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Wheels Up! Your Guide to Airline Terminology

Airport Terminology
Allianz - Airport Terminology

Remember when United passenger David Dao was dragged off his flight in April 2017 after refusing to give up his seat?

Oh wait — he wasn’t “dragged.” He was “re-accommodated.” That was the unfortunate word choice of United CEO Oscar Munoz, who said, “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

Frequent flyers are used to hearing a mixture of euphemisms, slang and mysterious jargon on board an airplane. Wondering what that airline lingo means?

Glossary of Airline Terminology

Amenity kit: The little packet of goodies an airline gives you when you travel business or first class. On the low end, you get headphones and socks; on the high end, you might find designer cologne, anti-fatigue eye cream and a satin eye mask.1

Bulkhead seats: The seats in the first row of a section in the airplane, immediately behind the divider (bulkhead).2 These seats offer legroom for days, but you have to stash all your stuff in the overhead compartments.

Bumped: When an airline moves you off your flight — voluntarily or otherwise — because it’s overbooked. Should you volunteer to give up your seat? That depends on your situation. Here’s a guide to getting bumped that can help you decide. 

Crosscheck: What flight attendants say to mean they’ve checked each other’s’ work. Flight attendants crosscheck one another’s stations to make sure they’ve armed or disarmed the emergency escape slides on the doors, explains Ask The Pilot.3

Delft Blue houses: When you fly World Business Class on Dutch airline KLM, you get a present: a little ceramic house, filled with gin.4 Not only are they cute, but these houses are highly collectible.

Double upgrade: The ultimate in-flight power move: getting upgraded from economy to business, then to first class. This is hard for mere mortals to achieve, as it helps to have elite flyer status and incredible luck.5

Elite: A special designation airlines bestow on their most frequent flyers. While there are different levels of elite status, and every airline has its own terms, they’re generally eligible for perks like free upgrades, free checked bags, and lounge access.

Equipment: What flight attendants call an airplane.

Flight insurance: A somewhat vague term referring to travel insurance that includes benefits applicable to air travel. A good example is the OneTrip Prime Plan, which includes baggage delay, travel delay, missed connection and change fee benefits in case your air travel plans hit a snag. It also includes trip cancellation benefits, to reimburse pre-paid, nonrefundable travel expenses — like an airline ticket — if you must cancel your trip because of a covered reason.

Hidden city ticketing/throwaway ticketing: Let’s say you want to fly from City A to City B. The cheapest flights are all $500 — but then you see an airline is offering a special, ultra-cheap fare from City A to City C, stopping in B along the way. The practice of booking the longer, cheaper flight and then disembarking in City B is called hidden city ticketing. A related practice is throwaway ticketing, in which you buy a cheap round trip and only fly one way.6

Jump seat: The little fold-down seats flight attendants use. No, you can’t sit there.

Operational upgrade (Op-Up): An unexpected, exciting and free seat upgrade that happens when the economy section is overbooked and a passenger is moved up to first class. Elite-status flyers will get upgraded before anyone else, however.7

Passenger shaming: A term, made popular by a former flight attendant’s Instagram account, that refers to airplane passengers doing gross and slobby things. Common offenses include taking off shoes, sticking feet into other passengers’ space, doing yoga in the aisle and clipping fingernails. (Are you a bad passenger? Find out!)  

Premium economy: An economy seat with perks like extra legroom or a free checked bag. “Premium economy” may sound like an oxymoron, but it can be a wise choice for long-haul flights when you need space to stretch out without all the trappings (and the cost) of business class.

Runners: People racing through the airport to try to get to the gate before their plane leaves.8

Spinner: Flight attendant slang for a passenger who’s frantically looking for an empty seat.9

Super-elite: The upper echelons of airline elite-status programs, reserved for the highest spenders. The best-known example may be United’s Global Services, an invite-only program for people who have flown more than 4 million miles with United, or spend at least $50,000 with the airline each year.10 Global Services members get a secret customer service line, early boarding and, if they have a connecting flight to catch in a hurry, a ride across the tarmac in a dedicated Mercedes-Benz.

Whether you’re planning a quick weekend jaunt or a round-the-world trip, travel insurance is a necessity. And if you’re a frequent flyer, annual travel insurance can save you a bundle. Find a plan today!

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Oct 11, 2017