Pilots Reveal the Real Meaning Behind These Common In-Flight Announcements

Routine airplane travel can numb passengers to the in-flight announcements that come from the pilot and flight crew. While there is something oddly comforting about hearing the pilot’s voice, a lot of the jargon coming from the cockpit feels more like jibberish than anything. Luckily, airline pilot Patrick Smith revealed what all of those in-flight announcements really mean. Check it out: 

1. “Doors to arrival and crosscheck.”

Airplane at Seattle Tacoma aiport

The doors are in manual mode. | David_Johnson/iStock/Getty Images

Crosscheck is a term used by the flight crew to verify one another’s work. The phrase “doors to arrival and crosscheck” is announced as the plane approaches the gate, and it means that the doors have been switched to manual mode. The switch from automatic to manual disables the escape slides from deploying once the doors have opened, allowing passengers to safely deplane.

Next: You hear this announcement every time you fly.

2. “All-call”

Flight attendant using the phone on an airplane

They’re checking on each other. | Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The term “all-call” is usually heard when the flight crew says, “Flight attendants, doors to arrival, crosscheck, and all-call.” The all-call portion of the announcement is a request that crew stations hop on the phone to connect with one another and make sure everyone is on the same page — a check and balance procedure.

Next: This announcement is usually coupled with passengers feeling a bit tense. 

3. “Holding pattern”

airplane flying

It’s typically to wait out bad weather. | Ep_stock/iStock/Getty Images

When the weather gets too nasty for a landing or too much traffic has built-up on the runway, pilots will resort to flying in a “holding pattern.” Imagine a race track in the sky. Pilots will fly the plane in this circular pattern until the weather or traffic has passed.

Next: Another way to describe cruising altitude

4. “Flight level”

No Smoking and Fasten Seat belt Sign

When they reach the proper altitude the sign comes off. | Fominayaphot/iStock/Getty Images

When the pilot announces that a “flight level of three-zero-zero has been reached”, typically the seatbelt sign is turned off as well. The flight level is a more complicated term for cruising altitude. That cruising altitude of “three-zero-zero” just needs to be translated to thousands. For instance, three-zero-zero actually means 30,000 feet above sea level. It’s at this cruising altitude where turbulence is less likely.

Next: This vague announcement, revealed.

5. “Last-minute paperwork”

airplane on runway

The plane will be stuck there for a bit. | Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to pushing back and heading down the tarmac, “last-minute paperwork” has a host of different meanings. For the most part, this last-minute paperwork involves a change to the flight plan or a weight-and-balance issue with cargo. It also indicates that the maintenance crew needs a little more time to write up the logbook. Sometimes, last-minute paperwork can take 30 minutes.

Next: You’ll want to buckle your seatbelt if the pilot makes this announcement.

6. “Air pocket”

Airplane wing in sky & clouds

It happens from time to time. | WeatherlyHammond/iStocik/Getty Images

Go ahead and equate an “air pocket” to in-flight turbulence. Everyone despises turbulence, but flying through these air pockets is inevitable from time to time. Typically, the air pocket or turbulence is accompanied by the pilot putting the seat belt sign back into effect.

Next: A way to determine who is really in charge.

7. “First officer”

Pilots Sitting in the Cockpit

The uniform is the difference. | Digital Vision/iStock/Getty Images

The “first officer” is the captain’s right-hand man or woman, literally. Sitting to the right of the captain, the first officer is capable of taking on any role that the captain plays, from take off to landing. The distinguishing difference between the individuals in the cockpit (also called the flight deck) is the uniform. Usually, the first officer’s uniform displays three stripes to signify his or her role.

Next: This announcement usually means you’re missing your connecting flight.

8. “Ground stop”

It’s to avoid a traffic jam. | iStock/Getty Images

A “ground stop” is one of the last announcements any traveler wants to hear, but from time to time, it’s necessary. This delay is not for weather (usually) but for air traffic control. At times, too many planes are jetting to the same destination, which can cause a dangerous traffic jam. Luckily, air traffic control is able to determine a potential issue and put a stop to it.

Next: One of the most-welcomed announcements during a long or turbulent flight.

9. “Final approach”

Tampa, Florida, skyline with warm sunset light with a commercial passenger jet airline

You’re almost at your destination. | mokee81/iStock/Getty Images

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on our final approach into (fill in the blank).” This is a welcomed announcement, as it informs the passengers that their destination is clearly on the horizon. Along with the final approach announcement comes the clear instructions to put your seat in the upright position, pull up your tray table, and stow your belongings. You have arrived, well, almost.

Next: Is this a shout out to Grateful Dead fans?

10. “Deadhead”

flight attendants

It basically means co-workers getting a lift. | Martijn Beekman/AFP/Getty Images

Not to be confused with any Grateful Dead fandom, a “deadhead” in airplane terminology represents an airline employee hitching a ride for a work commute or personal travel. This is not an announcement heard regularly in-flight, but if it does come over the loudspeaker, the real Deadheads may think of it as a nod to the greatest band there ever was.

Next: What’s the difference between direct and nonstop flights?

11. “Direct”

Women sitting on an airplane

Passengers wouldn’t have to deplane. | iStock/Getty Images

A “direct” flight is not the same as a nonstop flight. So, let us clear the record once and for all. Back in the day, direct flights were a little more common. These sort of flights would make stops along the way, except passengers would not have to deplane. Instead, they would pick up new passengers and continue to the final destination. A nonstop flight is self-explanatory — no stops.

Next: If your flight is grounded or in a holding pattern, you’ll want to hear this announcement. 

12. “EFC time”

American Airlines airplane taking off at Dallas - Ft Worth (DFW) Airport in Texas.

Landing or take-off is about to happen. | Aneese/iStock/Getty Images

“EFC time” is a good announcement, although it may not sound that way. EFC stands for “expect further clearance.” When a flight is in a holding pattern or has been ground stopped, the EFC time indicates that the pilot has received word that landing or take-off (whichever applies) is imminent.

Next: You don’t want your luggage to get left here.

13. “The ramp”

Air Korea

The ramp is where all loading and unloading occur. | Btrenkel/iStock/Getty Images

“The ramp” is the region of the tarmac where the plane is in chill-mode. This is where the cargo is loaded onto the plane. The plane is on the ramp when passengers are loading and unloading. Sometimes, the ramp is also referred to as the “apron,” and is basically any area of the tarmac minus the runway and taxiway.

Next: The road to the runway can be long if these areas are clogged.

14. “Alley”

Toncontin International Airport

Thats where the aircraft takes off from. | Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

These days, pilots will usually refer to the “alley” as the tarmac, but the alley references any passageway or taxiway on the tarmac. For instance, a pilot will announce, “It’ll be just a second, folks. We’re waiting for another aircraft to move out of the alley.” Alleys can be the staging zones for planes waiting to take off.

Next: If your plane takes off, you’ll want to avoid this. 

15. “Area of weather”

airplane with passengers on seats waiting to take off

Watch out for turbulence and delays. | AwaylGl/iStock/Getty Images

This announcement is pretty obvious, but an “area of weather” is usually announced in conjunction with the pilot informing the passengers that he or she is changing course to avoid the said weather. A decision to change course due to weather will usually help avoid nasty turbulence in order to safely deliver passengers to their final destination.

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Source: Ask the Pilot