Airline Semantics

You’ve heard this over the P.A. on board a jet before, and it’s the airline version of  Tom Sawyer coaxing Huck Finn to whitewash the picket fence: “This is for your comfort and safety–and the safety of those around you.”

Translated? Eat your vegetables. Only like Mom used to do, coax you into thinking you thought of it yourself so you’ll actually do what’s best for you. So when you hear that phrase after any instruction on-board, like “fasten your seatbelt” or “stow your electronic devices,” do it.

Because what will follow is the airline version of Mom’s standard, “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Which is as untrue as when she said it: you’re going to get arrested, which will actually hurt you more than anyone else. Because you’re talking federal charges, which is neither negligible or inexpensive.

I know, by the time you’ve navigated the security and check-in gauntlets with their byzantine requirements and instructions and finally settled into your seat on board, you’re ready to have your own way at last, right?

Sorry, but you still have to work within constraints and if necessary, read between the lines so we can all stay cordial.

And there are other clearly embedded messages waiting for you at the airport, although I can’t really figure out why they’re dressed up as anything other than plain English. Some of them, I still don’t get–like this:

“The equipment for this flight is out of service.”

Huh? What’s wrong with “aircraft” and “broken,” respectively? Is it like the hotel industry’s 13th floor taboo–no one wants to stay there because of bad luck–that spills over into flying: sure don’t want to say the “a” word (“aircraft” or “airplane”) because flying is scary?

Does anyone ask what “equipment” you drive? And to me, driving is MUCH scarier than flying. But no one asked me about either one, actually.

My favorite "equipment."

Still, it seems like a bit of airline puffery to say “equipment ” to passengers when what you really mean is simply, “aircraft.” Between pilots, sure, we use the term “equipment” to distinguish between aircraft types, as in “is this scheduled for a 767-200 or -300?” Or, “What equipment is Joe Bunda on?” “He moved to the 75.”

Bad enough that we schedule “equipment” rather than aircraft, but the euphemisms don’t end there. Apparently “equipment” doesn’t “fly,” it operates. As in “Flight 22 will now operate out of gate 15.” Can we not even just “depart” rather than “operate,” if “flying” is too scary?

Now hold on before you sling around the jargon you just learned. Even knowing the correct term, don’t ask the dumb question:

See what I mean? It’s a linguistic mine field there at the airport and if you don’t want to seem like a dolt, it’s best to say as little as possible. But here are a couple other subtle distinctions if you want to sound at least like you go to the airport more than twice a year.

First, we “load” bags but we “board” passengers. Right? I mean everyone complains about air travel being a cattle car experience, so why not clean up the perception a little: you will board the aircraft. At your destination, you will “deplane,” not “de-board” as I often hear after a pregnant pause grasping for words.

Do you really need to be "loaded" onto the plane?

Finally, one last bit of terminology. If we meet and I’m out of uniform, I will likely not even mention what I do for a living. That’s not because I’m anti-social, it’s more because I don’t really want to hear a story about how someone’s last flight allegedly “fell thousands of feet straight down” or more typically, had the pilot “abort the landing” and shoot straight up or blah-blah-blah and no, I don’t know what the fare to Cleveland is.

So at best you’ll get a cover story. But if in uniform I accidentally make eye contact and you feel an interrogation is in order, let me say up front that I don’t do any “runs.” Those are for skiers and milkmen. Besides the fact that I usually can’t even remember where I was the night before (some hotel somewhere?) or haven’t even looked at the trip I’m flying next week (think about that the night before), pilots and flight attendants don’t do “runs.” Okay?

Hmmmm, I sound a little cranky today. Must be because in an hour, seems I’ll be dragging on the polyester and operating the equipment between Dulles and LAX once they load the passengers.

But in real life, I get to fly a great jet across the country yet again, seeing the best views from the sky and loving every minute of it as I always have, while keeping my 160 peeps and crew of six safe and happy and taking them where they wanted to go today.

Now, which sounds like more fun to you?

Welcome to my world.

I used to post these on Facebook–but I closed my account last week. From now on, they’ll be right here if you care to look at them.

LAX at sunset, waiting for the alley to clear so we can park.

The Colorado River divides California from Arizona.

Beak to beak at LAX.

The city by the bay.

Weekdays flying the Boeing, weekends flying the Stratocaster Blacktop with my band, "NightFlight."

21 Responses to “Airline Semantics”

  1. blackwatertown Says:

    Good photos and I love the extra pillow request picture.

  2. Luc Coulombe Says:

    So no more pictures on Twitter also?

    • Twitter will still have my flight pictures. I just quit Facebook.


       Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • Luc Coulombe Says:

        Good. I am fond of them. Because a) they’re nice b) It’s fun to try to guess where they were taken from. So far, none from Montreal I think.

      • Montreal is one of my favorite cities, especially in the warm months. I’ll be looking for those trips in June, July and August.


         Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

  3. Funny stuff Chris. We will miss you on Facebook.

  4. Jargon. Over the years since I at last grew up it makes me tear my hair out.

    Most businesses these days seem over populated by breathless, over paid and immature would be PR children, who, like myself when I knew next to nothing and wanted to sound important, exercise their tongues and under developed minds to confuse everybody in possession of a rational mind.

    There is a place for jargon but I don’t think it is in communication with the paying customer.

  5. Giulia Says:


    You sounded cranky, but I know you’re not. Great post. (And loving the photos! I don’t think I could have overlooked that section. Smarty pants. 🙂 )

    • Hey, that’s me implementing your suggestion on the pictures! Good idea. Doing the transcon tomorrow so I should get some more decent pictures between coasts.

      BTW, how’s my favorite group of 6th graders doing?

       Chris

      Sent from my iPhone, so please pardon the typos.

      • 🙂 Thanks for taking my suggestion about the pics. I enjoy looking at your photos.

        The students are busy busy busy! They will be so happy when I say that you asked about them.

        Maybe Skype with the class before the year’s end? My people should talk to your people.

        Take care.

  6. Thanks for another great post, Chris. I hear, I agree and I run like hell, mor often than I fly these days. In truth, I *do* trust the airplane drivers and their professional support staff. Frankly, save the very long hauls, where there is no choice, I HATE the scrunch with unknown folks with unusual odors. I do not mind not being ‘served’ food and I bought my own even 25 years ago. THe Beverage Service is dumb as the last thing a flier needs is EtOH! Plain water and lots is good, but TSA says that I cannot bring my own and your airline [deleted f word]s me when I ask for bottled, rather than from FiFi’s holding tank. If only a couple of hours, I tough it out and I hate it. If more than 2 or 3 hours butt time, I usually buy a “J” or better seat, just for some privacy and no quibble about clean water. (Drinking airplane water is as smart as slurping that blue stuff and I know damn well that YOU don’t drink it. Wven almost boiled, I wonder about the coffee.) In short, riding on your airplanes used to be fun for me and profitable for you. These days it is neither and I avoid it as often as humanly possible.
    That said, I know that you folks fly as safely as is reasonably possible. The statistics supoprt flying as safe. It is NOT pleasant, save that odd 13-hour international flight in First Class. I don’t live that routine and I don’t think you do, either. Yes, Sir, I am old enough to remember when the passenger load was 50 or 60, everyone dress well for the trip and the flight crew was three or even four well experienced souls. Four huge rotary engines got a brief WFO test and then we begged our way into the air. Cabin service was exceptional and well before the era of ‘Stewardeses’ as sex objects! Many were then (still?) Registered Nurses. When Coca Cola first became available in steel cans, the arilines grabbed it becasue it was lighter than glass bottles. Yup, my first experience with a can! Everyone dressed well and behaved well. Even the run-around children like me were dressed and reserved enough to not bother the ‘compartment’ passengers. Kids got wings (I still have mine!) and a visit to the pointy end, if requested. (I can recall standing on a big book at the Captain’s order and reaching for a RED button on the overhead panel, being told to PUSH IT! I do not know the make/model of that airplane, but that RED Button honked the horn!! I pushed it twice!!
    Yes, todays’s flying is much safer than in the 50s and the schedules are far more efficient. When the numbers are crunched, it is far cheaper per mile flown (in most cases) than in those days. As much as I enjoy the physical experience, I avoid flying when possible. The pleasure is too long gone.

    • I think your comment is longer than my entry.

      But again, your assumptions aren’t really accurate. The water on “Fifi’s” cart is not from the aircraft system–that would take forever and require pitchers and crap nobody wants to mess with. But I *do* drink the airplane water all the time–often on a long leg, I buy a big ol’ cup of ice in the terminal, then fill it up with water out of the galley tap. Keeps me hydrated for hours. Plus, the coffee is brewed from the aircraft’s water supply, and there ain’t no way I’m going without coffee in flight.

      The way of the world is this: after security, get water to take on board. A lot of folks who aren’t as lazy as me carry an empty container through security, then fill it up on the secure side. Traveling off the job, I always just buy a liter on the secure side. Then you have it when you want it.

  7. You’ve freaked out Deb Correll Cheney by your sudden disappearance from Facebook. Drop her a line to let her know you’re okay, would you?

  8. funny post!

    as far as “runs”…I thought you did do that…something about ceviche in Mexico City?

    Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. 😉

  9. Hey! You added the photo of you and your band playing Mayfest! Great!!! Now just link the Voodoo video when you get it!

    Congratulations on the gig! 🙂

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