Delta planes line up at their gates while on the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah in this file photo taken September 28, 2013. Shares of Delta Air Lines Inc surged almost 5 percent in morning trading on Tuesday after it gave a healthy outlook for the first quarter despite a harsh winter that was expected to hurt airlines. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS)
Delta planes line up at their gates.
REUTERS

A “joke” played by an air traffic controller on a commercial pilot who was preparing to land a Boeing 777 is turning out to be no laughing matter, according to federal officials.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that the prank was played last week as a Delta Air Lines plane was about 1,000 feet off the ground while approaching Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, reported local TV station 11Alive.

The air traffic controller told the pilot to abort its landing before saying seconds later, “I’m kidding, Delta 630. After you land, I’ve got no one behind you. Expect to exit right.”

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But it was too late, as the quick-reacting pilot had already diverted the plane to circle the airport.

Planes are diverted all the time for a number of reasons: For hitting a bird; for unruly passengers; for random in-flight malfunctions.

But air traffic controllers playing jokes on pilots landing planes is seemingly unchartered territory for the FAA, which told 11Alive that it was doubtful that the passengers were ever truly in harm’s way.

Still, discipline to the offending air traffic controller is a safe bet as the agency said it plans on “investigating air traffic communications with Delta 630, a Boeing 777 aircraft on approach to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.”