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What 11 Mysterious Flight Codes Really Mean

Flying can be a really stressful experience—and once we get to the plane, sometimes there's a lot of jargon being used that we simply don't understand that can add to an already frustrating experience. Here, a pilot explains those terms, and why we don't have to worry about any of them.

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“Cabin crew, doors to arrival and crosscheck”

You’ll hear this from the pilots or the senior purser (head flight attendant), says Dan Boland, an international airline pilot based in Hong Kong. Boland, who also works for the discount coupon travel site HolidayPromoCode.com, explains that it’s a reminder to the cabin crew to deactivate the emergency exit doors on the plane. Otherwise, the emergency slide chutes will inflate when the doors are opened at the gate. “The word crosscheck means to back each other by checking the opposite crew members’ door as a double check. There have been some dangerous incidents around the world,” Boland goes on to say, “where cabin crew forgot to disarm the doors and the slides inflated and crushed the ground crew waiting inside the jet bridge. When we push back from the gate for departure the crew will do the opposite and arm the slides on the doors so that if we need to evacuate the slides will automatically inflate.” Make sure you don’t make any of these 16 common mistakes on your next flight.

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“Cabin crew, all call”

This is an instruction by the head flight attendant to tell all cabin crew to pick up their nearby intercom headset. Usually it will be to report that they have completed a task such as arming the doors for departure or disarming for arrival. It can also be used to advise all cabin crew of a situation—in some cases, an emergency—which they need to discuss without the passengers suspecting something is wrong. “Essentially it’s just a conference call amongst the cabin crew. The pilots can listen in also however we are usually too busy to do so,” says Boland.

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“We’re completing some last minute paperwork

You’ll hear this while you’re waiting at the gate, and it’s good news. “It means we don’t expect any further delays other than the paper work we are currently doing in the cockpit,” says Boland. “Usually the paperwork relates to load sheets, which are vital to the takeoff performance of the aircraft. Without these we don’t know how heavy the aircraft is, how fast we need to be going at takeoff and where or what cargo is loaded onto the plane.” In other words, any delay is for a vital task and it usually means you’ll depart on time or close to it.

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“We are cruising at flight level 350”

“The words ‘flight level’ are an abbreviated way to say altitude. So if you hear ‘flight level 350,’ that means 35,000 feet,” says Boland. Most pilots won’t say it over the PA because it confuses passengers. Here are 40 other things your pilot is unlikely to tell you.

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“We’re in a holding pattern”

Everyone knows this means a delay, but did you know how a holding pattern actually works? “When we have delays for landing due to congestion, usually caused by bad weather or special holidays, we are told by ATC [air traffic control] to join holding patterns to wait for our turn to land. These are like racetrack patterns in the sky which are usually drawn on a aeronautical map so all flights can follow the same racetrack. Each aircraft will be separated vertically by 1,000 feet, and the lowest in the ‘stack’ or holding pattern will be ready next for landing,” says Boland.

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“Sorry folks, that was an air pocket”

Ever hear a pilot say that you just flew through an air pocket? “Technically air pockets don’t exist in the way that we simplify them for passengers,” says Boland. “What creates these isolated areas of turbulence are converging streams of air with different temperatures, speeds and/or air pressures,” he says, and they lead to turbulence. Got a sensitive tummy? Here are 10 ways to avoid motion sickness during your next flight.

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Hearing this would be a rare occurrence, says Boland, though it’s nothing to be alarmed about. It stands for “onwards clearance time,” he says. “The context would be a delay while in a holding pattern or on the ground while waiting to push back from the gate,” Boland explains. “ATC has provided the pilots with an accurate time to continue on to the destination with no further delays expected.” Check out these 11 things that happen to your body on an airplane.

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“Final approach”—from the crew

When your head purser is announcing a final approach, it’s more an alert than a reality, advises Boland. “It is much more generalized and means we are five to 10 minutes from landing. The term helps cabin crew create a sense of urgency in the passengers so they remain seated and follow instructions.” And remember, when you do get to disembark make sure to do so calmly, and keep in mind these other etiquette tips for flying on planes.

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“Final approach”—from the pilots

Good news—this one gives you a definite sense that you’re close, says Boland: “It’s a warning that you’re about 10 to 15 miles from the airport and in a straight line path to the landing runway.”

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“Preboarding, preboarding only”

Unless you qualify, this tends to provoke yet another sigh in the endless wait for a flight: “Preboarding will now commence for all passengers requiring special assistance.” The term is weird since the act is technically impossible. “The airlines love to use it and it refers to getting special needs passengers onboard before the majority of passengers,” says Boland. This helps with the flow of boarding and reduces the time taken to complete the process. Find out the fastest way to board an airplane.

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This is a common term used by cabin crew to make sure those who are seated in exit rows are classified as “able-bodied passengers,” says Boland. “This is important as those passengers need to be able to assist by opening the doors in an emergency evacuation,” says Boland. So don’t think that faking an injury will get you the extra leg room! Here are 18 more things you should never do on an airplane.

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You may have experienced the confusion of arriving at the airport and seeing two or three different flight numbers attached to the same flight. This is a code-share, and it means that a few airlines have agreed to advertise and share the profits of a single flight. “A flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong might be on a American Airlines aircraft, but passengers from Cathay Pacific can be booked on it as well, so there will be a mix of both airlines passengers. Usually the flight number with fewer digits will be the airline whose aircraft will be used,” says Boland. Don’t miss these 22 other things your flight attendant won’t tell you.

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Most passengers don’t realize that almost all flights are oversold by 10 to 20 percent to ensure the flight is as full as possible. “The reason it is oversold or overbooked is because on average, 10 to 20 percent of passengers do not show up (for various reasons). Should your flight be oversold and most passengers show up then the airline will need to start offering seat upgrades, free hotels or cash for taking a later flight,” says Boland.

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Bulkhead seating refers to the area of seating that divides each class of travel (first, business, premium and economy). Sometimes when the economy section is quite large, an extra bulkhead will divide the extra galley in the middle. “Usually these bulkhead seats are reserved for flight passengers with disabilities, the elderly, or parents with babies as there is usually a bassinet holder against the bulkhead,” says Boland. Next, check out the very best airplane seats for every single need.

Aly Walansky
Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer with over a decade of experience covering beauty, health, and travel for various esteemed publications. Her blog, A Little Alytude (www.alytude.com) was launched in 2006 and continues to be a strong voice in the lifestyles arena. Based in the ever-trendy Park Slope area of Brooklyn, she divides her time between her shih tsu Lily, her soap opera addiction, and scouting out fun new martini bars.