ATC to Pilot Instruction - What they mean, and what you think they mean

I thought it would be fun if we had a thread about what ATC’s commands and instructions mean and what pilots, all too often, seem to think they mean. I’ll start a list of some here to give you guys an idea of what I mean.

-Say Intentions

  • Means: “Hey bud, whatcha trying to do today?”

-Line up and wait

  • Means: Enter the runway and align yourself for takeoff. Don’t take off, just be ready to when I tell you to."
  • Pilots think:
  • Holding short intensifies
  • Slow roll the runway until I think everything is clear and then firewall that bad boy.

-Taxi to runway XX, contact tower when ready.

  • Means: Taxi to runway XX, contact tower when ready to request departure.
  • Pilots think: Taxi to the runway I want, even if he did say another one, contact the tower whenever I want, even though I see all that traffic ahead of me I’ll just do it now.

-Exit runway, contact Ground on the taxiway.

  • Means: Completely vacate the runway, when you can safely. Once you’ve completely vacated the runway, contact the ground controller.
  • Pilots think:
  • End your flight in the middle of the runway or just pull off the actual runway just a bit and log out there, it’ll be fine.
  • Taxi to parking.

-Taxi to parking.

  • Means: Taxi like everyone else, just to parking.
  • Pilots think: YOLO

Finally, for ATC and pilots, the correct response to “Thank you, good day!” is to reply with the same, not “You’re welcome.” and it certainly doesn’t mean you can change frequency, just that I likely won’t have to interact with you until I tell you to change frequency.


-Hold short

  • Means: stop your aircraft behind the hold short line and don’t let any part of the plane get across the line

  • Pilots think: line up and wait/get as close to the line as he can, sometimes stopping the front wheel right at the line


Lol this one got me


Pilot thinks:

  • Stop before the hold short line and contact ground

I feel offended when they dont tell ty g’day back :((


tenor Very good hahahahahah

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I try to every chance I get. I feel like a few pilots remember me because they seem to go out of their way to get in the “Ty, gd!”

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-Go around

  • Means: Abort your landing and re-enter the pattern for another attempt.
  • Pilots think: Hmm, my radio seems to have stopped working suddenly… I guess I’ll follow this other guy one mile in front of me.

-You are not cleared to enter the runway. Please exit the runway.

  • Means: Taxi off of the runway NOW. Please expedite.
  • Pilots think: If I’m in the air I’ve exited the runway… technically.

-Turn heading XXX

  • Means: turn to the designated heading.
  • Pilots think: Continue to follow your flight plan, it’s all good.

😂 TS problems. I feel bad


TBH at night it is possible for newer pilots to do this by confusing the airport layout when there are parallel runways.

There was one time where this happened to me maybe two years back, first time dipping my feet in ES and I was on approach with the wrong comms:

ATC: Check help pages

Me: Run

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  • Authorize for immediate takeoff:

  • Means: You are cleared for takeoff but please hurry, another aircraft will land.

  • Pilot thinks : Cool man, I’ll go slow on the runway to intercept it… No! I am not ready! Do I take off or not?


  • Turn left at the next taxiway

  • Means: Hey! Because of the ground traffic, I would like you to turn left, can you do that please?

  • Pilot thinks: Where is the left?


  • No light aircraft:

  • Means: Hey, sorry but this airport does not accept light aircraft



  • Please follow the instructions

  • ATC: Well, you’re not helping me, follow my orders!

  • Pilot: ( Heartbeat: 180/m )


  • Center frequency

  • Pilot: ABX0000, with you.

  • ATC: ABX0000, radar contact

  • Pilot: Should I request a flight following?


Hold short line

  • Pilot *I’m staying here, not saying anything *


Take-off request:

  • Pilot: Ready to take off, remaining in the pattern

  • ATC: Dude, you’re going North!Don’t ask to stay in patterns!


( Inspired by real facts )

Pilot in final RNW 26R

ATC : Make a 360° on the left from spacing.

Pilot thinks: It’s really safe, but I’m going into a plane that is final on 26L

ATC : please follow instructions.
Means : Just, DO IT.

Pilot: I’m listening

“Level 3 violation: Flying through other aircraft”


I definitely used to think this before I got more experienced in ATC transmissions. Haha very relatable.

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Pilot: Ready for pushback, requesting RWY23
ATC: Wdym? RWY23 is the only runway in use anyways
to satisfy them Pushback approved, expect RWY23

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I like to keep traffic moving so I will generally be issuing departure sequencing and hold short/line up commands before the pilot even transmits anything.
Because of this they tend to forget that I still need to know what they’re trying to do when they get on the runway. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told a pilot to line up, wait, and say intentions only to have him freeze like a deer in the headlights. I’ll follow up with a “Continue taxi, say intentions” to try and drive home that I’m just wanting to know what they need. Some of them get it, some don’t. Lol.


yikes I do that so I gotta stop it

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Fully understand that haha. You IFATC are very skilled in what you do. Keep up the great work.

Oh, no no. I only control on the TS 😅.
I’m in the process of applying for IFATC, but RL stuff in the way of that at the moment.

I love it!