Flying Stories
Hello world, this is your captain speaking
October 29, 2014

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.”

That’s a great start.  It’s always good to establish your identity when speaking to a crowd.  Passengers love hearing from the captain.  Honestly, sometimes I wonder if people are a little disappointed when I introduce myself as the first officer on the public address (PA) system.

“We’ve just reached our cruising attitude of 35,000′.  I’m going to turn off the seat belt sign since we’re expecting a fairly smooth ride… nothing more than a nibble here and there…”

Very descriptive!  I really liked the use of the word “nibble.”

“Today’s route of flight takes us down over the Carolinas, Georgia and then on into Central Florida.  The temperature in Orlando is currently seventy five degrees.”

I also pass this type of information along to passengers.  But, with the technology available to today’s fliers, maybe it’s time to omit some of these details that sounded interesting to folks in 1987?

“We should be arriving right on-time.  If there’s anything we can do up here to make your flight more enjoyable, please don’t hesitate to ask one of our flight attendants.”

All in all, it was a good speech.

Unfortunately, nobody on his airplane heard it.

Instead of using the PA, that captain broadcast over air traffic control.

Like all the other pilots on the frequency, the two of us sat in our cockpit and listened to the captain babble on and on about his flight to Florida.  We smiled as he tied up the ATC frequency for well over a minute.  When he finished, the other pilots immaturely informed him of his colossal screw-up.

He took the ribbing in stride.  He re-keyed his mic and said, “I hate when I do that.”

It happens all the time.

To understand how this happens, take a look at the 737 audio control panel:

Using this panel, the 737 pilot chooses where to transmit and listen to all available communication sources.

Using this panel, the 737 pilot chooses where to transmit and listen to all available communication sources.

The knobs on the panel control which source(s) we hear through our headset or speaker.  Depressing the knob activates it and turning adjusts the volume.  (We hear whichever source is selected with the mic selector regardless of whether the knob is depressed.)

When we activate a microphone through a push-to-talk or handheld mic, the communication is directed to the source selected by the “MIC SELECTOR.”

Every type of plane is different, but the concepts are very similar.

That evening, the captain probably forgot to hit “PA” before starting his announcement.  Therefore, it all went over VHF-1.

The opposite problem occurs when the pilot forgets to re-select VHF-1 after finishing a PA announcement.  I’ve been in the back of plenty of jets when the pilot announced, “Descend to flight level 290…” over the PA.

On the 737, we have an additional hand-mic dedicated to the PA system.  It is located on the rear of the center pedestal so both pilots have access.

To avoid ever making these mistakes, I only use the center pedestal hand-mic to make PA announcements.

Until recently, I thought this method was fairly fool-proof.  But, one night when I was the flying pilot, the captain started to make a PA.  I looked over and thought it was odd that he was holding the microphone in his left hand.  I then realized that he was using the hand mic that ties into the normal audio control panel.  That evening, he was the guy broadcasting to the world to keep their seat belts fastened.

There are two categories of pilots when it comes to making PAs over ATC: Those who have and those who will.

After all these years, I’m still in the “will” category.

However, it’s only a matter of time.

I’m one wrong button push away from public humiliation.

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About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

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There are 22 comments

  • Courtney Harrington says:

    Been there and done that. I still cringe when I think of it.
    It seemed like 300 people jumped on me at once. Good thing it was 0200.
    Thanks for the memories 🙂

  • Libor Smolik says:

    Ha ha, that must have been funny! 😀

  • LSP says:

    On seeing the photograph my eye went to the bar at the bottom of the panel. It didn’t seem to be big enough for a hand grip and I was pretty sure you don’t keep a fingertip towel at the ready so would you be kind enough to explain its use? Many thanks and I do enjoy reading your posts. LSP

    • When we carried big, heavy flight cases, they were placed right in front of that panel. I’m guessing the bar was to protect the panel from a careless toss of a flight case. That’s my best guess… but, I don’t know for sure.

  • Great post! I guess this is the pilot’s equivalent to accidentally sending an email to the entire company.

  • Cedarglen says:

    Oh, Yes! Been there and heard more than one misdirected speech, pointy end and back end. It happens. Readers, Av-Geeks and frequent flyers understand, but a few are always confused.
    UA’s Channel 9 is always fun, but half of their fleet and more than half of crews won’t participate.(*) IMO, that is sad; flying should be fun and hearing a little bit of what is going on can make it more fun.
    A great (hilarious) post and please – keep them flowing.
    (*) The aircraft commander always has the right to engage Chnl. 9 – or not. These days, most do not. I wonder about their motivation(s). A legal problem in the event of some misstep? Silly – as the recordings are always available from FAA/ATC if necessary. Sounding like a dork? Hmm.. Most pilots and ATCers sound like dorks, once in a while; noting new here. (Are the egos really still -that- huge?)
    A great post and thanks. One of these days… when you least expect it, that Button Push will get you. When it finally happens, Fly, Navigate and then communicate. Trust me: egg does wash off. -C.

    • I always enjoyed working on aircraft with Channel 9 active. It always amazed me how many passengers commented on things they heard while listening.

      Today, things are a lot different. Remember that none of the Continental metal has Channel 9 installed. So, it’s not always up to the flight crew.

  • Dan says:

    Another great little blurb Brian. Always wondered how that was done! Surprisingly, I am not sure I have ever heard something inadvertently said over the PA. I certainly am not a huge flyer but fly at least 2x a year.

  • James says:

    I’d rather have that on my frequency than a stuck mic. At least I know the cabin announcement will eventually end. Also, every time this happens on a sector, the controller will usually reach down and mute his in-ear feed, causing the frequency to play over the loud speaker for everyone in the area to hear.

    • I flew with one captain that made the mistake of saying his name during the PA over ATC. He said that every sector down the line addressed him as Captain Dave.

      Like many pilots, I’m completely paranoid about a stuck mic. I CRINGE when I listen to the stuck mic audio posted on YouTube. Grande, anyone?

      • James says:

        My last trip at the airlines before I went to come work for the FAA was by pure coincidence also the last trip for the captain I was paired with before he left for US Airways. Once he found this out, he spent the entire first day pointing some good natured ribbing my way every time a controller would miss our check in or something. “Bunch of overpaid jerks, I can’t believe you’re going to the dark side,” etc. That night, descending into Monterrey, CA on a very busy NORCAL approach frequency I check in with the ATIS. The controller says they just turned the airport around, we can expect the opposite ILS we had set up, and he can spell the fix for us just to get us headed that direction. I take him up on the offer but I’m met with silence. I decide that’s as good a time as ever to pick back up the recurring joke that’s been in the cockpit all day about controllers being idiots and I said some choice words in jest, but you’d never know if you weren’t in on our inside joke. Anyway, long story short, after about 30 seconds of silence, I flip over to guard and catch the end of NORCAL’s broadcast to our flight number and that we had a stuck mic. I flipped back over, muttered out a half hearted apology, but the guy was way too busy for me to explain the inside joke or to say I would actually be joining his ranks soon. Probably for the best. Anyway, I’ve got some stuck mic bad karma coming my way some day and it’ll be deserved.

  • Bruce says:

    I work at a power company and several years ago, two of our employees who thought they were far out of radio range of the office somehow managed to wind up on our main repeater frequency with a stuck mike…. We were in contract negotiations at the time and they were expressing some rather pointed views about the management’s negotiating personnel, one of whom was sitting in the dispatch office taking it all in. After about 15 minutes, he went tearing off to find them and shut them up.

    The two guys really doubled down on this particular individual, then you hear…. “Here comes ______ and he looks mad! Wonder what that old peckerwood is…. oh crap – you’re sitting on the mic!”

  • elizabeth Latham says:

    Another funny post. A couple of trips ago the Captain came on the PA to thank us for flying his airline, he then followed up by welcoming us to Detroit. OOPS. Problem was we were coming into land at Dallas. Several comments from passengers including Is this guy lost? to OMG,what flight number is this? Most of us just laughed. One of the F/A’s came on and said He may not know where we are but we know where we are, Welcome to Dallas. That made it even funnier. Then backs comes the Captain to explain he had just left Detroit the night before, sorry about that. He had the guts to open the door and stand there before we started to deplane, he thanked people as they came past him.
    What I thought was really classy was he had put his hat on and I told him, ”You still show your Captain’s Authority Sir” for that I got a salute back, how about that for a great finish.
    It is always so great to see a post from you Brian I know all of us who follow you know what an effort it takes for you to share this part of your life with us, for that you deserve a full salute too. Fly It Forward

  • Sam says:

    That’s one of the annoying Boeing human interface quirks that carries up to even the 777. If you look at the Airbus panel, there’s a separate PA button on the side that has to be held down. So the radio transmit buttons (handmike or trigger on the stick) are never used to make a PA. Some Airbus aircraft have a PA IN USE indicator, so you hit the PA button, wait until you see the light come on, then talk.

    Also worth noting that when the BA 777 crashed short of the runway at LHR, the captain accidentally transmitted the evacuation order over ATC instead of PA. That’s one time you really don’t want to make a mistake.

    • I agree. I almost mentioned the A320 PA button in this post,but I opted to keep it more generic.

      Only problem with the A320 button is the little light getting hot. My finger used to get really warm during a long PA.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Ken says:

    Equally embarrassing is trying to call ops. Twice. Using the PA mic. I did that a few weeks ago. I use the ATC hand mike so rarely that when I grabbed a mike to call ops during boarding I automatically reached for the hand mike I usually use. When they didn’t answer after the first call, I called again. That’s when the flight attendant stuck her head in and said something…

  • Eric Auxier says:

    Like Sam said, the Airbus does have some design features that lessens the chance of the accidental PA. But, over the course of 20 years on the plane, I’ve caught myself once or twice reaching for the handheld PA to answer Center!

    Great story, and even more fun is reading the Commenters’ anecdotes. Bruce and James tie for First Place!

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