Every day, 8 million people fly on airplanes.
That means more than 3 billion people fly on airplanes every year.
Flight attendants are responsible for keeping all these billions of travelers happy, comfortable and, most importantly, safe.
Do you want to be a flight attendant so you can fly around the world with these international travelers?
Do you dream of flying through the skies every day?
The life of a flight attendant can be very glamorous—but you will also have a lot of work and responsibility.
People sometimes think that flight attendants are just fancy waiters and waitresses. While taking care of your passengers is important, there is a lot more you need to know.
Flight attendants are extremely important because they are responsible for keeping airplanes, and all the passengers who are on them, healthy and safe.
If you are ready to take on that big responsibility, then we are going to help you prepare to become a flight attendant.
Not only that, but we will help you become the best possible flight attendant you can be.
After this lesson in English words and phrases for flight attendants, you will be completely prepared to handle any situation in airports and airplanes with patience, intelligence and a smile.
Prepare for Takeoff: 60+ English Words and Phrases for Flight Attendants
Flight attendants do not only work on airplanes. They also work in airports. Working in an airport requires you to know lots of vocabulary related to traveling.
Travelers are always running quickly around airports, worrying and looking for their flights. When they see you wearing your uniform for work, they will know that you are a flight attendant. If they have questions about where to find their next flight, they will ask you.
We want you to be able to help these lost and confused passengers! We will start by giving you English vocabulary that is very helpful for when you need to help travelers in the airport.
1. Navigating the Airport
This is the essential vocabulary you need to know about the airport:
- airline — An airline is a company that owns airplanes. Some examples are American Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Emirates.
- airfare — Airfare is the price of a plane ticket.
- flights — A flight is a trip made on an airplane between two places.
- layover — A layover is when passengers must get off one plane and get on another plane in order to reach their final destination. Sometimes passengers only have a few minutes to go to their next flight. Other times, they may need to wait for hours—or even days!
- terminal — A terminal is a large building where passengers get on flights and get off flights. Large airports may have multiple terminals. Small airports only have one terminal.
- gate — Every flight leaves from a gate. In order to get on a plane, passengers need to know which gate to go to. Gates are usually numbered, and each one has a place where passengers can sit down and wait for their plane to arrive. The gate is also where the flight attendants will check passengers’ documents and help them get on the plane.
- arrivals — Arrivals are flights that are arriving at the airport. There is an arrivals board that shows which flights are arriving and at what times.
- departures — Departures are flights that are leaving the airport. There is a departures board (usually right next to the arrivals board) that shows which flights are leaving and at what times. You should try to remember where arrivals and departures boards are in major airports so that you can tell passengers where to find them.
- on time — When a plane is on time, it will arrive or depart at the scheduled (planned) time.
- delayed — When a flight is delayed, it will take longer to arrive or depart.
- cancelled — Cancelled flights are flights that are not going to happen. Passengers will need to find different flights to their destinations. Cancelled flights usually appear in red on the arrivals and departures boards, so that passengers can easily see them.
- check in — Check in is where passengers must show their travel documents (such as passports and visas) to airline employees. The airline employees will make sure they have the right documents to travel, and they will prepare the passengers’ suitcases to be put on the plane.
- boarding — A flight is boarding when passengers are getting on the airplane.
- lost and found — When people lose items in the airport, they may be brought to the lost and found. People can then go there to find an item that they lost.
- luggage/baggage storage — Travelers may want to leave their suitcases somewhere so that they can exit the airport. This is common when passengers have long layovers and want to see the city they are waiting in until their next flight leaves.
These are the most important words for the airport. You can find more vocabulary related to airports and flights here.
2. Getting On Board
A very important part of being a flight attendant is helping passengers get onto airplanes. As a flight attendant, you will need to be at the gate for each flight. You will need to give passengers information about the gate, the flight and their tickets.
You will also need to tell passengers when it is time to get on the flight.
Have you ever been to an airport and traveled on an airplane? When you are waiting at the gate, not every passenger can run onto the plane at the same time. This process is very organized. Flight attendants will call one group of passengers at a time. Each group of passengers is determined by where their seats are on the plane.
Now, we are going to introduce you to vocabulary about tickets, seating and helping passengers.
Types of tickets
- rows — A row of seats is a line of seats that starts on the left side of the plane and goes to the right side of the plane. These rows are numbered. You will usually start boarding the plane by telling passengers in the first few rows (for example, rows 1 to 3) to board. You will need to make a clear statement, such as “We are now boarding all passengers in rows 1 through 3.” You will need to repeat this statement several times to be sure that everyone can hear and understand you.
- first class — The passengers sitting in the first rows are in first class seating. The seats in first class have more space for passengers to move around. The seats are usually bigger and more comfortable. First class passengers may also receive special services while on the flight. For these reasons, first class seats are more expensive, and the first class passengers get to board the plane first.
- business class — Seats in business class have less special services and benefits than first class, but they are better than economy seating (see below for definition). Business class seats are usually a little bit less expensive than first class seats.
- economy class — Economy class seating is where most passengers will sit. These tickets are less expensive than first class. This is also known as coach seating. Passengers may say that they are flying coach.
- window seats — Window seats are seats close to the side of the plane, where there are windows. That is easy enough to remember! The window seats on the left side of the plane are labeled with the letter “A.” From left to right, seats are labeled with the next letters in the alphabet. So, to the left of seats in column A are B, C, D and so on. The window seats on the far right of the plane will be labeled with the last letter in the sequence.
- aisle seats — The aisle is the hallway where people can walk on the plane. Aisle seats are the seats closest to the aisle.
- exit row — The exit row is the row of seats near the emergency exit. You will need to make sure that strong, healthy people sit in these rows. For example, elderly people and children should be seated elsewhere. If there is an emergency, somebody strong must be able to open the emergency exit door.
- standard — Standard seats are normal seats that have no restrictions (such as exit row seats, where some passengers should not sit) and have no special services (such as extra space).
- bulkhead — Bulkhead seats offer more legroom (extra space where passengers can stretch out their legs and be more comfortable). There are not many of these seats on a plane.
As I said before, you will need to give information to passengers at the gate. There is usually a microphone at the gate, which makes your voice much louder.
You will use this microphone to give instructions to all the passengers. You will say whose turn it is to come to the gate, show you their documents and board the plane.
Giving these instructions requires more than just vocabulary, it requires good pronunciation.
The importance of good English pronunciation
Even using the microphone, it may be difficult for passengers to hear you and understand you.
I am a native English speaker, and I often have difficulty understanding English-speaking flight attendants from my own country (the United States). That is why, when the flight attendant is still learning English, they need to pay very close attention to pronunciation.
It is very important that you speak clearly and use a great English accent. Speak slowly if you need to. Stop for a second and think about the words you are reading or speaking.
You need to pronounce every English word properly, so that passengers know when they should stop waiting, go to the gate where you are standing and get on the airplane.
You should practice pronouncing:
- English letters — Letters are important when talking about seating, because every seat on the plane has a letter based on its position.
- English numbers — Every row of seats on the plane has a number. These are very important, because you will need to tell people in certain rows to board the plane. Once the first few rows have boarded the plane, then you will call the next few rows, and so on.
If you are still confused about the labels of seats using letters and numbers, you should go to the website SeatGuru to look at maps of airplane seats. To see a few examples, click “Browse Airlines,” choose an airline, click “Planes and Seat Maps” and then choose any plane. For example, here’s a seat map from a Boeing 767 (a large type of plane) owned by American Airlines. If you are going to fly on a plane soon, you can type in your flight information and see what the seating looks like on your flight.
When all the passengers waiting at the gate have boarded the airplane, there may be some passengers left who did not board the plane. You will see their names on the list of passengers given to you by the airline. You will need to speak into the microphone and call out the names of the missing passengers.
- Common English first names — It is very good to learn how the most common English first names (also known as given names) are pronounced by native speakers. For example, George, John and William are very common first names for men. Sarah, Brittany and Jessica are very common first names for women. If people use these names in your home country, where another language is spoken, you may be used to pronouncing these with a different accent. Use this website to look up the pronunciation of any name. You can also watch this great YouTube video to hear common names pronounced by a native English speaker.
- Common English last names — Here is a video that will help you pronounce the most common English last names.
3. Knowing the Plane
As a flight attendant, you will need to study airplanes. When you are trained to become a flight attendant, you will be given quizzes and exams to test your understanding of airplanes and all their parts.
This is very important because you need to be able to communicate well with the pilot (the person flying the plane), the co-pilot (someone who assists the pilot) and air traffic control (the people at the airport who will give you instructions for take off, flight and landing). These airline employees may use technical vocabulary words to talk about the plane.
You do not need to use this vocabulary with passengers.
Here are some key words to learn:
- jetbridge/jetway — This is a bridge that connects an airplane to the terminal. This bridge looks like a long hallway. Everybody (including you and the other flight attendants) will board the plane by walking through this indoor bridge. It is very convenient because it can be moved easily between different planes, and you do not need to go outside. There are other names for this kind of bridge, such as skybridge, airbridge or boarding bridge.
- airstairs — These are stairs that connect an airplane’s entrance to the runway or tarmac (the place where planes land and move around). These can be moved easily and connected to different planes on the runway. You and the passengers will need to go outside to use airstairs. Sometimes you will all take a shuttle (a small bus) from the terminal to the airplane so you do not have to walk on the runway.
- fuselage — This is the main part of the airplane, where passengers sit and where luggage/baggage is stored.
- passenger cabin — This is the section of the airplane where all the passengers will sit.
- cockpit — This is where the pilot and copilot sit and control the plane. Passengers are never allowed in the cockpit.
- freight hold/cargo hold — This is where all the luggage/baggage is stored for the passengers.
Air traffic control
As I said before, you will sometimes need to understand and communicate with air traffic control. They work in the radio control tower at the airport, and they watch all the planes that are arriving and departing. They make sure all the planes are safe and flying to the right places.
It is very rare that you will need to communicate with them, though, because this is the pilot’s job.
Even so, it is very good to be aware of what they are discussing. You will need to know the special, technical language that is used by air traffic control in order to become a flight attendant for most airlines.
The special language used is known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.
Sometimes it is hard to understand what people are saying when they are using a radio. This alphabet is used to spell out important words on a radio, so that nobody misunderstands or miscommunicates.
You can learn more about the NATO Phonetic Alphabet here. You can practice listening to air traffic control at international airports here.
4. Giving Safety Instructions
When all the passengers are on the airplane, you will need to welcome them. You will also need to give them safety instructions. You may need to read the safety instructions into a microphone so all the passengers can know what to do if there is an emergency. The other flight attendants will demonstrate how to use emergency equipment.
The safety instructions sound almost the same on every flight. You can practice saying these instructions by watching videos from airlines, such as this in-flight safety announcement from the popular airline Delta.
Here is a great example of an in-flight safety announcement that you can practice reading. Read this out loud many times. Practice reading slowly, and then increase your speed once you feel more confident. Compare yourself to the voice reading the Delta announcement. How is your speed? How is your pronunciation?
5. Serving Passengers
It is not your only job to be a waiter or waitress, but you will need to serve passengers on the flight. You will provide them with food, drinks, services, shopping guides and other items for comfort.
Food and drinks
Sometimes, passengers will request specialty meals when they buy their tickets. Be sure that you know exactly who needs specialty meals.
- specialty meals — Usually passengers will be able to choose from two kinds of food for their meal on the flight. Sometimes they will need a specialty meal. These are meals prepared for passengers with unique diets.
- vegetarian — This is a specialty meal for people who do not eat any meat, including beef, pork, chicken, fish and other seafood.
- vegan — This is a specialty meal for people who do not eat any meat or other animal products. This means that they do not eat milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, eggs, honey or anything else that is produced by an animal.
- kosher — This is a specialty meal for Jewish people who follow rules about their diets. Kosher food is prepared in a special way, and certain foods are not allowed.
- allergies — Some passengers may have allergies (bad reactions) to certain foods, such as peanuts, milk and seafood. There are many foods that people can be allergic to. If a passenger tells you that they have an allergy, be very sure that you know what they are allergic to before you give them a meal.
There are many items that are given to passengers to make sure they stay comfortable while traveling. Here are some items that you may expect to be asked for:
- in-flight entertainment — This is a movie that is played for passengers.
You probably already know what the following vocabulary words mean, because they are very basic. I am showing you these words so you know what things passengers might ask you for while flying.
- wet towel
Documents and information
If you are flying internationally, then passengers may need to go through customs and immigration. You will need to distribute important customs and immigration documents to passengers before the plane lands, and you may need to give instructions about how to fill out the documents.
Make sure you are familiar with these documents. This is a sample United States Customs Declaration form.
Passengers may ask you questions about these documents, so you should learn how to fill them out.
6. Keeping Order on the Plane
Flying can sometimes be stressful, and passengers can get hurt if they are not given good instructions. A big part of being a flight attendant is making sure that everybody stays safe and healthy.
Your primary role is to keep people calm and keep things organized. You also need to make sure that people follow the rules and policies of the airplane.
Here are some things that you might need to say to passengers to keep them safe:
- Please stow (store) your luggage properly in the overhead compartments.
- Please stow your food trays.
- Please fasten your seat belts.
- Please return your seats to the upright position.
- Please remain seated.
- Please return to your seats.
- Please turn off all electronic devices.
- Please disable WiFi on all electronic devices.
- Please fill out these forms for Immigration and Customs.
You will need to pay attention to what is happening and what information the pilot and co-pilot are giving you. You may need to give passengers updates if you are going to experience:
- Route changes
- Bad weather
If passengers are scared, angry, nervous or upset, you need to keep them calm. Always be polite and kind. Try to smile and keep them happy. Use these phrases to let passengers know that you want to help:
- Sir/Ma’am, please remain calm and explain the problem to me.
- Sir/Ma’am, I am here to help you with whatever you need.
- Sir/Ma’am, I understand that you feel scared/angry/nervous/upset/sick. Please let me know how I can help you.
7. Handling Medical Emergencies
You will be trained to handle in-flight emergencies, emergency landings and even wilderness survival in case the plane does not land at an airport. It is very unlikely that these emergencies will happen, but you always need to be prepared.
If one of the passengers on the plane is having a medical emergency, you may need to ask them one of the following questions:
- Do you need medical attention?
- Where do you feel pain?
- Please explain your emergency to me slowly and clearly so that I can help you.
- Are you ill or injured?
- Do you need a prescribed medication?
Hopefully, you will fly on many airplanes for many years, and nothing bad will ever happen.
Flying on an airplane is a lot of fun, and you will always have the opportunity to visit new places and explore.
You will see that it is worth the responsibility to become a flight attendant.
It is very exciting that you are considering this career, and I wish you the best of luck.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like learning real-world English, you should also check out the FluentU app. Like the website, the FluentU app lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.