Topic of the Week: United’s Channel 9


United announced it would pull inflight entertainment off its A319s and A320s when it puts new seats on the airplanes. That means that Channel 9, the channel that lets you listen to cockpit communications, will disappear until they can find a way to stream it to your own device. Will this impact your choice of flights if you’re a United flier? How important is it really?

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56 comments on “Topic of the Week: United’s Channel 9

  1. Will lots of people who read CF be upset ? Yes
    Will people who are not airplane dorks (Cranky – your choice of words, not mine !) really care ? No

  2. I reckon Channel 9 has been available for less than a quarter of the 25K I’ve flown with United so far this year – I will miss it, but David’s spot on….

  3. It’s not available on any of the CO planes with directv, so that means domestically it will only be on 757’s. My last few TATL flights didn’t use it (although available), so they might as well drop it altogether. I will miss it a lot but it doesn’t trump any other selection factors.

  4. I remember when I flew Ted from ONT-DEN and accidentally discovered channel 9. I thought it was the coolest thing. Literally every time the plane turned, increases or lowered altitude, they spoke with the towers. That was a long time ago (since Ted is long gone) and I rarely fly united, so I guess life goes on.

  5. Don’t get me wrong, Channel 9 is way cool, and the few times I’ve flown UA over the last several years, I’ve enjoyed listening in, when the pilots turn it on. Does it influence my purchasing decisions to consider UA, though? Not really, because I don’t live in a UA fortress hub, and it isn’t worth dealing with a connection just for that. More than that, given how crappy UA has become service-wise since the merger, I suspect it’s going to take a lot more than Channel 9 to lure customers to the airline.

  6. I will miss it! I must be having fairly good luck as it has been available on almost all of the recent United flights I have been on. One time it wasn’t on a guy a few rows up from me asked the FA to check with the pilot and it was on within a couple minutes.

    When I come across similar fares and United is one of them I will book them specifically for ch. 9. Taking ch. 9 away may not be a big deal for United but a chance they will lose me as a customer on a few flights.

  7. Due to the flights I’ve taken with United (few and far between) being primarily on CRJs, I’ve only had the luxury of experiencing Channel 9 once, on a 320. That said, it was really cool and, for flights to/from Denver (which I do on a fairly regular basis) would influence an all-else-equal ticket buying decision.

    On the other hand, all else is rarely equal on the segments that I’m flying, so UA probably won’t see any net business impact from me for taking away Ch9.

    And, as others have said, most folks won’t care enough to change their flying habits. It’s a nice airline dork thing, but that’s about it.

  8. If they can stream sites like then its fine. As mentioned earlier it doesn’t affect my buying decision.

    Moreover I think its a relic of a much classier United where pilots were respected nearly like military and it was the “friendly skies”. That long went away after 9/11 and bankruptcy. The CO merger was the final nail as CO never had as much class (see the awful tacky advertising). Smisek and Co’s I am right mentality means this was bound to go away, but they couldn’t announce that immediately

    1. CO may not have had class for what you expected, but United is awful. If it wasn’t a hub here in Houston, I would never fly that airline.

  9. I like Channel 9 and I’ll listen when it’s available, but I don’t ask the flight attendant about it if its off, nor do I go out of my way to book United for it.

  10. Given a choice of an aircraft with Channel 9 and one without, I’ll definitely book the aircraft with it. My favorite thing about flying UA, so I’m guessing it will eventually go away.

  11. I, like John M, don’t want to hear the pilots screaming as we crash. So it doesn’t influence my decision to fly UA at all – mostly the fare does. However, i do enjoy on TATL flights I’ve been on in the past, seeing where are “are” on the TV screen

  12. Love Channel 9, and I will ask FA to remind pilots (clearly there are those that do and those that don’t). When it comes to loyalty drivers — channel 9 goes a long way with respect to transparency. Knowing the situation re: weather, taxiing, take off sequence is huge. Plus listening in at heavy international airports (LHR, JFK) is totally cool.

  13. Absolutely adore Channel 9, for us aviation junkies this means another unique differentiator for United is gone, making them more generic. After all on International if you cannot compete on average flet/aircraft age (Emirates and Singapore way newer), service ( surly flight attendants vs/ nubile nymphs on Asian carriers), not too many reasons to choose United…and this was one none could/did replicate. Also for those of us clued in, it was invaluable to estimate arrival/take-off delays and not just sit there like dumb cattle for dumber announcements that meant nothing, that came way too late to make alternate plans.

    A real tragedy IMHO

  14. As others have said, Ch 9 is only turned on about half the time on domestic flights and rarely on international flights. It has real value during any kind of delay situation, since you often find out what’s going on as soon as the pilots find out. But the decision about A319/320 involves more than just Ch 9. To put out there a plane with no entertainment at all reverses the standing of UA vs. AA. For years AA was handicapped by having no entertainment on its vast fleet of M80’s; this is gradually changing as the 738’s take over with full audio and video. Having entertainment still has value even in the era of the smart phone. I like to hear new and different music, not all the familiar stuff loaded onto my i-thing.

  15. I believe AA was first to offer cockpit chatter on its 747s to and from Hawaii and coast to coast in the 1980’s. Does anyone know if AA or any other carrier offer the cockpit chatter on an audio channel? Maybe the next this will be a video stream from the flight deck with live chatter…

  16. It won’t change my purchase decisions, but I’ve had three really interesting experiences with Channel 9 over the years:

    SEA -> ANC: About 10 minutes into flight, after a frequency switch, hearing the pilots ask when they could move from their current heading, only to hear the tower ask why they were on that heading to begin with. And smiling when we felt a huge left turn as they got permission to go in the correct direction

    ORD -> LGA: Hearing the pilot/tower communication (or lack thereof) after a last-second aborted landing due to another plane on the runway. Only the people on Channel 9 knew why we suddenly pulled up and gunned the engines. And it seemed like a really long time before the tower came back with directions. Just the one sided conversation of the pilots continually repeating our flight number, heading and altitude

    ORD -> BOS: Really the most impressive. The pilot came on at the last second to say that we had been just given a human organ to fly to Boston and our designation was now flight UA ### Lifeguard. It was inspiring to hear the priority given the flight for everything en route, and to hear the change in the ground control after the pilot reinforced the Lifeguard status the one time they had missed the designation and asked us to hold on the inbound taxi.

    1. I was on a 777 landing at Dulles from Frankfurt listening to 9. We were over the end of the runway probably 100′ above when I heard the calm but decisive order to fly around. It was cool to anticipate the next actions: full throttle of the engines and a quick ascend up and around. It helps to have burned upa all of the fuel but those engines still have an I,Pressick amount of power.

  17. Listening to the pilots and ATC is often funny, entertaining, and informative. As a former pilot, it keeps me in the loop. The loss of channel 9 will be disappointing but will not be the deciding factor in my travel decisions. One group who will be very glad to not have channel 9 is the pilots, many of whom exercise their privilege not to put it on.

  18. I’ve much enjoyed Channel 9; it is nice to know things are about to happen before they are announced to everyone – like making a return to the gate for an emergency or being sent to the “penaty box” for arriving too early, or too late. Dropping it won’t affect my flying UA. Given a choice, though, between Channel 9 or WiFi, no difficulty there going with WiFi but that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon on United.

  19. Yes, I will miss it. All things being equal, I would pick a UA flight over others to listen in on Channel 9, and over the water I always ask the pilot to turn it on. Another of Mr. S’s declarations in the push-back promotional video’s that has come to be not true….I like his line, “we think you are going to like the changes”. When everybody else is expanding their entertainment systems, UA is going the other way.

  20. Important? No. Entertaining and good information? Yes. Since only UA provides, “Ch 9,” and some airplanes/Captains do not or will not use it, I’ve learned to take my own. I have a small scanner on which I can pre-program the majority freqs. to be used – and I can change them just as fast as the flight crew can change their own radios. I like listening to the exchanges. I also include UA’s company freqs. at origin and destination, so I hear about the delays and other interesting events long before that dumbed-down PA announcement is made. Overkill? Yes! Fun? Yes! And, when in a coach seat, I don’t have to pay those nasty IFE fees.

    1. WOW. I would love it. Not restricted to UA then assuming you know all the frequencies. Will you reveal model # and manufacturer of the scanner as well as where do you get the frequencies. Thank you so much. I have been so frustrated lately on UA segments which either do not have the service or the pilot will not turn it on. I have paid a premium several times to get on channel 9 aircraft.

  21. It is an exercise in futility to try to understand American carriers emphasizing cost cutting measures such as eliminating entertainment options in-flight. One would think that if this model of thinking was best, Asian carriers would be imitating it. United would be better served by providing a strategy to regain improved scores in the annual customer satisfaction surveys. If cost cutting is the goal, eliminating all forms of free travel seems more logical.

  22. I agree – it’s been turned on only about about 50% of the time on the mainline legacy UA equipment flights I’ve taken in last year and I don’t listen the way I once did. It was a boon during taxi and holding pattern delays, otherwise not so much. Considering that 50% of the mainline time I’m on legacy CO equipment (better airplanes, even if no Ch 9), and a hunk of the time I’m trapped in CRJ Hell, it won’t make a big difference. Get us Wifi and now and I can always check on line.

  23. No surprise that they’re yanking it as its in the way of them trying to charge another fee to the customers. (It seems like very few pay for their direct tv on the CO planes so it only makes sense to expand pay IFE? what other major has gone into pay IFE like united has??) They made promises to put channel 9 on the CO planes but I’d be shocked now if that happens. This way they can slowly kill it as only the old timers will even know what it was. The whole IFE situation, including channel 9s disappearance, on United has become yet another reason NOT to fly United…. As if that list isn’t long enough already since the merger.

  24. I’ll miss Channel 9, but I never chose flights based on its availability. It was, and always will be, based on price and schedule. The handwriting has been on the wall for awhile, even before the merger: I think it started to be withheld as a union action … I don’t think many pilots like having people listen in on their work.

    It was kind of cool to be able to relay delay information before the captain would deign to make an announcement. On one flight I had out of LAX, one pilot must have forgotten Channel 9 was on while we were awaiting departure from the gate. There was a ground stop at ORD that would keep us on the ground until it was lifted and it took him awhile before he got around to making an announcement, using information that was already 15 minutes old.

    My favorite Channel 9 memory came on a descent into CMH. I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but the captain made some reference to his “superior airmanship.” He immediately took some ribbing from the controller and other pilots … and from me when I complimented his “superior airmanship”?with a big grin?upon deplaning. His co-pilot got a huge kick out of that … but that may be the last time Channel 9 was used on one of his flights.

  25. This would be an unfortunate change because it is one of the differentiators that UA has (sometimes). Probably not a direct factor too often in buy/not buy decisions, but part of the cumulative impact on the brand. UA is losing the exclusivity of the Economy Plus concept, shame to see them throw out another thing. It’s not like they have top of the line service to fall back on.

    However, it is probably inevitable as planes update. I think fewer and fewer are going to have personal entertainment in coach since people tend to carry their own now.

    Now, if only we could get the pilots to turn on CH9 more often. In the last year, I’ve been less than 50/50 on the planes where it was theoretically available. I’m starting to wonder if it is another ‘work action’ like it was a few years back. The pilots have final say and they are just flicking the finger at management by not playing nice.

  26. Long time reader coming out to comment on this one – I love channel 9! Agree with everyone above that it’s not often on, and I never have the balls to ask the FAs, but whenever it’s on I tend to nerd out to it for quite awhile. Despite being a VERY frequent flier I get nervous (for no reason) on takeoff, and listening to the professionalism of the pilots going about their jobs really helps. I’ll miss it. But am tied to United on the 1K thing, so I won’t change for a while.

  27. While Channel 9 is a nice feature which I did enjoy, United has many more problems which forced me to choose other airlines when I travel now. I was a 1k flyer with United. However their rude employees, baggage charges, late flights, and bad customer service made me switch.

  28. I will miss it. However I agree with the previous post that is available on less than 25% of the planes that have it. What it was nice for was unstanding the delays while sitting atthe gate or on the taxiways. My last several flights the pilots made no announcements as we sat and sat and sat and sat. I will miss but will I change airlines….no. Too many miles on UA.

  29. I have a few memories of listening to the cockpit conversations. One flight from CLT to DEN, the pilot told the passengers that Denver was on the right, but that cloulds were quickly covering the area. Listenting to ATC conversations, the pilot notified ATC that we were beginning to run low on fuel. They didn’t respond and the pilot had to make a decision to divert to Grand Junction, CO. This was an airport not used to 737s, although there was also a TED 737 there when we landed (an adventure) on the one runway landing strip. (The fueler trying to figure out how to fuel the 737 was interesting.)

    Another trip was interesting when the pilot could not get clearance for takeoff because she gave the inbound flight number (I had just flown it so I knew what was happening) rather than the correct outbound flight number. They finally figured it out.

    Yes, I would miss Channel 9, but I didn’t have it on the roundtrip I just finished yesterday from SFO to Cabo San Lucas. Both flights were nice and the service was just fine, despite United’s reputation.

  30. UA need to forget about messing with the seats, channel 9 (I like) and entertainment and just focus on customer service, and re-train those who have forgotten to smile, and have either lost their daily pleasantries, or have left them elsewhere.

  31. The only time I’ve flow UA is UAX. I thought they pulled they service after 9/11. AA made a lot of changes after 9/11, thought UA would have made several changes to. But, obviously, listening to ATC is not a determining choice when I travel, despite the ‘foamer’ I am!

  32. Channel 9 played a huge role in my childhood. It’s pretty much the reason why I wanted to become a pilot when I was older. I loved listening to it, especially when I started flight lessons. It became a great tool and I learned a lot just by listening to it. For me, channel 9 became (pretty much) a metaphor for United Airlines…
    I always try to book flights where CH9 is available, but I won’t pay extra or just go out of my way to be on a plane with it.
    It will be sad to see it go tough… It is, after all, one of the things that can get dreams flying– literally.

  33. This would not make one difference to me, we will still fly with them. Everything works out as it should and it is time to move on to something new.

  34. I only fly United … only because of Channel 9.
    Any route I take with them, if they cancel the 319/320, I’ll head for a plane properly equipped, or if none available I can then choose any airline.
    But as long as United has a flight with a compliant aircraft on a given route, it;s my choice.

  35. I think United’s customer service is terrible, but I’m willing to put up with it just to hear channel 9. It’s a completely unique experience to hear what’s going on in the skies around you as you fly.

    If there’s no channel 9, there’s absolutely no reason to fly on United.

    1. In 2011 and 2013, I happen to have been Global Services.

      Not bragging … and now I am feel SO stupid.

      Channel 9 is now a “come on” … out of 100 flights in 2013, not once did I hear it.

      Grumpy pilots who never communicate with (even first class) passengers … forget to turn off seat belt sign and I have to ask FA to call cockpit to remind them!

      So I realized there was no reason to fly United anymore.

      This year I have sampled three new long distance airlines. I feel SO stupid that my company gave so much to UAL! At least $150,000 a year.

  36. I often will only book UA because of channel 9. I freqently fly to SFO, with many airlines offering this service from YYZ, I choose UA because of this service. I am a pilot, and really enjoy listenting to the flight deck chatter…the ground controllers often banter about with the pilots if they have the time particularly on the red eyes. If they yank this service, I\’ll just buy a scanner…my iPod be damned.

  37. I always listen to Channel 9 when its on. Which is almost never these days.
    I was told it was at the “discretion of the captain” whether Channel 9 was on or off.
    It has always been off whenever I’ve flown the past 5 years.
    I think the pilots don’t want to be overheard with their pants down when the make a booboo.
    I remember a flight into Logan, Boston last year in very bad weather. Couldn’t see anything until we actually touched down. It was a hairy experience where Channel 9 would have been very comforting.
    The captain came on the intercom after the landing and said “the plane had landed itself, totally fly by wire”.
    Well now, what on earth were they saying in the cockpit while that was going on??

    1. Hopefully following the checklist and only discussing the landing. The FAA is really strict on sterile cockpit rules. (Only discussing the takeoff/landing during those phases..)

  38. This is one of my favorite things about United. I get it about half of the time when I personally request it from Bizfirst or First. Old pilots, never, younger ones, better chance. When CO metal goes in for deep maintenance, they are making it available, but so far, only one pilot turned it on, or even knew it was there.

    I personally wonder if 9/11 would have been different if the pilots had turned Channel 9 on.

    If it goes away, it is just another devaluation of the UA product. Get used to it..

  39. I was on a United 777 recently, and I was listening to “From the Flight Deck” (channel 9 on AVOD equipped aircraft), and I thought it was really cool hearing ATC say “UA839, you are cleared for takeoff”, and next thing I knew, the engines were on and we were rolling down the runway and into the sky.

    Channel 9, you will be missed, but hopefully, they’ll come to their senses and install AVOD on more domestic aircraft, and then it will live on as From the Flight Deck.

  40. Man channel 9 was the best. It helped getting my GA pilots license as speaking with the tower is intimidating to most at first.

    I would book UA first based on Channel 9 and also would dork out and ask the flight attendant to remind the captain to turn it on if possible.

    UA services and planes have definitely collapsed, but this old feature was worth it to those that knew about it.

    SOme good points as well, hearing the pilots ahead talk about “moderate chop” meant less surprises as the turbulence hit. vs the poor woman white knuckling it beside me who had no idea what was going on up front.

    I vote keep it! :)

  41. I flew and paid more to fly United because of channel 9. That was the best thing about them. I always talked so highly of United airlines. I flew over 100 segments a year all with United every year. Since they got rid of Channel 9 I have four segments with United this year. I have jumped ship to Alaska airlines. The good friendly United is gone. Alaska airlines reminds me of the old united airlines and they treat me a lot better.

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