What these common phrases you hear on an airplane really mean


Traveling is stressful as it is without having to question what cryptic messages pilots and crew members are sending — whether it be over the microphone, PA system or even to your face.

Make catching your next flight a little more pleasant with this handy guide to airplane talk.

To help you, we’ve put together this list of top terms and phrases you’re likely to hear while in the air so that you’ll never be left confused again. Happy travels!


As the crew prepares for an arrival or departure, the plane’s doors need to be cross-checked. This basically means the flight attendants need to double check each other’s work.

airplane photo
Getty Images | Joe Raedle


The term “deadhead” is used when a crew member is flying as a passenger to get to an assignment. This shouldn’t be confused for traveling on personal time. For example, a flight attendant may “deadhead” to Dallas to work a flight from there to San Francisco — so the crew member is “deadheading” to Dallas.

flight attendent photo
Getty Images | Kevork Djansezian

“Blue Juice”

You might have guessed this one — this term refers to the blue liquid found in the toilet bowls of planes.

plane bathroom photo
Getty Images | Kevork Djansezian

“Doors To Arrival”

This is a common saying that is often announced as your flight is entering the gate. The purpose of this phrase is to ensure that the emergency escape slides attached to the doors have been disarmed. The emergency slides have to be “armed” or “prepared” before a plane takes off so that the slides will automatically deploy if the door opens. Likewise, they need to be disarmed upon arrival, so that the slides don’t deploy when it’s time to let passengers off.

airplane photo
Getty Images | Sean Gallup

“Sharon Stone Jumpseat”

Flight attendants sit in a fold-down jumpseat for takeoff, turbulence and landing. But this specific term is for jumpseats that face passengers. It references the classic scene from “Basic Instinct” where the Sharon Stone’s character crosses and uncrosses her legs. It’s a tough seat to sit in when wearing a dress or skirt, for obvious reasons.

airplane photo
Getty Images | Bruce Bennett


This term is used to ensure everyone has verified their work via crosscheck. During an all-call, each person in the crew will call in from where they’re stationed via the telephone intercom. An all-call is utilized to make sure everyone is on the same page.

airline crew photo
Getty Images | Alexander Hassenstein

“Two For One Special”

The two for one special occurs when the plane touches down on landing, bounces up, then touches down again, often causing passengers to panic.

plane landing photo
Getty Images | Christopher Furlong

“Crotch Watch”

As silly as this one sounds, this is slang for something important: when a flight attendant walks through the cabin checking that everyone’s seatbelts are buckled.

airplane seat photo
Flickr | MattHurst


I’m pretty sure we’ve all been a runner at one point or another — a passenger who is literally racing to catch a connection from a previous flight that arrived late.

airport photo
Getty Images | Mark Wilson

“Landing Lips”

The term “landing lips” describes when women touch up their lipstick just prior to landing.

airplane photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

“Last-Minute Paperwork”

According to Patrick Smith, author of “Cockpit Confidential,” last-minute paperwork is “something to do with the weight-and-balance record, a revision to the flight plan, or waiting for the maintenance guys to deal with a write-up and get the logbook in order,” he wrote at his site, Ask The Pilot.

In other words, get ready for a half-hour delay.

airplane delay photo
Getty Images | Scott Olson


Have you ever been that person who barely makes their flight, yet manages to get onboard without a seat assignment? Then you’ve been a spinner — someone standing in the aisle, spinning around looking for a free seat.

airport photo
Getty Images | Spencer Platt


A base is the home airport of a crew and its plane. Just as a plane has one base, despite flying in and out of tons of cities, a crew also only has one base, regardless of whether that’s the same as their place of residence.

airport photo
Getty Images | Spencer Platt


This is another term for autopilot.

airplane cockpit photo
Getty Images | Pool


We’ve all been there — sitting in our seats, anxious and confused as to why we haven’t landed yet. The go-around is another way of saying that air conditions aren’t right to land just yet, so the crew will work with air traffic control to arrange a different approach to the runway.

airplane passengers photo
Getty Images | Tao Zhang


This one’s pretty straightforward: “Met” is short for meteorological conditions, aka the weather.

airplane weather photo
Getty Images | Scott Eisen


It’s common knowledge that everyone needs to have their seatbelts fastened before a plane leaves the gate for departure. Larger passengers who may be unable to buckle themselves with a standard lap belt can ask for a seatbelt extension, or extender, giving them an extra 25 inches of belt.

passengers plane photo
Getty Images | Sean Gallup

“Holding Pattern”

This is a racetrack-shaped course that is flown when the weather is bad or if there’s a lot of air traffic. A plane enters a holding pattern when there’s nowhere else to go.

airplane photo
Getty Images | Scott Olson

“Flight Deck”

You may hear the pilot announce his or her greeting from the “flight deck.” This is plane-speak for “cockpit.”

Lufthansa And Airbus Present New A350 Passenger Plane
Getty Images | Alexander Hassenstein

“First Officer”

The captain (or head pilot) will often introduce the “first officer” during in-flight announcements. This fancy term for a co-pilot is a carryover from military days, but it also clearly establishes the chain of command during a flight.


“Final Boarding Call”

This one is pretty obvious: If you’re in the airport and hear this announced for the flight you’re trying to make, it means: run! Flight staff will close the gate 10-15 minutes before the plane’s scheduled takeoff time. If you get there after the door’s shut, you better start working to try and get on the next flight to your destination.


“EFC Time”

“EFC” stands for “expect further clearance” time. This is also known as a release time, and it gives the crew an estimation of when they can get out of a holding pattern and continue on the planned course to the destination.

airplane photo
Getty Images | Joe Raedle

“Wheels-Up Time”

It’s pretty obvious that this one’s slang for takeoff, however according to Patrick Smith, it’s mostly used in the context of takeoff after a ground delay.



Chances are if you’re a math buff you’ll know this one. “Vector” is a mathematical term used to describe the combination of the direction the plane is heading and the plane’s speed. Pilots will often include this in their altitude announcement.

Travel Images
Getty Images | Bruce Bennett


While this word has come to describe the surfaces planes touch while on the ground, it’s not entirely accurate. The word tarmac comes from “tarmacadam,” a tar-based substance used to resurface roads, that coincidentally is too soft to be used for airport surfaces.

You’re more likely to hear pilots and flight staff use more accurate terms to describe these areas: runway, taxiway and apron (aka what most of us think of as “at the gate”).

airplane photo
Getty Images | Sean Gallup

Did you recognize any of these terms?

Curiosity, Travel

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About the Author
Chelsea Davis
Chelsea is a freelance journalist based in New York City whose passion revolves around traveling the world, immersing herself in foreign cultures, and of course, eating and drinking everything delicious. She covers all things food, drink and travel and is always up for an adventure, whether that means an adrenaline-pumping excursion or trying a new cuisine. Follow her on Instagram at @cheycheyfromthebay and keep up with her latest work at www.chelseadavis.com.

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