In my never ending quest to understand the travel industry, I am constantly hearing new words, phrases, and abbreviations which I am not familiar with. So I look them up and add them to the travel glossary on this website. Below are a few terms I’ve compiled having to do with airport terminology and some jargon which you may hear while on the plane (between flight attendants, captain, etc.). Many of these are common knowledge, but there is a full definition nonetheless.
Tarmac – Originally defined as the material used to pave roads and runways, made of little, broken pieces of stones and tar mixed together, it is now common to refer to the runway(s) of an airport as the tarmac. However, most runways do not use this mixture anymore, as “tarmac” becomes soft in hot weather; the word’s meaning as a runway sticks nonetheless.
1L, 2L, etc. – On a aircraft with multiple cabin doors and emergency exits, the cabin crew typically refers to the each in this fashion. The boarding door on most aircraft is “1L,” which is short for “One, Left.” If the plane boards from the starboard front cabin door, that door would be “1R,” for “one, right.”
Equipment – Technical term for the plane itself.
Equipment Change – Term used by airlines meaning that the equipment (plane) will be changed for a different one, possibly because of mechanical failures or other issues.
Metal – Similar to equipment, it is the aircraft of the airline controlling the flight. With the multiple codeshare agreements today, one flight may have numerous airlines’s numbers on it; for example, Air France flight #8 (Paris CDG to New York JFK) is also marketed as a codeshare to Delta (as DL #8554) and Tarom (as RO #9529). The flight is Air France metal here, because their plane with their logo is the primary one.
Crosscheck – This is simply one person of the cabin crew verifying another member of the crew’s actions, such as making sure the cabin doors are armed; trusting two people is safer than trusting one.
All Call – A variation of the crosscheck, where all of the cabin crew reports to the purser of head flight attendant about the doors and slides being properly set.
Purser (Airline) – On a flight, the purser is the head flight attendant, responsible for overseeing the attendants and making sure travelers are content and taken care of. The purser keeps detailed reports as a log, and also ensures that refreshments are served in a timely fashion.
Captain – The pilot in command (PIC), this is the person in the cockpit sitting on the left with 4 stripes on their shoulder epaulets, in a configuration when there is more than one person in the flight crew. The captain is legally in charge of everything and everyone on the plane while in the air, but does not necessarily need to have control of the plane at all times, though the captain will be held primarily responsible for anything that goes wrong.
First Officer – The pilot in the cockpit sitting on the right with 3 stripes on their shoulder epaulets, often referred to as the copilot because they are the second in command. First Officers are always fully qualified to operate the flight, and may “take the wheel” often to allow the Captain to do other things.
Second Officer – A title for a pilot who is third in command, the Second Officer usually holds a relief role on long-haul flights. The Second Officer is often a flight engineer who is also licensed to pilot the craft.
Flight Attendant – Commonly referred to as stewards/stewardesses and air hosts/hostesses, flight attendants are available to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers while flying. FA’s also may help with any customs forms, provide drinks/snacks/meals, ensure cabin security before takeoff and landing, and answer any passenger questions.
Cabin Crew – The collective group of flight attendants and the purser as a whole.
Flight Crew – Sometimes called the “aircrew,” the flight crew consists of everyone hired by the airlines on a flight, including pilots, pursers, and flight attendants.
Flight Deck – Term the airlines and their employees use to refer to the cockpit.
Air Traffic Control (ATC) – Usually refers to the control tower at the airport, but may also be a control center somewhere else in charge of controlling an large area of sky to keep air traffic safe.
BOB – Abbreviation for buy on board, BOB is used between the flight crew, rarely to passengers directly; usually a reference to the meals and drinks passengers can purchase in-flight.
Control Tower – Often referred to as simply the tower, the people in the Control Tower oversee aircraft movements at the airport, including ground traffic, inbound aircraft, and departing aircraft.
Gate – The specific area in an airport where passengers board a plane for a flight. Gates are located in concourses, which are found in terminals of the airport; each flight will have a different gate number, though a gate can be used again after a flight departs.
Ground Stop – Stoppage of flights at an airport, possibly because of air traffic congestion that needs to be cleared out before aircraft can land.
Final Boarding – Last call to board before the jet bridge closes and the flight departs, leaving late passengers stranded.
Holding Pattern – When a landing slot is not yet available, due to congestion or other incident, flying a holding pattern is requested from the control tower, which is essentially like a car circling the parking lot until a space becomes available.
Push/Push Back – When an aircraft pushes back, it is when it is finally disconnected from the jet bridge and backs up from the gate. Normally, a tug or tractor is responsible for the aircraft pushing back, because though aircraft can push back by reverse-thrusting their engines, it wastes a lot of fuel.
Paperwork – When you hear, “we’re just completing some final paperwork,” it means the flight crew literally is awaiting paperwork, such as a log or the weight and balance record so that it can finally push back.
Ramp – The area where a plane maneuvers directly outside of the gate area, and where pre-flight tasks are carried out, before getting to the taxiway and runways. It is called a ramp because, back in the day, many planes were seaplanes with skids; when this kind of plane wasn’t in the water, it was on the ramp, and that term came to be used for all planes. Sometimes used interchangeably with the word apron, though aprons may have a slightly different definition. Generally, the pre-flight activities are done on ramps, and aprons are areas for parking and maintenance.
Apron – The area surrounding the gate areas of a terminal, generally used for parking and maintenance of planes. Sometimes used interchangeably with the word ramp, though ramps may have a slightly different definition. Generally, the pre-flight activities are done on ramps, and aprons are areas for parking and maintenance.
Wheels-Up Time – The time the aircraft is scheduled to be airborne.
Pre-Board – This is when boarding begins, when families with children or persons with disabilities can board the aircraft to allow them extra time to settle in, before calling the rest of the passengers.
Deadhead – A crew member, usually uniformed, flying while not working, often to get back to their base; this crew member is considered to be deadheading.
Deplane – To disembark, or get off, a plane.
Enplane – To load a plane with passengers, though not commonly used.
Initial Approach – Usually called out over the intercom, it is just an FYI for passengers and the cabin crew that the plane is starting its descent into the destination airport; may be a while before touching down on the runway occurs.
Final Approach – This is a reference to the landing sequence when the plane has made all necessary maneuvers and is directly in line to land, without needing to turn or maneuver again.
Got any more? Let us know in the comments below! For more terms, check out the Dauntless Jaunter Travel Glossary »
Reason: Migration of site from the old, long URL (www.dauntlessjaunter.com) to this long-overdue shorter one 🙂 (we may have updated some typos or metadata while we were at it)