Flight Plan v ATC?

Pro Member Trainee
Peter Norman (scorpio48) Trainee

Hi All,
Is there any way to get ATC flight instructions to match your Flight Plan?
Altitude, Heading Etc.
I know about requesting altitude increase/ decrease and 'follow your own navigation' Etc, but if following IFR rules under ATC the instructions seem to wildly differ from your flight plan.
I can understand diversions for emergencies Ect, but under normal use surely this doesn't reflect real flight operations.
Perhaps I'm wrong, does anyone care to explain?

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Pro Member Chief Captain
RadarMan Chief Captain
Pro Member Trainee
Peter Norman (scorpio48) Trainee

Thanks, RD,
Not quite what I was looking for.
I set a flight plan with an altitude of FL290.
I can use Ground control to give me IFR clearance and the Tower for Take off Etc, and all seems OK.
If I then use ATC under IFR it always gives me wildly different altitudes and a heading that takes me off my original flight plan.
To get over this I can either cancel the Instrument Flight Rules and just use Flight Following, or simply don't use ATC.
I notice that all the 'Flight Plan' videos don't use any Ground Control or Air Traffic Control.
This is also the same as when I was using FSX and earlier simulators.
Perhaps this is the way it works in real life, if it is then what's the point of filing a flight plan with waypoints, speeds Altitudes, Etc?
Using ATC does get me to the correct airport eventually.
Just my curiosity about true flight, but there is a possibility that I'm doing something wrong, or some unknown reason for this.
Perhaps if there is a real airline pilot out there he could help out my curiosity.

Pro Member Captain
Ian Stephens (ianstephens) Captain
Ian Stephens is an expert on this topic. Read his bio here.


A great question indeed, and you've touched upon a topic that often causes confusion among flight simulation enthusiasts, especially when it comes to ATC interaction with flight plans. Let's break this down to better understand the mechanics and the rationale behind it.

  • First off, it's critical to comprehend that the primary objective of Air Traffic Control (ATC) is to ensure the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic. While adhering to your flight plan is ideal, ATC might issue instructions that deviate from it in response to traffic situations, weather conditions, or other dynamic factors in real-world aviation. The instrument flight rules (IFR) govern this interaction.
  • Your observation of being assigned different altitudes and headings is not unusual. ATC instructions often differ from the filed flight plan, especially in dense and complex airspace. These changes aim to manage traffic flow, maintain safe separation, or avoid conflicts.
  • The point of filing a flight plan is not only to inform ATC about your intended path but also to provide information that becomes critical in emergency situations. It contains details such as your aircraft's capability, the number of souls on board, your destination, alternate airports, and more.
  • While the Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) 2020 release has made significant strides in enhancing the realism of ATC interactions, keep in mind that there are limitations. The algorithm that governs ATC behavior in the simulator might not fully reflect the intricacies and human factors present in real-world ATC interactions.

Your curiosity about true flight is commendable. While the simulators do a great job, some aspects might not always mirror real-life procedures and operational intricacies to the letter.

For a deeper understanding, you may wish to review the Pilot/Controller Glossary that the FAA publishes. It's a fantastic resource that sheds light on the terminology and phraseology used in ATC communications. You can find it at the official FAA website.

As for your query on whether a real airline pilot could assist, I'm sure there are several experienced pilots among our members who can provide further insight. But I hope my response provides a good starting point.

Keep exploring, keep learning, and happy flying!

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