The Irritations of Airline-Speak | Travel | Smithsonian
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The Irritations of Airline-Speak

I fly a lot. OK, no surprise, but I'm talking about flying as a passenger, sitting in back, getting to and from work. And I find myself cringing at the canned phrases I hear from my own co-workers.

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I fly a lot. OK, I know that’s no surprise, but I’m talking about flying as a passenger, sitting in back, getting to and from work. And maybe I’m a curmudgeon, or it’s just familiarity breeding contempt, but I find myself cringing at all the canned phrases and announcements I hear during the process. Phrases I hear from my own co-workers.

One of my favorites is the airport security announcement, repeated several times each hour, which lets us know the current threat level, as determined by the Department of Homeland Security. I love the way it starts: “May I have your attention for an important security announcement.” Look around. Not one person is paying attention. No one stops. No one even hears it any more. It’s like that irritating voice advising you every five seconds: “Caution. The moving walkway is ending.”

But I listen to it, wondering what the threat level is today. Wait for it. Wait for it…. Orange again! Yep, that’s where my money was. Oh, it’s not Red? I didn’t think so. My first clue was the absence of cammy-wearing, M-16-toting soldiers. Not Green? Will we ever see Green again? “That’s right, it’s Green. You are officially encouraged to pay no attention to security and imagine you once again live a world we haven’t seen in over a decade.” Oh Green, how I long for you!

At the gate area (often referred to by gate agents, for some inexplicable reason, as the “gatehouse”), we get a lot of PAs such as “This will serve as a gate change announcement” or “This will serve as a final boarding announcement.” And it serves well, but I’m always left to wonder why they didn’t just trot out the real thing. Be bold! Make a final boarding announcement! And while we’re at it, if it’s really a final boarding announcement, wouldn’t it be made just once? I’ve heard up to half a dozen “final” boarding announcements for the same flight. It’s hard to blame the passenger who waits for the seventh.

Welcome aboard! Photo: Tom Raftery

Once on the plane, I’m welcomed aboard at every opportunity. Every PA by the crew inevitably starts with “Once again, welcome aboard.” I’ve been welcomed as many as nine times before pushback, and then, for good measure, another time or two shortly after takeoff. C’mon, it’s not the Queen Mary. No one’s placing a lei around my neck or giving me a mai tai, and I’m not going to be sending postcards about this travel experience.

Many flight attendants don’t seem capable of formulating a simple request such as “Please fasten your seatbelt.” Instead, it’s “We do ask that you fasten your seatbelt.” With some, the insertion of “We do” becomes epidemic, infecting almost every simple PA.

One of my favorites is the after-landing PA. Some flight attendants must get a bonus for how quickly they can get on that PA to welcome you to your destination; I’ve often heard it before we exit the runway. It goes something like “Crazy Clown Airlines would like to be the first to welcome you to New York,” like there’s a mob trying to beat them to the punch. I like to get the jump on them when I’m traveling with someone. Right after landing, I’ll turn and say a simple “Welcome to New York.” Life’s little victories.

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