Thursday, 28 May 2009

Preventing Miscommunication between Airline Passengers and Cabin Crew

This article was contributed to English for Cabin Crew by Angel

In this post I'm going to give some examples of how we can communicate with passengers who might not be able to understand English, and also explain some airline vocabulary in simple alternative words.

Cabin crew's purpose is to ensure that each of their passengers receive VIP treatment, like a being in a flying five-star hotel hotel AND more importantly, ensure their safety while they are enjoying the flight. This is why before you can even step foot into an aircraft's cabin, you have to undergo rigorous training. During your training, you learn how to fight a fire (like firemen), treat ailments ranging from a simple nose-bleed to delivering a baby (like medical practitioners), serve entrĂ©es and remember what wine compliments which food. Training manuals become like your bible, you live and breathe airline terms such as, “ARM YOUR DOOR”, “SECURE THE CABIN”, “SILENT REVIEW”, and other airline terms that might seem strange and confuse non-airline people. This is why when we are talking to our passengers, we should be careful not to use these kind of "internal" words.

First of all, passengers do not need to know and understand everything about our job. Our passengers will come from different parts of the world, and part of our duty as cabin crew is to be “culturally aware”. We have to be sensitive about what we say or do, because different nationalities behave and have traditions or practices that are different from others. What's important is that they can understand how they can be safe while they are on board our flight. How do we do it?

The universal language used around the world is ENGLISH therefore we need to know how to communicate well and choose which words to use when dealing with different nationalities. By making our language simple and using words they can easily understand or using body language to communicate what we mean, even if a passenger doesn't speak or understand English at all.

Here is some airline lingo/jargon we often use followed by alternative ways of speaking and expressing yourself so passengers can understand what you mean:

“Please FASTEN your seat belt” - the meaning is clear, but to some who don't understand this, you can gesture how to do it, or by doing it for them after asking them for permission to do so.

To a passenger who won't stay seated even if the seat belt sign is on: “Passengers keep your seats”, may sound strange to some, so you can instead say, “Please remain seated until the fasten seat belt sign comes off”. Or if they don't understand English you can gesture your hands up and down as if to say, please sit down.

If a passenger asks, why do I have to turn off my mobile phone/electronic gadgets before take off and landing, don't tell them “Because it's an aviation regulation, or airline policy” because they won't understand and most likely they will ignore this. Instead tell them that electronic gadgets have to be switched off because it can interfere with the aircraft's electronic system, we have to keep them off, it's for your safety and the safety of your fellow passengers. Giving them a reason is more likely to ensure co-operation.

“SEAT BELTS FASTENED, SEAT BACKS UPRIGHT,  TRAY TABLES STOWED, FOOTREST STOWED”- Trust me, this is one of the most confusing phrases passengers hear on every flight. To passengers who don't know what this means, just say “seat belt on (while gesturing with your hand as if connecting the two ends of the belt together), seats back in position (or just assist them, because a lot of them forget how to do it after a 9-hour flight), Tray tables up (try to gesture with your hands or better yet, do it for them), and foot rests up (then point towards their feet and make a gesture to imply what you mean).

“OVERHEAD STOWAGE”- simply means the storage compartment above your head.

“ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE- simply means the time we are going to leave and what time we are going to reach our destination.

“EMERGENCY EXITS”- this is very important because it can be a case of life or death when there's an emergency on board your flight. Just tell them, in case of an emergency and we have to leave the plane (on life or death situations such as a big fire or smoke in the cabin) you have to leave through those doors and then point to that direction).

“PLEASE CLEAR THE AISLES/BULKHEAD OF ANY DEBRIS”- this simply means we have to remove any items such as trash, cups, candy wrappers, etc., off the floor of the cabin. The bulkhead is the physical partition that divides the classes of the aircraft (economy, business, first). Just tell passengers to politely pick up anything left on the floor and politely explain that this is to avoid anyone slipping on anything on the floor.

These are just some of the airline terms you are bound to learn while training to be cabin crew and hopefully the alternative ways of expressing them to your future passengers will prove helpful and will give you ideas how to communicate with those who can't understand English.

For more English learning advice for cabin crew please subscribe to our blog and visit