Have you ever botched taxi instructions? I cannot count how many times I have made this mistake.
The most prominent one I can remember was at Seattle (KSEA) in a King Air many years back. I called ground, proceeded to butcher the response call, and, because it’s a Class B airport, I advertised to the world I was an amateur.
I’m still embarrassed, but I’ll never make that mistake again because I’ve created a foolproof method to keep it from happening.
I even use it at KPDX, an airport I fly out of every day.
So, here it goes.
These are the steps you should take to avoid messing up taxi instructions:
Step 1: BEFORE you call, take a look at the taxi diagram and make an educated guess where ground will taxi you based on your present position.
If I had done this in Seattle, I would have been able to process what they told me because I would have already had the taxiway letters fresh in my head.
This step is critical.
Step 2: Don’t put the taxi diagram away yet, but keep it right in front of you since you’ll need this diagram for the next steps.
Step 3: Grab a pen and paper (or your tablet).
Step 4: Only after you have a pen and paper and the airport diagram displayed should you call ground.
Step 5: Write down the clearance! Use shorthand.
If they tell me to cross a runway I write an “X” and the number of the runway. You don’t need to write “RWY” or “cross” before the number. You won’t have time.
I also write “HS” for “hold short.”
The only time I don’t write down the clearance is if there’s only one taxiway and I can’t possibly mess it up.
When you are at a big airport, always write it down. I say this as someone who hardly ever writes ATC instructions down anymore, but I ALWAYS write taxi instructions (that’s how traumatized I was at Seattle).
Step 6: Read it back while looking at the diagram. You can read back instructions one of two ways:
Start with the runway, then read the taxiways, or start with the taxiways and end with the runway.
For example: “Runway two-eight left taxi via Charlie three, Charlie” or
“Taxi via Charlie three, Charlie, for runway two-eight left”
For some reason it’s easier for me to read the runway first then the taxiways. Do whatever way works best for your brain. Either way, stay consistent. That consistency will help you sound professional on the radio.
Step 7: Don’t go anywhere until you take one more look at the diagram to make sure you have the right route.
This is important because every once in a while ground will give you instructions you weren’t expecting. This happened to me once at PDX and it threw me for a loop. I could barely repeat it I was so confused.
When you get used to hearing the same taxi instruction every day, it’s really hard to adjust when they give you an alternate taxi instruction. That’s why I write down the instructions at my home airport.
Oh, and remember, ground will never give you permission to cross more than one runway at a time. They used to do this, but after multiple runway incursions they stopped.
If you have to cross a runway to get where you are going, you can expect a second set of instructions after you have crossed the first runway. Write these down as well.
I hope this helps you avoid embarrassment at the bigger airports.
Does anyone else have any good techniques? Leave a comment below so we can learn!