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What is Airline English?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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Many frequent fliers can recite the mandatory pre-takeoff safety briefing along with the flight attendant delivering it. What they cannot do, however, is replicate the odd cadence and ultra-formal speech patterns known as airline English. Airline English is an unusual blend of standard English and airline jargon spoken almost exclusively by airline crew members, flight attendants and pilots.

One example of airline English is the nautical terminology associated with air travel. Passengers do not put their suitcases into the overhead cabinets, they "stow" their "cargo" into the overhead "holds." The staff on board an airplane are actually "crew members" who answer to a captain. Flight attendants routinely use this nautical terminology in complete sentences, which can be a little confusing to first time passengers.

Another reason many flight attendants and pilots speak airline English is due to the volumes and volumes of regulations the federal government and individual airlines impose. Some of these highly technical and legalistic regulations are meant to be passed along to passengers in some form or fashion. Individual airlines, and in some cases individual flight crews, are allowed to create a more streamlined version of these passenger briefings, although the language must still match the spirit of the regulations.

This odd mixture of legal jargon and informal speech often comes across to passengers as a mechanically-delivered social contract peppered with such memorable bits of euphemistic trivia as "In the event of an unplanned water landing, your seat can be used as a flotation device." Some flight attendants have been known to refer to a laminated card when delivering the same speech over and over again, which can result in an odd speech cadence which places unusual emphasis on certain words.

Some passengers have even noticed that certain flight attendants continue to use a very stiff and impersonal form of airline English even when addressing minor passenger requests. This may be a deliberate effort to maintain a professional distance and demeanor when dealing with a large group of passengers. Airline regulations often require a specific and legally approved response to even the most minor passenger queries or requests. Flight attendants must be careful not to expose the airline to future litigation by providing a less-than-professional response.

Airline English can also be the result of repetitive social greetings, particularly the mandated "goodbye" to disembarking passengers. The prospect of saying "goodbye" to hundreds of passengers can cause many flight attendants to come up with their own variants, delivered in an odd cadence or impossibly polite pitch. While passengers may be hearing these pre-flight instructions or greetings for the first time, flight crews may deliver these euphemistic and succinctly-worded bits of airline wisdom several times a week.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to WiseTour, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon66119 — On Feb 17, 2010

averagejoe: if you had to say goodbye to over a thousand people a day, you might start to sound like a broken record too. buh bye now!

By anon34526 — On Jun 24, 2009

What is rock?

By averagejoe — On Aug 18, 2008

My favorite is the stereotypical goodbye flight attendants leave you with, as parodied on Saturday Night Live: buh-bye, buh-bye, buh-bye now! So annoying! But, so funny!

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to WiseTour, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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