Secret Phrases You Might Hear Pilots Say

Pilots have coded phrases they use to communicate delays, turbulence, and even warnings about annoying passengers.

pilot airplane steerPhoto: Sunshine Seeds/Shutterstock

The pilot alphabet

The first secret of pilot language is the pilot alphabet. “To avoid confusion with similar sounding consonants, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has a standard phonetic alphabet for aviation use:

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.

Numbers get special treatment too. Pilots pronounce most numbers normally with these exceptions: Zero (0) is always “zero,” not “oh.” Three becomes “tree,” five becomes “fife,” and nine becomes “niner.”

Did you know that doctors and nurses also have their own secret language?

Pilots secret phrases - crosscheck meaningPhoto: Shutterstock


Hockey fans may picture one flight attendant going into the penalty box for two-minute crosschecking minor but on a plane, crosscheck is a term meaning that one crew member has verified the task of another. Flight attendants crosscheck each other’s stations to make sure the plane’s doors are armed or disarmed before takeoff and after landing.

Psst—this is the one word you need to say to get your flight attendant to like you.

Pilots secret phrases - last-minute paperwork meaningPhoto: Shutterstock

Last-minute paperwork

When the pilot announces that she’s “just finishing up some last minute paperwork,” it means that everything is ready to go, but she needs to make adjustments to the weight-and-balance record, or make a slight revision to the flight plan before takeoff.

This is why airlines never tell you how long flights really are.

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