Airline Lingo (AKA What Does That Mean?)

Even my dear friends sometimes ask me “Wait, what does that mean again?” whenever talking about airline stuff. So I’m guessing you might, too. In that event, here’s a list of terms you might be run across in my chat that could leave you scratching your head. Let me know if there are things I should add.

Bidding This is the process of telling the airline what you want for your next work schedule. As with most everything, there are some differences in how this is done from company to company, but generally the airline puts together and publishes its crew work schedules for the next month, and you rank them in order of preference. Then a computer program awards these schedules by seniority.

Check Ride – At my airline, this happens twice (at least) while on your initial six-month probation. It means that a supervisor rides as a passenger, criticizing watching and timing everything you do. If not everything is right, you can be fired (at this point you don’t get union representation yet). This is a formal situation where you are notified of the supervisor’s presence. Nerve-wracking…There is also a situation where you don’t know you’re being watched. I think that’s called an Observation Ride. But, tomato/tomahto.

DeadheadFlying as a passenger – for work. We don’t have to be in uniform, but we are on duty. This can happen for multiple reasons, but basically the airline just needs you to be somewhere other than where you are (and you cannot or are not needed to work the flight). No, I’ve no idea where the weird name comes from.

Ferry FlightThis is a near-mythical situation where crew gets to fly somewhere on a plane all by themselves. No passengers. I think I have only down this twice in 14 years.

Furlough – When there need to be flight crew layoffs, most airlines don’t “lay you off”, they “furlough” you. The difference is that a furlough means that you don’t lose your place in line to work for the company again when things pick up. When business bounces back the airline has to offer you your job back before they can hire new stews (or pilots) off the street. That’s pretty great. Well, relative to forever losing your job, of course.

GenAir – This (or “GA”) is often how I refer to my airline when writing, standing for “Generic Airlines”.

Jumpseat – The fold down seats that flight attendants sit on. They are famously uncomfortable.

Layover  For flight crews, this means the rest time between legs on a trip, as in: time to sleep. Spare hours between flights within the same duty day – like a few hours at the airport –  is called “sit time”.

PurserThis is what some airlines call the lead flight-attendant. Some call this position the #1 or the A-line.

Q Runner This is a half-hourly van service that shuttles between the airports and Kew Gardens (the neighborhood where most crew member crashpads are located). It’s run by a local car service that caters to crew members.

ReserveThis is when you have no set schedule of trips – just days on and off duty. When you’re on duty, be ready! You can be called on the phone to go anywhere with as little as 2 hours notice. You may even be called to just sit at the airport in uniform for 6 hours, in case of real last-minute staffing emergencies. (I always get the 5-11am block!)  It is every bit as horrid as it sounds. The way that airlines arrange their reserve needs varies greatly, however.

Slam-Click(er) – When a crew member goes to the layover hotel and does not emerge again until pick-up from the hotel. As in: slamming the door and clicking the lock…end of story. Can be used as a noun or a verb. (“I’m so tired, I’m just going to slam-click.” or “Oh, you won’t see her for dinner. She’s a total slam-clicker.”)

SpeakerThis refers to a flight attendant who is qualified – and obligated! – to act as an official foreign language interpreter on a flight. This can be a good thing – like getting assigned to Paris when you’re otherwise too junior – and it can stink – like only getting assigned Paris forever and ever and ever, and having all the angry/sick/weird/stubborn passengers dumped on you if they speak said language.

Trip Trader – This is someone hired to arrange your work schedule for you. Usually they are current or retired flight crew trading as an outside business. It is a “real” business – you need a license to do this. You can ask them to do just about anything relating to your schedule – usually they pick up and drop trips, and swap days around for you. Trip traders work incredibly hard; mine makes my life livable. (I can’t be arsed to do my own schedule, nor am I any good at it. I can’t imagine being in charge of 100+ others’!)