Friday, July 8, 2011

Language, Y'all, Language!

Every industry has its own language. The jargon and especially the acronyms that save time and syllables are some of the tools that keep conversations quick while trying to remain competitive in the marketplace. Some of the language and terms are entirely for internal consumption as the "BOH" (back of the house) employees devise new products and services to introduce or discuss industry trends and so on. Actually ALL of the language is for internal consumption but some of it can spill over in to the public arena through the simple means of being overheard by the customers being served.

Wanna learn how to speak "airline?" An "ASM" is an available seat mile while an "RPM" is revenue per (seat) mile. One airplane seat on a flight that travels 100 miles = 100 ASMs. Most airplanes don't hold just one seat so that is where the numbers can get mind boggling. One hundred seats flown one hundred miles = 10,000 ASMs; if Dallas to Oklahoma city is 100 miles you get the idea. It is "airline" for simply saying every seat on the flight is available, "open," unsold. The "RPM" comes in after the flight has left and the revenue is spread over those 100 seats whether or not all of them sold and regardless of the fare each seat collected. Almost like roulette every penny collected has to cover the table or in this case, the cabin. One bet (paying passenger) covering the table (the entire flight)? Odds of hitting (making money) are slim, right? More fares, more passengers, mo' money, mo' money, mo' money!

At the airport is where most of the jargon comes in to direct contact with the traveling public. "LOL" is not "laugh out loud" but airline-speak for Little Ol' Lady who is typically traveling alone and needs assistance. Likewise "UM" is short for Unaccompanied Minor who also needs assistance getting from A to B but unless you fall in to one of those special categories terms such as those won't mean much to you. It's the crew language that really gets almost poetic when you hear it, learn it and understand it.

When an airplane parks at the gate it must be physically turned around to point back out to the runway for its next flight. It is a "turnaround" or a "turn" for short. Gate agents, Flight attendants, pilots and ramp crews all have this term in common. For the air crews, working a "Miami Turn" means they're going to Miami and coming straight back. For the ramp an airplane may arrive from Kansas City and "turn" (as in "turn in to...") an outbound to Orange County. Or it could be a "thru" from Nashville to Denver. For the airport gang a "RON" is an aircraft remaining overnight at their facility while the "overnight" part for the pilots and flight attendants gets translated in to a "layover" as part of their 2-, 3- or 4-day "trip." For air crews, a "trip" might sound something like this:

"I picked up a 3-day, Atlanta Boston Turn, Raleigh layover, Detroit, LA, Salt Lake, Dropped the Atlanta - Miami on Day 3 to get in some skiing, picked up a Memphis turn back to Salt Lake, then home to Atlanta on Friday with the next three days off before a Honolulu 3-day and still kept all of my hours!"

We won't get in to the acronyms that make up the core of the business and those are the three-letter codes for each airport serving a given city but some, like LAX or most colorfully, "The ATL" are already part of the public vernacular. In this day of TSA and heightened security crews might be verboten from discussing their business and especially their trip itineraries but at least you may have more of a sense of what they're talking about if they are overheard. Outside of their families, their unions and the state of their airline there's nothing flight crews love to talk about more than the kinds of trips they work.

Gotta go.


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