Flight lingo: find out what these 10 aviation terms mean

Flight lingo: find out what these 10 aviation terms mean

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The workings of airplanes are intricate and flight lingo can be confusing, so here, we explain the meanings of 10 aviation terms used by pilots, air traffic control, and airline staff

Have you ever been on a plane and been confused about some of the phrases the pilot uses? Or wondered generally about any terms used in aviation and the air travel industry? Here, we go over some flight lingo and reveal the meanings of 10 aviation terms that you’re most likely to come across.

‘Doors to arrival and crosscheck’

Focus on exit sign on an airplane — Getty ImagesIf the cabin crew didn’t set the airplane doors ‘to arrival’, you’d get a surprise when trying to leave the aircraft — Getty Images

‘Crosscheck’ is a general term used by pilots and cabin crew to mean that one person has checked and verified another person’s action.

‘Doors to arrival’ (or sometimes ‘disarm doors’) is usually announced by the lead flight attendant as the plane approaches the gate. The procedure serves to confirm that the emergency escape slides have been deactivated before the doors are open, otherwise, they’d deploy automatically upon opening.

Nautical miles

A lot of aviation terms actually come from maritime terms, and using nautical miles is one of these examples. A nautical mile is mathematically relevant to longitude and latitude, making it a more appropriate way to measure long distances traveled by air, hence it measures the same as an air mile: 6,076 feet. The nautical mile is 1.15 times greater than the statute mile we use when driving a car (in some countries), for example.

Ferry flight

A ferry flight is a term used to refer to a flight that doesn’t carry any paying passengers. Usually, ferry flights are planes traveling to a base for maintenance, repairs, or operational purposes. The latter of which leads us nicely to…

Positioning flight

A positioning flight, sometimes called a repositioning flight, is a specific type of ferry flight. As the name suggests, a positioning flight takes place when an aircraft needs to be ready to take off from a different airport as a normal service flight.

Final approach

Flight coming into land above runway at dawn — Getty ImagesIf you hear ‘final approach’, it’s time to buckle up — Getty Images

For pilots, the final approach refers to the very last segment of the descent just before landing, when the aircraft is lined up perfectly with the runway. It’s often shortened to ‘final’ in pilot radio terminology.

For cabin crew, the meaning of ‘final approach’ may extend to most or all of the aircraft’s descent.

Direct flight

Nowadays, most of us deem a direct flight to be one that doesn’t require a stop and/or changing planes. In aviation terms, a direct flight is simply a flight that keeps the same flight number throughout its journey (which applies to most of them). However, a direct flight might still stop somewhere en route to drop off/pick up passengers or to refuel, though this is a less common occurrence today than it once was.

This airplane term isn’t to be confused with a non-stop flight, which is a flight that doesn’t make any stops whatsoever (again, most of them). To summarize: all non-stop flights are direct flights, but not all direct flights are non-stop flights.

Ground stop

A ground stop is a temporary air traffic control measure taken — usually in light of security or weather concerns — to bar any planes from landing at a particular airport. It tends only to affect flights destined for that airport that haven’t yet left their point of origin, though flights that are airborne are also likely to be redirected. Because incoming traffic is either slowed or halted completely, a single ground stop can cause delays and knock-on disruption at many other airports, not least the one that it applies to. In short, it’s not something you want to hear.

‘Last-minute paperwork’

Close-up of 'last-minute paperwork' pertaining to aircraft — ShutterstockPaperwork needs to be done for every flight before it departs, but if it’s ‘last-minute’, it usually means that someone’s behind on it — Shutterstock

The captain might casually drop this term in their pre-flight announcement, and then, as it turns out, it takes another half an hour before this ‘last-minute paperwork’ is done. Usually, it involves checking the plane’s weight-and-balance record, revising the flight plan, or waiting for maintenance staff to finish updating the logbook. If this isn’t done in a timely manner, the flight can be delayed.


An example of flight lingo that’s more to do with the commercial side of aviation, a codeshare agreement is an alliance that enables one or more airline(s) to sell seats on an airplane operated by another airline. This essentially means that the carriers “share” that flight, and the flight will have two or more flight numbers, one for each airline.

Air pocket

‘Air pocket’ is ‘turbulence’ in airplane terms. Or rather, it’s the thing that causes turbulence, but doesn’t ‘air pocket’ sound much less scary and disruptive?…

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