While sitting in seat 12D, in my uniform, I was chatting with the woman in seat 12E next to me. We stopped talking and were listening to the conversation between two flight attendants who were serving from the drink cart. One flight attendant asked her colleague in the galley for a coffee refill while locking the cart in position. While the two flight attendants waited for the coffee, they began to have a very animated conversation. It was a special language. It was the language of airline lingo. We both listened, more like eavesdropped!
“I hope I can bid next month and get reserve,” one flight attendant said to the other. “I don’t want to commute because there are so many non-revs and I’ll have to jumpseat. I always dead-head and the flights are always oversold. My last flight had three MEL’s in the cabin! It was so hot in Phoenix and the APU was Inop. It was a three-leg day, I thought we were going to time out!”
They continued with the service and we were served our beverages. The gal next to me looked at me, bewildered, and said, “Okay what the heck were they talking about?”
Airline crews have their own language and it can be tough to decipher what the words actually mean. Let’s decode what you might hear on a flight. Below is a list of common terms you might hear from flight attendants and pilots communicating with each other or over the PA (Public Address).
A pilot or flight attendant who is being “repositioned” by the company and is occupying a passenger seat to cover a work assignment.
Inside the cockpit, there are one or two “jump seats” that only pilots or the FAA can occupy. In the cabin, there are extra jump seats for the cabin crew too. Sometimes, you might see someone without a uniform occupying a seat. It is a qualified employee utilizing that extra seat if the flight is full with passengers.
Non-Revs (Non-Revenue Passengers)
Passengers who are employees, or family members, are waiting for a seat after all paid (revenue) passengers have been served. We also call these tickets “space available.” Non-revs have the lowest seating priority than a paying passenger. I like to call it “hitchhiking around the planet!”
Usually referred to a paying (revenue) passenger who hasn’t been assigned a seat due to a full flight. They are waiting, standing by, to see if there is a seat available.
Sadly, this is perfectly legal but the airlines use historical data and will “oversell” a flight’s capacity, banking on the historical data for “no shows.” The problem occurs when everyone shows up! The order of people who check in (24 hours prior) get placed first on the list to board.
Think of “legs” as flights done in a day. If we flew from LAX to DFW to OKC to MSP, we would have a three-leg day.
A “turn” is an out and back from your base (your home airport). A flight from LAX to MEX back to LAX is a Mexico City turn. You sleep in your own bed at home, not in a hotel!
You might recall hearing this as you approach the terminal while the aircraft stops. A flight attendant will make a PA, “All call and verify crosscheck.” A very important reminder that all cabin crew need to verify their doors are disarmed. If the door isn’t disarmed and opened, the emergency slides will deploy!
The video monitor unit that is in the seat back is called an in-flight entertainment unit. It has a movie screen, with music, moving maps and airport layouts.
These are the toughest flights! Hopefully, you can get some sleep while the plane departs during the middle of the night, typically landing early the next morning.
A combination of letters and numbers, usually six of them, that are created when you make a reservation and book a ticket. It’s called a PNR for short. It contains all your itinerary and trip information.
The distance between the seat in front of you and the back of your seat. Lately, the pitch on U.S. carriers seems to be getting smaller and smaller. There’s typically between 28 inches and 33 inches of pitch.
A single-aisle aircraft. Most U.S. airlines fly Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s that make up their narrow bodies.
These are our long-haul jets that have two aisles and usually fly internationally.
A percentage of staff are assigned a month’s schedule of reserve duty. They basically are “on call” and can be sent to cover a flight at a base airport in case a crew member can’t make their assigned trip.
A percentage of staff that are senior enough to have specific trips during the month. A flexible schedule that allows “trading” trips with other crew members. The trips are called sequences and pairings and are “bid” on each month.
A way for crews to “trade” their assigned trips to another qualified crewmember. It gives great flexibility and the “trip” remains staffed.
This is one of the worst words in the language, irregular operations. This usually means a weather event has caused major disruptions and almost every aspect of the operation is degraded. It could be the aircraft, crews, airport gates, hotels, transportation, or customer service agents who are all trying to conduct business under severe disruptions.
Reference to the lavatory and the blue water that is used in the toilet.
Souls on board
An area where the aircraft park and transit from the gate out towards a taxiway.
You might hear a pilot use this word regarding an item that needs to be temporarily placarded out of use. It takes time for maintenance to log it, review it, and document the item.
A small compact jet engine, usually in the rear of an aircraft, that provides auxiliary power to the aircraft. It’s used mostly while passengers are boarding while parked at the terminal. It provides electrical power and provides air conditioning.
An estimated time for departure that is assigned by air traffic control (ATC) that is different from the scheduled departure time.
Crews have hours of availability and flight times that they are legally allowed to work. If a crew member is close to “timing out,” a great sense of urgency happens to get the flight airborne.
A very senior flight attendant!
The Ramp Is Closed
Usually due to lightning and thunder resulting in a closed ramp area to prevent ground crew members from possible lightning strikes.
Certain airports literally stop all movement, caused by congestion or weather.
A maintenance record keeping logbook of a particular aircraft.
A repositioning flight of an aircraft. Usually not carrying passengers due to a maintenance problem.
Before each flight, a pilot will walk around the jet and look for specific items and any discrepancies for safety.
Pilots use this terminology with ATC to talk about altitudes above 18,000 feet.
Now that you have a special decoded breakdown, listen up on your next flight! You will be an aviation lingo pro in no time!