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How often do commercial airline pilots argue with the control tower?

It is very rare. I never did argue while inflight or while taxiing. I did have a First Officer once who started an argument with approach control and as Captain, I had to tell him to stop, which he did.

I did have one major problem with ATC once. Instead of arguing over the air, I waited until I landed. Then I called the facility to inform them of the problem I had. I was surprised and actually felt bad when they called me a few days later. They had reviewed the tapes and found the controller was at fault. He was therefore placed on a temporary suspension.

While arguments are rare, I have heard a number like this at New York’s JFK Airport. This is not surprising though. It is a very busy airport. The myriad of taxiways, the stress on the controllers, the many international flights where a language accent is sometimes difficult all contribute to a situation as in the linked example.

There are no rookies at JFK, either in the tower or in the aircraft. Everyone is highly experienced and professional. However it can be extremely busy and stressful there for everyone, and the taxiway routing can be sometimes confusing. Thus there are occasionally some pointed words back and forth there, far more than any other airport I have been.

I should add that arguments on frequency are counterproductive and do not accomplish anything positive for anyone. However what they do is tie up the radio frequency unnecessarily, blocking other tower and aircraft transmission that are far more important and safety related. Not good!


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