There are plenty of recordings available of ATCs acting impolite, in the linked video, the pilot says he will file a report about the conduct of the ATC.

Would this actually result in any disciplinary action? What are the formal, contractual rules around tone, manners and general politeness when speaking to pilots?

  • $\begingroup$ Related and/or possible duplicate: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/31708/… $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Jamiec It is related, but not a dup. I'm specifically interested in formal disciplinary procedures rather than general etiquette. $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 9:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There are regulations with most authorities against use of profane language, so a controller using the F word would probably get a suspension or some other punishment depending on whether the use was intentional, or not (like letting it slip out it under stress). Beyond that, rudeness is more of a "customer service" issue you might say and it will be up to ATC management and the agency's internal policies to decide how to discipline a controller who gets a lot of complaints. I'm just adding as a comment because you probably want an ATC insider to provide the specific answer. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ Well, Kennedy Steve still has his job. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ My reaction, as one who flew out of JFK the entire decade of the 1990s, is that the person who should be censured would be the Etihad pilot for introducing unnecessary audio traffic in a high work load situation. Were I his chief pilot and the incident were reported to me, I would point out to him that the proper way to complain is not on frequency but in a phone call to the controlling facility afterward. The Etihad pilot was not being professional. His complaining did not contribute to expediting aircraft movement; it was a distraction. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 3:16

2 Answers 2


I worked as a controller in the U.S. for many years in the 1970's and 1980's at 3 different busy facilities (twr/artcc/tracon). There was never a written policy regarding politeness on the radio. It was, at least for me, common sense to not engage in any extraneous conversation. Controllers are keenly aware everything that is said on the radio and landlines is being taped.

The few times I was aware that a pilot made a complaint regarding a particular controller, the controller's supervisor would get the tapes, listen to the pertinent section, and then if warranted counsel the controller.

Generally, it was my experience, that when working traffic in a busy facility you would just want to get the job done as professionally as possible and avoid any extra conversation.


In a long-ago occurrence, a controller and friend of mine was working a mid-shift at my facility, when a VFR aircraft encountered IFR conditions. The controller was the "brusque" type, but was absolutely professional on the frequency, and handled the situation in a fine manner.

Trouble was, on the mids, we used handsets instead of headsets. With a handset, the mouthpiece is always on with the recorders. My friend was telling jokes and giving opinions, etc., which were laced with obscenities (none of which were about work, just general joking around).

It all went on the tape.

Management had wanted to give him a commendation for the save, but gave him a letter of reprimand, instead.


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