The Secret Codes That Airlines Don’t Want You to Know

If you’ve flown on a plane, you likely heard pilots and crew speaking to each other differently than they do on the ground. “Codes are used by crew in order to maintain calm and order in the cabin,” says Amanda Pleva, flight attendant and author of the Crewed Talk column. “We’re specially trained in emergency situations and panic that can cause us to lose control of a situation and end up in injury or death.”

Curious about what all these codes actually mean? These are the most common phrases flight crews use to communicate. You may not want to know one chilling secret code (on page 10).

1. Code Bravo

Flight crew and passengers on board
This is designed to distract passengers. | pcruciatti/iStock/Getty Images

While codes are usually used to avoid causing panic, Code Bravo does the exact opposite. The flight crew uses this phrase to distract passengers from actual danger so they can take care of a situation without interference.

Next: All crew members need this.

2. Slam-click

Stewardess talking to passenger
They need their rest too. | Ruben Ramos/iStock/Getty Images

This refers to when a crew member goes to a hotel to rest between shifts. So your flight attendant might say to her colleague, “I’m so tired, I’m going to slam-click.”

Next: Buckle your seatbelt if you hear this phrase.

3. Air pocket

Airplane wing in sky & clouds
It might get a bit bumpy. | WeatherlyHammond/iStocik/Getty Images

This is a nicer way of referring to turbulence. So if you hear talk of brief “air pockets,” hold onto your drink and get ready for a bit of a bumpy ride.

Next: The last place you want overcrowding is the runway.

4. The sin bin

United airlines airplane in the newark airport.
Not a fun place to be. | Muratani/iStock/Getty Images

Las Vegas? Not exactly. The sin bin is an area where a plane waits for takeoff when the runway is too crowded.

Next: This tasty phrase doesn’t mean you should drink it.

5. Blue juice

Occupied bathroom sign
Nothing good can come from hearing this code. | frontpoint/iStock/Getty Images

Nope, it’s not Gatorade. Blue juice refers to the toilet water on the plane.

Next: A flight attendant’s conference call

6. All-call

Woman flight attendant
They’re having a quick conference call. | DigitalVision/iStock/Getty Images

Pilot Patrick Smith says this is part of the door arming or disarming procedure. “This is a request that each flight attendant report via intercom from his or her station — a sort of flight attendant conference call,” he writes on his website.

Next: Prepare for a delay when you hear this phrase.

7. Last-minute paperwork

Happy young woman is sitting in the airplane, feel headache
You’ll be there for a while. | RyanKing999/iStock/Getty Images

Any time you hear the pilot talking about paperwork, make yourself comfortable. This means there’s a change in the flight plan or an issue with the weight-and-balance record. Or maintenance staff may need to adjust the plane’s logbook. No matter what the concern, it’s unlikely that you’ll get to take off on time.

Next: A different kind of weight limit

8. The heavy pilot

Pilot in cockpit
A pilot in cockpit | iStock/Getty Images

No, this doesn’t mean your pilot is fat; this means you’re likely on a longer flight. Sometimes airlines will employ an additional pilot, so they can swap and take breaks on overnight and long-distance journeys.

Next: Missing this procedure could prove disastrous.

9. Crosscheck

emergency exit door in airplane
That would be a pain to put back if they forget. | Artfoliophoto/iStock/Getty Images

A senior cabin crew member says this to indicate that the emergency slides which are attached to each door have been deactivated. Skipping this step would make the slides deploy as soon as the door was opened.

Next: The chilling secret code you never want to hear

10. 7500

airplane with passengers on seats waiting to take off
Listen closely and you might hear some of these. | AwaylGl/iStock/Getty Images

One of the biggest issues during flight emergencies is a pilot’s failure to properly communicate an emergency, according to, a leading flight training source. One of the worst codes you could hear over the intercom: 7500. It means the plane has been hijacked, or that hijacking is imminent.

Next: Two more codes you never, ever want to hear.

11. 7600 or 770o

Pilot in cockpit
Some scary codes that start with “7.” | Matus Duda/iStock/Getty Images

Your plane may not be hijacked, but hearing “7600” or “7700” isn’t ideal either. The former indicates a radio failure or loss of communication. The latter means there’s a general emergency., a flight training program, provides a useful (albeit scary) way of remembering these codes: “75 taken alive, 76 technical glitch, 77 going to heaven.”

Next: Stay on high alert for this next code word.

12. Code Adam

Cute little boy traveling by an airplane
This references a missing child. | SbytovaMN/iStock/Getty Images

This is one you’re just as likely to hear on planes as you are in stores or other public venues. Code Adam, which references an incident where a 6-year-old was abducted from a department store in 1981, means there’s a missing child.

Next: Not the most appropriate phrase

13. Crotch watch

person fastens seat belt while sitting on airplane seat
“To fasten your seat belt, insert the flat, metal end into the buckle.” | eggeeggjiew/iStock/Getty Images

Flight attendants likely don’t want you to overhear this phrase. It’s a not-so-eloquent way of saying he or she is in charge of checking everyone’s seatbelts.

Next: The worst kind of traffic jam

14. Ground stop

Evening traffic at airport
Things are a little too busy. | XavierMarchant/iStock/Getty Images

This is when air traffic is so extensive that departures to certain destinations are delayed by air traffic controllers.

Next: This is what pilots call the plane.

15. Equipment

United airlines airplane in the newark airport
It seems to be a little more than just equipment. | Muratani/iStock/Getty Images

This literally means the plane. Smith wonders on his blog: “Is there not something strange about the refusal to call the focal object of the entire industry by its real name?”

Next: A word for flight attendants who aren’t on the clock.

16. Deadhead

man passenger in airplane using mobile smart device with headphones
This time they can relax and take advantage of their flight perks. | Genaro_Melendrez /iStcok/Getty Images

No, it’s not a flight attendant who loves listening to the Grateful Dead. A deadhead is a pilot or flight attendant who’s traveling on the plane but isn’t working the flight.

Next: You’ll sometimes hear this on your way to Europe.

17. Tracks

These are frequently flown routes. | Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images

These are the very popular routes between Europe and North America.

Next: Don’t be rude, or you’ll suffer this form of retribution.

18. Cropdusting

Couple talking on an airplane
You might catch a whiff of something not so nice. | DigitalVision/iStock/Getty Images

This means exactly what you think it means.

Just because your flight attendants go out of their way to be nice to rude passengers, it doesn’t mean they can’t get revenge. Cropdusting is the act of passing gas as you walk by another person. It’s used by flight attendants to get back at rude customers. Avoid becoming a victim — be polite!

Read more: 15 Secrets Airlines Don’t Want You to Know

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