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Save Channel 9

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In today’s news, shareholders of both United and Continental Airlines approved their merger. Many issues will need to be sorted out as they integrate their operations. I rarely fly Continental, haven’t in years, but still fly United on occasion. It used to be my principal airline, when it had non-stop flights from Seattle to New York as well as a huge route structure up and down the west coast. In order to compete with Alaska and Southwest, United spun off their west coast routes to their discount-airline-within-an-airline Ted, which went belly up almost two years ago. These days, except when I fly to Chicago, I don’t find United a convenient choice. Alas, I have a huge amount of mileage in United’s Mileage Plus program, which we’ve been slowly using up when the opportunity arises, such as for Gail’s trip to Scotland two springs ago.

What does this have to do with Channel 9? Well, I am one of thousands who believe that the best reason to fly United is to listen to Channel 9 on their audio system. United is the lone airline (US anyway) that lets you listen in to the conversations between pilots and air traffic controllers, which they play (at the captain’s discretion) through channel 9. It’s hit or miss — some pilots play it, others don’t. But when it’s a hit, it’s a home run. You hear not just your own pilot, but everyone on that frequency, all flights and controllers. You listen as your plane and others are cleared to descend to lower altitudes, at particular airspeeds and with particular headings. You hear the instructions to follow a particular plane in for the landing. And you hear the etiquette used in greetings and farewells, as pilots are handed off from one controller to another, until they are under the guidance of someone controlling taxiways.

Why is this so great? I suppose it’s a matter of taste. Some might rather be listening to music, or watching satellite TV, or reading, or sleeping. I like those activities too. But I can do them any time. I can’t always listen to controller chatter. It’s fun to hear that your flight should turn 30 degrees and drop another 2000 feet and then see it happen.

The point of all this is that it’s unclear if Channel 9 will survive the merger. Continental planes aren’t equipped with the capability. Some United pilots don’t much like it and choose not to broadcast their conversations. It’s possible that they will take advantage of the operations changes to push for its elimination. (See, for instance, the discussion here.)

Please, United, keep Channel 9. It’s what makes you special, and we love you for it.

Categories: Travel
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