Alphabet Soup: A Starter Guide of Airline Industry Terminology

If you’ve been to an airport, you know flight crews have their own language. There’s terminology used, and a shorthand, that makes communicating with dispatch, maintenance, and even passengers more efficient. If you’re thinking about becoming a Flight Attendant, or starting ANY job in the airline industry, you’ll need to learn how to speak the lingo with these frequently-used aviation terms, phrases, acronyms, and jargon.

(Is this a definitive list of aviation terms? No. But it’s a good start to help you launch your career in the sky!)

  1. ADULT : A passenger who has reached their thirteenth birthday.
  2. AFT: The rear; toward the tail section of the aircraft.
  3. AGENT: A person who assists passengers on the ground with company-related business (reservations, gate and ground).
  4. AIRCRAFT TAIL NUMBER: An identification number painted on the tail section of the aircraft.
  5. ABLE-BODIED PERSON (ABP): A passenger (not a crew member) who assists in evacuating an aircraft.
  6. AIRCRAFT LEFT: Determined by facing forward in the cabin looking forward, toward the pilots. The left side is aircraft left.
  7. AIRCRAFT RIGHT: Determined by facing forward in the cabin looking forward, toward the pilots. The right side is aircraft right.
  8. ALTITUDE: The height above sea level measured in feet.
  9. ANNUNCIATOR PANEL: Bank of colored lights that work in conjunction with the aircraft call chime system.
  10. ARM: To turn on or prepare equipment for use.
  11. ASCENT: The action of an airplane climbing.
  12. ATC: Air Traffic Control is the agency of the FAA whose function is to manage and control all air traffic while in flight and on the ground.
  13. AUXILIARY POWER UNIT (APU) : A small engine used to operate a generator that supplies direct current power to an aircraft when the engines are shut down. This generator is typically used to power the air and lights while the aircraft is parked at the gate.
  14. BALLAST: Weight added to an aircraft to keep it in proper weight and balance.
  15. BIDDING: The procedure that crewmembers are awarded monthly and vacation schedules.
  16. BLOCK TIME: time the blocks are pulled from beneath the aircraft wheels prior to taxi until the blocks are replaced upon completion of the flight.
  17. BOARDING PASS: Card issued to passengers prior to boarding, showing date, destination and flight number. Each passenger must have a boarding pass before he/she can board an aircraft.
  18. BRIEFING: The instructions concerning procedures and particulars.
  19. BULKHEAD: The partition or wall separating various compartments in an aircraft.
  20. BUMP: The removal of a passenger, normally non-revenue, from a flight for weight/balance considerations or because the flight is full.
  21. CABIN: The section of the aircraft for passenger seating.
  22. CAPTAIN (CA): The pilot responsible  for  the entire aircraft  including crew  and passengers. Occupies left seat.
  23. CAROUSEL: A moving circular platform from which passengers may claim checked luggage.
  24. CARRIER: A company involved in the transportation of people.
  25. CARRY-OUT CART: Plane side checked baggage cart on which passengers can leave carry-on bags before boarding the aircraft and pick them up immediately after exiting the aircraft.
  26. CHECK RIDE (FAA): An evaluation given to a crew member by a qualified FAA official or other designated person.
  27. CENTER OF GRAVITY (CG): The center of gravity of the aircraft depending on weight and balance of the loads.
  28. CHILD: A passenger who is at least two years of age, but has not reached their thirteenth birthday.
  29. CIRCUIT BREAKER : A current-limiting device (a fuse) that can be reset. A system used in electrical circuits to prevent the system from overloading.
  30. CLEARANCE: The approval given for an airplane to fly the specified route in the flight plan.
  31. COMAT: Company material usually shipped on company aircraft.
  32. CONCOURSE: A large hallway which leads to the area where aircraft are parked for passenger boarding.
  33. COWLING: The material that encloses an engine.
  34. CREW MEMBER: A qualified individual assigned by an air carrier for the performing of duties on an airplane.
  35. CREW SCHEDULING: The department that handles scheduling of all flight crews.
  36. CRITICAL PHASE OF FLIGHT: All ground operations involving taxi, takeoff, landing and all other flight operations conducted below 10,000 feet.
  37. CRUISING ALTITUDE: The height at which an aircraft flies for the majority of flight after ascent and before descent.
  38. DEADHEAD (DH): The transportation of crewmembers from one point to another to position for a trip or return to home base.
  39. DECOMPRESSION: When the cabin pressurization system has failed and the atmosphere inside the aircraft equals the air outside the aircraft.
  40. DE-ICE: Removing ice from the wings with warm air from the engines, by inflation of “boots” on the leading edge of aircraft surfaces, or by chemical means on the ground.
  41. DELAY: Occurs when a flight operates behind schedule.
  42. DEPLANE: Term used to denote customers leaving or exiting the aircraft.
  43. DESCENT: The movement of an aircraft from a higher to a lower altitude.
  44. DIRECT FLIGHT: A flight, regardless of the number of intermediate stops, which normally does not require transfer to another aircraft.
  45. DISPATCH (DISP): Licensed operators who have the responsibility of scheduling and monitoring all aircraft and crew.
  46. DITCHING: Term used for a water landing and evacuation of an aircraft.
  47. DOMICILE: An airline crew base.
  48. DON: To put on.
  49. DOT: The Department of Transportation, the regulatory arm of the U.S. government that controls all commercial transportation, including surface, sea, and air. The FAA reports to the DOT.
  50. DRAFT: Mandatory assignment of a Flight Attendant to duty on a day off.
  51. DUTY TIME: The time a Flight Attendant is on duty – includes prior to scheduled depart time for flying sequence and extends for a period of time after flying sequence ends.
  52. EGRESS: To go out or exit.
  53. EMPENNAGE: The tail assembly of the aircraft.
  54. EN ROUTE : In flight when you are on or along the way.
  55. EVACUATION: The emergency movement of passengers from the aircraft using all available exits.
  56. FAA: the Federal Aviation Administration is the arm of the Department of Transportation responsible for the promotion, regulation, and safety of civil aviation, and for safe and efficient use of airspace shared by both civil and military aircraft.
  57. FERRY FLIGHT: A flight with no passengers or cargo on board which is made to position an aircraft for a flight or to get it to its home base.
  58. FIRST OFFICER (FO): A pilot who occupies the right seat.
  59. FLIGHT CREW MEMBER: FAA term used for pilots.
  60. FLIGHTDECK (COCKPIT): The area from which the aircraft is flown.
  61. FLIGHT PLAN: A predetermined plan to be followed during flight based on the latest information available on the route. It is submitted to ATC prior to takeoff.
  62. FLIGHT SCHEDULE: Computerized timetable located on the united.com website listing all CommutAir, United Airlines and other partner carrier flights.
  63. FLOOR PROXMITY LIGHTING, PHOTOLUMINESCENT LIGHTING: Floor path lighting system which illuminates using “green Photoluminescent Strips” to help guide passenger to exits in a darken cabin.
  64. FOREWARD (FWD): Toward the front of the aircraft.
  65. FUSELAGE: main structure or central section of an airplane that houses the crew, passengers, etc.
  66. GALLEY: The area used for food storage and service preparation.
  67. GATE: A holding area where passengers wait prior to boarding the aircraft.
  68. GEAR: The landing gear.
  69. GROUND POWER UNIT: A portable unit attached to the aircraft, while on the ground, which provides electrical power to the aircraft when the engines are not operating.
  70. GROUND SPEED: The speed of an aircraft, or flight, measured by the distance it travels over the ground taking wind velocity into account. For example, if an aircraft cruises at 300 MPH and there is a 25 MPH wind from the rear (tailwind), the ground speed would be 325 MPH.
  71. HANGAR: A building where airplanes are sheltered during maintenance work and storage.
  72. HEADWIND: A wind blowing in such a direction that the principle effect is to reduce the ground speed of an airplane in flight.
  73. HOLDING: A predetermined maneuver that keeps an aircraft within specific air space while waiting to descend.
  74. HUBS: The connecting terminals that are served by commuter and major airlines of the same brand or partnership.
  75. INITIAL OPERATING EXPERIENCE (IOE): The time a Flight Attendant trainee will fly under the supervision of an Inflight Trainer.
  76. INBOARD: Nearest to the aisle.
  77. INCOMING CREW: The crew coming in from a flight.
  78. INFANT: A passenger under two years of age.
  79. INFLIGHT FINAL REPORT (IFR): Print-out given to the flight attendant with premium customer names and other important information.
  80. INFLIGHT HAND-HELD DEVICE (HHD): Electronic device used by the flight attendant to inventory liquor and food. The HHD is also used to process credit card transactions for onboard purchases.
  81. INOPERATIVE (INOP): Not operating, not working.
  82. INTERMEDIATE STOP: A stop at a city between the originating and termination points of a
  83. INTERPHONE: The phone used to speak to the flightdeck.
  84. JUMPSEAT (JS) : A collapsible seat designated for crewmembers or authorized observers.
  85. LAYOVER: Crew rest break between flight assignments usually at an out station.
  86. LEG OF FLIGHT: A portion of a flight series between stops.
  87. MAIN CABIN DOOR (MCD): The aircraft door primarily used for passenger boarding and deplaning.
  88. MINIMUM CREW: The smallest number of Flight Attendant crewmembers required by the FAA, which is one working Flight Attendant for each 50 seats on the aircraft.
  89. NON-REVENUE (NON-REV): A passenger traveling on a reduced rate ticket or pass.
  90. NO SHOW (N/S): A passenger who has confirmed reservations for a flight but who does not use the space reserved, and who does not cancel their reservation.
  91. NTSB: The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency that serves as the overseer of U.S. transportation safety; its responsibilities cover marine, railroad, highway, pipeline, and civil aviation.
  92. ON-LINE FLIGHT ATTENDANT: A Flight Attendant actively working a schedule.
  93. OPERATIONS (OPS): An office located at all on-line airport stations where crews obtain necessary flight information.
  94. ORIGINATING FLIGHT: A flight that is just beginning with a new flight number.
  95. OUTBOARD: Furthest from the aisle.
  96. OUTBOUND CREW: The crew leaving on a flight.
  97. PER DIEM: Monies allotted crew members to cover meal costs while away from their home base.
  98. PILOT: The person who operates the controls of an airplane in flight.
  99. PILOT-IN-COMMAND (PIC): pilot responsible for the operation and safety of an aircraft during flight time.
  100. PITOT TUBE: Instrument located on outside of fuselage used to indicate airspeed. It is heated and remains very hot to the touch.
  101. PLACARD: An informational sign designating the location of, or use of, emergency equipment or exits.
  102. POSITIVE SPACE PASSENGER: A passenger paying an adequate portion of a ticket to guarantee him/her a seat.
  103. PRE FLIGHT: To check, test and prepare for use of an aircraft, engine or other piece of equipment prior to flight.
  104. PRESSURIZATION: Air that is compressed by the engines and fed into the cabin to maintain a lower cabin altitude than the aircraft is actually flying.
  105. PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT (PA): The public address system on board an aircraft; or the announcements given to passengers using the public address system.
  106. PUSHBACK : The means of moving an aircraft from a gate for departure.
  107. QUICK TURN (QT): Procedures followed to reduce the ground time of an aircraft when the flight is behind schedule
  108. RADAR: Sends out radio impulses to determine weather conditions ahead of the aircraft.
  109. RAMP/TARMAC: The area in front of the terminal where aircraft are parked.
  110. REMAIN OVERNIGHT (RON): A flying sequence which will keep a crewmember away from his/her base overnight.
  111. RESET: To return the system to the standard position
  112. ROUTE SYSTEM: area in which an airline flies on a regularly scheduled basis.
  113. RUNWAY: A large expanse of concrete similar to a road, used by aircraft for takeoff and landing.
  114. SEAT ASSIGNMENT: Specific seats assigned to passengers at the time they check in prior to boarding.
  115. SENIORITY: Length of service as a Flight Attendant which begins to accrue at start of ground school.
  116. SPACE AVAILABLE (SA): A passenger paying for a fare without a guaranteed seat.
  117. STAR FLIGHT: The first flight of the day for each aircraft. It is imperative that this flight leaves on time.
  118. STATION MANAGER: A person in charge of all station functions within his/her station.
  119. STERILE FLIGHTDECK (COCKPIT): Regulation that prohibits flight crewmembers from performing any duties during a critical phase of flight except those required for the safe operation of the airplane.
  120. TAIL NUMBER: An identification number painted on the tail section of the aircraft.
  121. TAIL WIND: A wind blowing from such direction that the principle effect is to advance the ground speed of an airplane in flight.
  122. TAXI : The movement of an aircraft under its own power on the surface of the airport.
  123. THRU PASSENGER : A passenger traveling beyond the first stopping point of a flight.
  124. TRIP PAIRING : A series of flights that are grouped together to make up a flying sequence.
  125. TSA: The Transportation Security Administration is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. TSA is responsible for protecting the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people in commerce.
  126. TURBULENCE : A weather condition causing a bumpy ride, which may be classified in several categories.
  127. TURN : A flight on which a Flight Attendant leaves and returns to his/her domicile without a layover (only two legs of a flight).
  128. UNACCOMPANIED MINOR (UM): A child ages five through fourteen who is traveling alone.
  129. WALK AROUND : The exterior inspection of the aircraft by a flight crewmember done during preflight and after each landing.
  130. WEIGHT & BALANCE : The placement of passenger and cargo on an aircraft to keep it in balance.

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