Airline & Airport Terminology 101 – Revisited

It has been almost four years since I wrote about airline and airport terminology … so today is as good a day as any to revisit this topic. Airline and airport jargon questions show up all the time on my Twitterstream and in my email box, so clearly people are interested knowing what they are hearing around them in the airport.

1L/1R (2L/2R, 3L/3R, etc) : On a flight when you hear flight attendants announce 1L/1R ( other number combinations), they are discussing the aircraft cabin doors. The boarding door of most aircraft is “1L”, which stands for 1-Left.

All Call: “All Call” is flight attendants verifying each of the cabin doors is locked and armed for departures, or that doors are disarmed when arriving at the gate.

ATC: Air Traffic Control. Air Traffic Control can be a tower at the airport you are departing from, a tower at the airport you’re headed to, or an air traffic control center in the middle of no-where watching a huge swatch of sky keeping aircraft safely traveling through air.

BoB: BoB is ‘Buy-on-Board. BoB is a term introduced to most airlines in the past few years, and it is rarely used directly to passengers directly. BoB can occasionally be heard in the galley in reference to the meals and drinks passengers can purchase in-flight.

Captain: The person in the cockpit sitting in the Left Seat with 4-stripes on their shoulder epaulets. The Captain is in charge, in flight they have command of the aircraft and everything on board.

Control Tower: The Control Tower is often referred to as simply ‘The Tower.’ The Tower oversees an airport’s aircraft movements. These movements are not only on the ground, but also include inbound aircraft and departing aircraft.

Cross Check: This is used by both the captain and first officer and the cabin crew. Cross checking is simply one person on the crew verifying another person on the crew’s actions. When doors are armed/disarmed by one crewmember they are ‘cross checked’ by another crewmember.

Equipment: Equipment is a ‘technical’ term for ‘the plane’ (I won’t be defining ‘plane’). When you hear “There has been a change of equipment,” it usually means “your plane isn’t available” or “your original plane is broken.”

First Officer: The person in the cockpit sitting in the Right Seat with 3-stripes on their shoulder epaulets. The First Officer, often referred to as the co-pilot (both the captain and first officer are both obviously fully qualified and type rated pilots). The First Officer is the second in command of the aircraft and everything on-board it.

Gatehouse: The Gatehouse is the boarding area. I have never seen a gate or house in the Gatehouse, so I have no idea where the term comes from. I usually just refer to the boarding area as ‘The Gate.”

Ground Stop: A Ground Stop is a stoppage of all flights at an airport. If you are traveling to an airport that has become so congested with air traffic that it needs to clear out some space before new aircraft can depart for that airport, they can issue a ‘ground stop.’ A ground stop is like your sink filling with water, even when your drain is open. You can watch the water going down the drain while simultaneously filling up. You need to slow the water, or turn it off before you can lower the water level in the sink.

Flight Closed: If you are at the gate you see your flight flashing “Closed” you have missed your flight. Once a flight has Closed, the gate door is shut and the gate agent is standing at the end of the Jetway steering it away from the aircraft so it can ‘push back.’

Flight Crew: The Captain, First Officer and your flight attendants (Cabin Crew) are your Flight Crew.

Flight Deck: The Flight Deck is a fancy word for ‘The Cockpit’

Final Boarding: If you hear “Final Boarding” while heading to your gate for a flight you’d better start running. Final Boarding comes right before “Closed,” and is not something you want to hear unless you are handing the gate agent your boarding pass.

Holding Pattern: “We’re being placed into a Holding Pattern” This is an announcement that everyone hates. A Holding Pattern is when aircraft are sent into loops circling their destination, or just outside their destination, until a landing slot is available for them to land at the airport.

Jetway: The Jetway is also referred to as an Aerobridge, Boarding Bridge or Jet Bridge. The Jetway is the ‘tunnel’ you walk down that connects the terminal to the aircraft.

Paperwork: Paperwork, as in “we’re just waiting on some paperwork.” This is when the Captain and First Officer are waiting on paperwork they need to close up the aircraft and ‘push back.’ Paperwork is usually out of the hands of the flight crew, so the flight crew is stuck waiting, just like the passengers, for the ground crew to deliver the ‘Paperwork.’

Push: “Push” also known as “Push Back.” An aircraft ‘pushing’ is usually quite literally a ‘tug’ or ‘tractor’ pushing the aircraft back from the terminal. Aircraft can push back by reverse thrusting their engines, but that wastes a lot of fuel, it is extremely loud, kicks up a lot of debris and it is easier to maneuver an aircraft by pushing it backwards with a tug, given that the crew in the cockpit cannot see backwards to steer themselves around other aircraft.

Ramp: Originally “The Ramp” was ramp area from the water to where an aircraft took on or off loaded passengers and parked. Since I don’t see many seaplanes landing at major commercial airports these days, we’ll go with the modern definition of ‘ramp’ … the area surrounding the terminals and jetways, excluding the taxiway and runway, where aircraft and airport vehicles operate is the ramp.

Wheels Up Time: An aircraft’s “We are should be Wheels Up within a few minutes,” this is time is the time the aircraft is scheduled to be airborne. This term is also used for the actual time the aircraft lifts its wheels off the ground.
Hopefully this simple glossary helps you further understand what is being

Did I leave any common terms out? If so, let me know and leave your terms and definitions in the comments section.
Happy Flying!




  1. While I am not exactly certain if it applies in the airport sense, but “gatehouse” is generally an architectural term for a building enclosing one or more gateways

  2. You mentioned “flight crew” but left out “cabin crew.” And, as part of the cabin crew, the “purser.”

    I’m trying to think of some of the technical terms I’ve heard on UA Ch9, but none come to mind at the moment. Maybe something to do with when they switch from airport to regional control (or something like that – not sure of the exact terminology).

  3. The gatehouse isn’t the boarding area. It’s the podium where the agent is near the gate. Some airlines use the term (e.g., Delta), others don’t (e.g., American).

  4. Actually, in the prop days, a “gate” was just that–a gate in a chain link fence that separated the terminal from the ramp area. Passengers would wait behind the fence until the flight was called, a ground crew would open the gate and you would walk out to the aircraft, where often some of the engines were already running. In areas with inclement weather, shelters were built near these gates and thus you had gatehouses. Take a look at some photos of the old LAX terminal in the 50s and you can see this.

  5. in regard to Jamison’s terms:

    Lav: lavatory – the toilets on board the aircraft

    IFE: in flight entertainment – either tv’s on the ceiling or the displays on the backs of the seats or any other way to keep the passengers form getting too bored 🙂

    Aircraft Swap: some flights are multi-segment, meaning that there will be stops at different airports on the way to the destination, either for distance reasons or for passenger economy – for instance a flight from London to Sidney usually stops in Singapore or somewhere else due to its extreme length in order to refuel the plane, but a flight from London to LA can stop in New York due to better economics; sometimes the leg from London to NY is flown by one plane (for instance a Boeing 777) and the leg from NY to LA, having the same flight number, is flown by another (for instance a 767) – the passengers flying from London to LA, although having just one ticket fore one plane, have to physically move from one plane to another thus swapping the aircraft. Real world examples:
    – Delta flight 031 from Moscow to LA via NY: first leg by 767 second 757
    – Delta flight 120 from Sao Paulo to LA via NY: first leg by 767 second 757

    As for the use of tugs at push-back, add the fact that the debris that are sent flying can be sucked into the engines and damage them

  6. Concourse: it is a long building, considered as part or separate from a terminal that contains the gates. At a terminal, when you leave the check in area and go through security, you then go to the concourse that has your gate.

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