Understanding Airline Jargon for the Next Time You Fly
Whether you’re sat on the plane awaiting take off, or mid-flight and listening keenly for updates from your pilot and cabin crew, it is fair to say that there is a lot of “airline jargon” spoken by your cabin crew.
Some instructions are simple, such as a warning to fasten seatbelts, or an alert that food is about to be served, but some aviation terminology can seem like a whole other language.
Yet despite this, passengers can often nod along without knowing exactly what that airline jargon means. If you’re a regular flier, it’s likely that you have become accustomed to hearing phrases such as “flight deck” and “holding pattern” – but do you actually know why they’re significant?
Just like watching the safety briefing before take-off, it’s important to know what is going on with your flight, partly out of interest, and partly so that you can follow instructions if necessary.
We’ve compiled a list of commonly-used airline jargon phrases and acronyms, along with their definitions, to help you become an aviation expert next time you fly.
Before Take Off
This is an Air Traffic Control (ATC) assigned departure time that distinguishes between a plane being on the ground and fully airborne.
“Doors to arrival/ Manual and Crosscheck”
This is said before the start of each flight, and means that the doors are ready to use if ever there was the need for an emergency evacuation. If the door is opened, the escape raft or slide will be activated. After the flight, the pilot asks crew to disarm the doors.
This applies to both the arming and disarming procedure, in which the emergency exit and slides are checked to see that they are both functioning properly. Each flight attendant must report “all call” via the intercom at their station.
Here is an odd one: “equipment” is used to refer to the whole airplane itself. Changing the equipment could be the reason for a flight delay.
In Cases of Bad Weather
Inclement weather brings with it a whole other barrage of instructions, and in turn, airline jargon, for cabin crew to closely abide to. Turbulence, lightning strikes and heavy winds are amongst the conditions you could experience when travelling, so here are the definitions of phrases that you’re likely to hear crew members saying.
This phrase is said during take-off and landing, but also during turbulent conditions. Those small seats, often situated at the front, middle and back of planes are where crew members are seated. If you hear “jump seat”, it is an instruction for crew to sit down immediately.
“Area of Weather”
Don’t be worried if you hear this; it is just a less startling way of stating that the flight is travelling through a weather zone of thunderstorms or heavy rain, and the pilots will have the situation under control.
The pilot will tell passengers about an air pocket if they are flying through a jolt of turbulence.
Flight Time Frames
“Direct flight” This is not to be confused with nonstop flight. A direct flight can actually stop at an interim destination, but the “direct” part means that there is only one flight number, that will remain consistent throughout the entire journey.
A plane may be at a ground stop if ATC has delayed its departure due to bad weather such as low clouds and visibility, storms or high winds. Another reason a ground stop could occur is due to a traffic backlog.
This is a racetrack shaped ground track that an aircraft follows on the instruction of ATC. If an aircraft is waiting in the holding pattern, it is usually the result of a ground stop at the destination airport, and can result in a diversion.
“Irregular Operations” or “IROP”
This means that schedules have not run on time, similarly due to unfortunate weather or subsequent delays.
EFC stands for “expect further clearance” time, and is also known as “release time”. If you hear “EFC time fifteen minutes” for example, it means that the crew expect to be set free from a holding pattern or exempted from a ground stop in fifteen minutes.
This is an-ATC assigned departure time that distinguishes between a plane being on the ground and fully airborne.
“Last minute paperwork”
This may be a warning that your flight may be delayed while you are waiting for take-off. Patrick Smith, an author, aviation blogger and commercial airline pilot, warns that this “paperwork” is usually a revision of the flight plan, and therefore the precursor to a delay (https://uk.businessinsider.com/pilot-explain-airline-jargon-code-words-2017-4?r=US&IR=T/#last-minute-paperwork-6).
Quite simply as it sounds; a flight that makes no stops.
This is not to be confused with nonstop flight. A direct flight can actually stop at an interim destination, but the “direct” part means that there is only one flight number, that will remain consistent throughout the entire journey.
If your pilot alerts you to the fact the aircraft is “at flight level”, it means that you are at your highest point throughout the journey, generally an altitude of 18,000 feet and above. It is usually expressed in hundreds of feet, e.g. “Flight Level One-Eight-Zero.”
If a flight that you are due to board is “in range”, this means that it is roughly ten to twenty minutes from landing. It is reported at the airport to prompt passengers to queue up to board.
To flight attendants, the final approach generally refers to the latter point of the descent. In more technical terms, to a pilot, a plane is on its final approach when it has arrived at the last, straight-in segment of the landing pattern, i.e. it is perfectly aligned with the centreline of the runway, therefore requires no manoeuvring.
Another way of being instructed to disembark the aircraft.
Your Cabin Crew and Pilots
The Captain of your flight is the ultimate or final authority, bearing the most responsibility. In any case of disagreement with the First Officer, his or her final say overrules.
Is also known as the “Second in Command” or “Co Pilot”. First officers are fully fledged and qualified pilots that sit in the right hand seat in the cockpit and share all flying duties.
The Captain of your flight is the ultimate and final authority, bearing the most responsibility. In any case of disagreement with the First Officer, the Captain’s say overrules.
“Crew Rest Delay”
If air hosts or hostesses are on crew rest delay, this means that due to a previous flight delay, they worked longer than their planned hours, and so need a minimum quantity of rest before returning to duty.
Here are some useful links for if you’d like to fine tune your aviation jargon knowledge further: