A pilot has shared some of the secrets phrases used between crew and what they mean — and some of them spell bad news.

Pilot Patrick Smith, who wrote the book Cockpit Confidential, has revealed some of the technical jargon used by crew on his website Ask The Pilot, The Sun reports.

While some might be obvious, such as “final approach”, which means the plane is about to land, others may not make much sense at all.

For example, passengers may not be happy to hear the phrase “ground stop” if they’re on a flight.


A pilot may say that they are “finishing up last-minute paperwork” before a flight takes off.

While this can mean checking flight plans and passenger numbers, it can also mean a delay.

According to Mr Smith, this can take up to half an hour, so it isn’t something you want to hear if you’re already delayed.


When pilots refer to “wheels-up”, they are talking about the time the plane is expected to be fully airborne.

Crew must make sure that everything is ready to go close to this time or the plane will take off later than planned.


Heard the pilot say the phrase “ground stop”? You’re in for a delay.

Mr Smith said this meant departures were going to be backlogged due to an issue such as air traffic control, meaning the plane might not be able to land in its designated slot.


An air pocket is another phrase for a sudden jolt of turbulence.

This can be particularly dangerous for passengers and crew who are not wearing a seatbelt — many cabin injuries have been caused by people being thrown around due to an air pocket.


Crosscheck is used between flight attendants and pilots to make sure they have each done their tasks.

“In the cabin, flight attendants crosscheck one another’s stations to make sure the doors are armed or disarmed as necessary,” Mr Smith said.


A holding pattern could be bad news for passengers wanting to land on time, as the plane could be forced to fly overhead due to an external issue.

“A racetrack-shaped course flown during weather or traffic delays,” Mr Smith said.

“Published holding patterns are depicted on aeronautical charts, but one can be improvised almost anywhere.”


An instruction often heard issued to the flight attendants as the plane is landing, this means the emergency escape slides are disarmed.

“When armed, a slide will automatically deploy the instant its door is opened,” Mr Smith said.


If you hear the word equipment change, you have nothing to worry about.

This is just another word for the plane.


Hearing the phrase “final approach” means you aren’t far from landing at the airport.

“For pilots, a plane is on final approach when it has reached the last, straight-in segment of the landing pattern — that is, aligned with the extended centre line of the runway, requiring no additional turns or manoeuvring,” Mr Smith said.


A deadheading crew member is someone who isn’t working or on a personal holiday — but is trying to change locations for another job.

“A deadheading pilot or flight attendant is one re-positioning as part of an on-duty assignment,” Mr Smith said.

“This is not the same as commuting to work or engaging in personal travel.”


Affirm: Contrary to popular belief, pilots do not say “affirmative” when they mean yes — the correct term is affirm, pronounced “AY-firm”.

Approach: Coming into land.

Mayday: This is one you don’t want to hear. The distress call for life-threatening emergencies, such as complete engine failure. It comes from the French “m’aidez” (“help me”). Pilots must stay it three times at the start of a radio call.

MEL — Minimum Equipment List: This means a particular aircraft appliance is broken but is not needed for safe flight, such as the coffee maker.

Pan-pan: The next level of emergency down from a mayday call; used for situations that are serious but not life-threatening. Originating from the French word “panne”, meaning a breakdown. You say it three times: “pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan”.

Squawk: To squawk is to set your transponder (a device for receiving a radio signal) so that your location can be identified on a radar. Pilots might be asked to “squawk Mode Charlie” or “squawk ident”, which are unique settings to help air traffic control to see where you are.

Standby: This means “please wait” and is usually said when the air traffic controller or pilot is too busy to take a message.

Wilco: An abbreviation of “will comply”, this means the pilot has received the message and will comply.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission