Short Final: Flight Following


Several years ago, not long after earning my private pilot certificate, I departed the Burlington/Alamance Regional Airport, North Carolina, where I was based. My intent was to make a circuit around the outside of the Raleigh‑Durham Class C airspace and return to Burlington to land.

Unsure how to ask for flight following for such a circuitous route, once in the air, I contacted Raleigh Approach, asked for flight following, and recited the three or four waypoints that defined the route I wanted to take. The controller responded with, “Wow, that was quite a dissertation!”

He immediately gave me a frequency change, and said, “Now repeat all that to the next controller.”

Quite a few years later, I’m still not sure the best way to request flight following when my intended route is more than just Point A to Point B, but I can usually muddle through.

Jim Coble

Durham, North Carolina

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  1. The Opposing Bases podcast, hosted by two controllers who are also pilots, just addressed this in episode 250. If you appreciate the humor of the Short Final column, you’ll probably like their show.

  2. Years ago flight following was telling me of an unknown aircraft at my 3:00 position and closing. He was quite rieled up and concerned. I looked over, and it was a flock of birds in a V configuration. They must have shown up as a plane on his radar screen. I calmly said that I had visual contact, and would change course accordingly. )

  3. I second John M’s recommendation to listen to that OB episode 250 podcast on just this topic. The hosts, full time air traffic controllers, advise using navigation aides such as VORs or airports as waypoints to define your route. They have definite preferences and tips for such a route. Too much to recite here. Skip to 34:55 of the podcast to hear this topic.

  4. My strategy with ATC is to keep it brief and let them tell me things or ask questions. With practice you will know what they want in different situations, but I start off with:

    Me: XXX Approach, NYYY, request. [To get their attention]
    App: NYYY, say request.
    Me: NYYY is a Cessna something, departed/over location/landmark/fix. [Tell them where you are so they know you are on the right frequency/sector] Request flight following. Making a circle around the Class C. [Briefly say your intentions.]
    App: [Here’s where they will elaborate, and hopefully say squawk ZZZZ.]

    In general, ATC is your friend. If you can do it, instrument training makes this second nature.