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

Jan 26, 2020

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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.

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