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Pilot decodes in-flight jargon

HIFALUTIN LANGUAGE: Pilot Patrick Smith reveals the meaning behind phrases you may hear on your holiday flight

PILOT-TURNED-author Patrick Smith demystifies some of the phrases and words that are announced on public address systems by airline pilots and captains during commercial flights.

Smith created a glossary on his Ask the Pilot website, which accompanies his book Cockpit Confidential, a source of more detailed information about life in the skies.

Here are some of the terms Smith includes on his site:

“Flight attendants to perform all-call.”


This is a request that each flight attendant report via intercom from his or her station — a sort of flight attendant conference call.

“We’re just finishing up some last minute paperwork and should be underway shortly…”


Everything is buttoned up and the flight is ready for pushback. Then comes the wait for “last minute paperwork,” which winds-up taking half an hour. Usually it’s something to do with the weight-and-balance record, a revision to the flight plan, or waiting for the maintenance guys to deal with a write-up and get the logbook in order.

Flight deck


The cockpit.

“We’ve now reached our cruising altitude of flight level three-three-zero. I’ll go ahead and turn off the seat belt sign…”


There’s a technical definition of flight level, but I’m not going to bore you with it. Basically this is a fancy way of telling you how many thousands of feet you are above sea level. Just add a couple of zeroes. Flight level three-three zero is 33,000 feet.

Holding pattern:


A racetrack-shaped course flown during weather or traffic delays. Published holding patterns are depicted on aeronautical charts, but one can be improvised almost anywhere.

“Sorry folks, but there’s a ground stop on all flights headed south from here.”


The point when departures to one or more destination are curtailed, usually due to a traffic backlog.

EFC time (“Good news, we’ve been given an EFC time of 30 minutes after the hour”):


The expect further clearance (EFC) time, sometimes called a release time, is the point at which a crew expects to be set free from a holding pattern or exempted from a ground stop.

Wheels-up time


Similar to the EFC time, except it refers to the point when a ground-stopped plane is expected to be fully airborne. The crew and ground team must be sure to get the flight boarded and pushed in order to be at or near the runway as close to this time as possible.

“Due to an area of weather over New Jersey, we’ll be turning southbound toward Philadelphia…”


This typically means thunderstorms or a zone of heavy precipitation.

Air pocket


Colloquial for a transient jolt of turbulence.

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