Frequency, Same Controller

Bugsmasher 12345, change to my frequency 120.5.

This happens for a bunch of reasons - radio coverage issues or a bad RCO antenna for example, or if a controller needs to split the frequency for congestion. When you switch to the new frequency you let the controller know by saying

Podunk Center, Bugsmasher 12345 on 120.5

so they know you've made the frequency change.

This controller has already verified your Mode C (altitude) squawk and issued you an altimeter setting, so they don't need to do that dance again.

  • $\begingroup$ When going from center to an approach controller do VFR flights usually give the ATIS letter? $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 18:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW Sometimes controllers will ask if you have it (either Verify you have information Kilo). If you've been asked by an earlier controller, it's a good idea to let them know, otherwise the next controller might end up asking again. (Podunk center, Bugsmasher 12345, 3500, I have <destination> information Kilo) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 20:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @hashinclude And sometimes they may tell you that "Lima is current". $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ There's also contact x call-sign only, would be nice addition. And monitor x as well. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think I've ever been given "Contact X, call-sign only." - is that common by you? $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 13:43

I would say:

Oakload Center, Cessna 123AB, VFR Level four thousand fife hundred.

  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ Can you expand a bit on this? Why mention VFR, for example? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ I am a PPL with no instrument. This would be my first radio call after being handed off. You could remove VFR if you are flying IFR. But I read somewhere in AOPA that basically said telling ATC that you are VFR really helps them. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon - Why does it not provide the answer to this question. I'm confused. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ The system has indicators to show if you're VFR or IFR. Reiterating it is not really useful, especially if you're level at a VFR cruising altitude. Perhaps if the controller starts giving IFR-like instructions you may want to confirm, but otherwise assume they know the situation. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 14:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .