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A few days ago, I (a student pilot on a solo) had landed on runway 9 for a full stop taxi back. The taxi instructions were "alpha to 27 remain on this frequency". I missed some words in between these instructions, but after responding "alpha to 27" there were no corrections, so I continued my taxi to 27. At this point I should have asked for clarification. A jet was landing and I was blocking the exit as I had taxied and was holding short of 27. ATC responded saying I was at the approach end of 27 and instructed me to do a 180 and taxi to runway 9 (they were very nice about it though).

I've been racking my brain trying to think what those missing words were. I can't imagine they'd have said departure end of 27 instead of just 9. This may be one of those moments I'll never figure out, but would anyone more experienced have any idea what might have happened?

Unfortunately the airport is not on LiveATC.net and my GoPro died from low battery so this is all from memory.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess it would help to see the runway and taxiway layout. Could you add the airport where this happened? $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Jun 3 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ The controller should have been more clear. I assume you were on one of the An taxiways? The controller should have said something like Alpha to Alpha-Two, hold short 27, this frequency... If they screwed up and wanted you on A6, hold short 9, that's on them. Also, if you notice you missed part of a transmission, there's no shame in saying tower, N1256, repeat last. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 3 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Hrothgar They should have noticed you going in the wrong direction long before you reached 27, so that's on them too. Don't beat yourself up over this much, mistakes happen and we learn from them and move on, and from the sound of it, a lot of mistakes were on ATC's side. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 3 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Also keep in mind that the controller vocabulary is really not that big (a hundred words maybe?), and in no time pretty much everything they say will be familiar, and things that are not familiar will stick out like a sore thumb. $\endgroup$ – John K Jun 3 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ Why not give the tower a call? Although it is now several days since it happened, you could still call the tower (by phone) and ask them to clarify what happened. Explain to them that you would like to learn from the situation so that it won't happen again in the future. It's a great opportunity to learn about the tower operations and many towers are open to these kind of discussions. Remember, they may learn from the situation as well. If you are lucky they invite you for a visit and perhaps they will use the tape recording and relisten to the taxi instructions together with you. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Jun 4 at 9:15
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Most ATC controllers will try to avoid using the words “to” and “for” for obvious reasons. Especially in giving taxi instructions. This is not patently true in all cases for all controllers. But, it is so with my local Class D airport. You might have heard them wrong. Or, they might have been having a bad day. The dead giveaway was that you just landed with the winds favoring 09. And now, ATC was about to put you on the runway with a possible tailwind instead of turning you back towards your landing runway. Your “taxi-back” should be a big u-turn. As you have noted, you should have asked for clarification.

Also, pay attention to the radio exchanges going on with other aircraft. It will give you better situational awareness to know where other aircraft are or will soon be. This will help you avoid conflicts.

It’s also a good idea to review the airport taxi diagram before starting your descent to enter an approach or traffic pattern. Having the diagram out and ready will help you maintain positional awareness once you have been given your taxi clearance.

On the far end of the spectrum of possible speculation, that radio call might not have been meant for you. Since you could not or would not hear the total call, it might have been for an aircraft with the tail number NA227 or something similar. Unlikely, but possible.

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    $\begingroup$ As a non-flyer, the obvious reasons aren't that obvious to me. What are they? $\endgroup$ – Prometheus Jun 7 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Prometheus - the use of the words “to” and “for” are to be avoided on the radio so that there isn’t a confusion with the words two (2) and four (4). This is a similar reason to why the number 9 is pronounced “niner”. That way it is not confused with the German word for no. There should also be no numbers spoken above the number niner (9). Ten (10) is one zero. Eleven is one one. The number 12500 is one two thousand, five hundred. All to avoid confusion and mistakes. This rule/recommendation is broken on a consistent basis, though. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Jun 7 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I and a few other aircraft had just landed on runway 9 and a jet behind me was also landing runway 9, so taking off runway 9 would have made sense. I think as a student pilot you have a tendency to take ATCs words(or what I thought were ATCs words) as gospel, but I think that'll go away as I gain experience. No harm in asking them to say again too! $\endgroup$ – Hrothgar Jun 7 at 19:57
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I continue my series of "not actually an answer but I got to say this":

The most valuable lesson you can learn from this is not figuring out afterwards what was said, but getting into a habit of always asking "Say again..." when you miss even a slightest part of a transmission. Ron stated it in the comments: no shame in that, not even a bit.

Whenever you allow yourself to guess the missing parts, you put yourself, and probably others in danger. Requesting repetition, every now and then you'll catch the grumpy controller that'll bitch at you for not paying attention, but never mind them. You don't want extra holes in your Swiss cheese.

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    $\begingroup$ True. Better safe than sorry. $\endgroup$ – Crowley Jun 4 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ I (and 34 other people) don't think that this qualifies in the not actually an answer realm. That's exactly what crossed my mind while reading the question. (Excellent advice BTW) $\endgroup$ – Stelios Adamantidis Jun 5 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ I try to respect the Q&A nature of this site, but sometimes I see a spot for some safety propaganda and shamelessly use it 😃 $\endgroup$ – Jpe61 Jun 5 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Jpe61 It wouldn't take much re-wording to make this technically an answer. "This kind of confusion can occur when people don't ask for clarification after they miss words." $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Jun 6 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the advice! Hopefully I'll get more confident in my radio calls as my experience goes up. I think his lack of a correction gave me false confidence in what I was doing, but it's better to have a, possibly, grumpy controller than putting others in danger, as you say. It's something I don't plan on repeating! $\endgroup$ – Hrothgar Jun 7 at 20:06

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