A tale of two legendary ATCs: Kennedy Steve and Boston John

Jan 26, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Among the air traffic controllers who keep our airspace safe every day, there are several who have caught the attention of the aviation community for their unique styles and humor. Two of the best-known are Kennedy Steve and Boston John.

Kennedy Steve was an air traffic controller at New York-JFK who was known for his casual and humorous tone. He began his ATC career in 1990 at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey before working at JFK from 1994 until his retirement in September of 2017. He was given the Dale Wright Award in 2017 from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for “professional and exceptional career service.”

The conversation that boosted Kennedy Steve into ATC fame began when another pilot at JFK noticed that a small door on a Lufthansa plane was open as it was about to take off:

He also would joke about the “tugs,” the ground vehicles at the airport that tow aircraft when necessary (Kennedy Steve vs. Delta Tug 1) :

Here are three other transcripts of Kennedy Steve’s best quips.

Some cheeky advice for British Airways:

Verifying how airplanes should follow each other onto the taxiway — not the final destination:

When a random plane calls and forgets to announce their call sign:

YouTube Channel H89SA has a 126-video playlist featuring Kennedy Steve.

Boston John was an ATC at Logan Airport in Boston for several years until his retirement in 2011. He developed such a fan base that listeners on LiveATC.net often posted to forums whenever he was on air so others could tune in.

He was known for saying “Mocha Hagotdi” as a goodbye to airplanes — which people often thought meant something in a foreign language but is actually just an acronym of Cape Air’s motto, “Make Our Customers Happy and Have a Good Time Doing It.” He did occasionally speak snippets of Spanish; his recordings are peppered with “hasta la vista”s and, occasionally, “En mi vida solmente un amor y ese eres tu.”

In any case, we’ve found you four clips to sample is on-air style.

Pilots flirting with Boston John:

A very, ahem, straightforward answer to a pilot’s request for information about wind


Learn the lingo

Remember that ATCs and pilots use words to represent each letter, so the ABCs become Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo and so on. You can find the full list here.

Some other commands and common phrases:

  1. “Squawk,” which can be a noun for “code” or a verb meaning to say a code.
  2. “Roger,” which means “I received this information,” though any information critical to the flight actually requires the pilot to give a readback (repetition of the message).
  3. “Wilco,” which simply means “Will comply.”
  4. “Cleared for X,” which means that the ATC is granting authorization to do something.

Listen to the pros

YouTube has piles and piles of captioned and edited ATC communications videos. If you want to listen to live ATC feeds, visit LiveATC.net. This volunteer-run website extends across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and South America. If there’s a nearby volunteer who has set up the necessary radio equipment, your local airfield might also be streaming on this site.

Maybe you’ll even find the next Boston John or Kennedy Steve. (Hint: Try listening for Pearson/Toronto Dave.)

Featured photo by Rafael Cordero/Getty Images.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.