While I was at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) a while back, hanging out with United Airlines peeps, we decided to take a walk down on the airport’s ramp. I was excited to just be down with the planes and having the ability to touch a Boeing 747-400 that just came in from Sydney. However, I got the opportunity to do something much more exciting. We stopped at a Boeing 757-200 about to push back and I was told, “hop on to this tug and take a ride.” Seriously? Um…yes please.

Most people see the push back as the beginning of their journey. Even though airliners are able to go backwards using their engines, doing so would cause damage to the terminal and provides less control. Remember, pilots can’t see what is behind them and moving around multi-million dollar machines on your own would be risky. The tug driver and other workers on the ground make sure there are not obstructions in the way of the plane.

As we were pushing back this Boeing 757, the pilots started both of their engines. What a treat. I have never been that close to engines during start up…what a glorious sound.

At most airports, the control tower will authorize when an aircraft is able to be pushed back and give them permission to taxi to a runway. At LAX, United Airlines control their own airplanes and have their own controllers housed at the old FAA tower. Their job is to authorize push back and direct them to the proper taxi way before the main control tower will take over.

That push back experience was probably one of the amazing airline-related experiences I have had. Those lucky tug drivers get to do that every day! I was so excited about this experience, I didn’t even ask where the plane was going. So challenge on!

It was aircraft N536UA N596UA leaving LAX on August 24th. Not sure about time, but it had to be somewhere around 10 to 11am. Can you figure out where the plane was heading?

UPDATE: @yyz_monkey and @bmvaughn found that N596UA (I made it more challenging by displaying the wrong reg number) was heading over to Chicago (ORD). Nice work!


EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

DOT Says Tarmac Delay Rule is Working – Not So Fast!

Why did the tug pull it forward so much after the push back?

Hey Adam!

Great question. To get it lined up where it could start on its own. There was probably some other aircraft that needed the room to back up and the aicraft needed time to get its engines warmed up!


Makes sense. Thanks.

I’m a little late to the party here, but I think it is something they always do. I know when I flew into LAX on my way to Sydney they had a tug come pull is into the gate once we got in the alley. It look like the same type of thing on the way out, and there is that big white line, so I am pretty sure it is just standard procedure.

Just checked today’s flightaware flights scheduled between 10 and 11AM PDT. Should have already guessed without researching but my guess is its going to Chicago’s O’Hare (10:50AM flight).

“I was in this little car see. And there was this huge airplane trying to go to Chicago but I was head to head, pushing it in the opposite direction until I finally gave up after about a hundred feet!”

CLT has a “ramp tower” than controls the terminal tarmac ingress/egress. Aircraft head to a “spot” on the edge and then call ATC Ground before taxiing to the runway. I think ATL is like this too.

The spot is more than likely a designated “start box” for aircraft to be towed to. If you look at the map of LAX on Google Maps, you can see several white lines (like the one the aircraft was towed to) in the lanes between the terminals.

Great video, but isn’t this N596UA, not N536UA? Going off ACARS reports, this looks like UA942 LAX-ORD departing 10:50 local time.

Hey Neil…you are correct, it was N596UA heading to ORD!



After I spent nearly 40 years with airline industry, JP5 fuel smell is in my blood. I love to watch this video, feel like you are pushing back. Thanks

I love the smell of Jetfuel, because that normally means I am close to a jet 🙂


plz upload a video of pushback the flight without tow….:(

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David, I believe all American and Canadian airports have airlines do their own ramp control

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