Airline English takes flights of fancy


That we live in an age of flight is well established.

It is difficult to conduct business or take a vacation without considering traveling by air. During my 60 years in business, I have had more than my share of business travel. With my wife and family, I have also traveled widely on vacation trips. Most of these trips were pleasant and without incident, although we can remember a few harrowing experiences over the years.

Air travel was pleasant then, but, somehow, the past several years have brought a definite decline in service and in civility. Other travelers with whom I have spoken agree with my assessment. Some have said that lower profit margins and intense competition among the airlines are the root cause. This could be, but I have another opinion: I believe that passenger service and civility started to decline when the airlines began disregarding the proper use of the English language.

Far-fetched? Then, let me explain. When we booked our last flight, the reservation clerk at the other end of the line said, “you are booked on flight 567 which leaves at 11 a.m. in the morning” I ask, can a.m. be anything other than the morning?

Once the terminal gate, however, things began to unravel in earnest. We hear the following announcement: “Welcome to Delta flight 567. Before we board, we would like to begin preboarding”. Now I ask, what is preboarding if not boarding itself? Of course, you and I know why they do this; they are trying to get the aged, infirm, and mothers traveling with babies into their seats and out of the aisles so the horde of able-bodied can swarm onto the plane. But they don’t let you in on their little game plan. Instead they announce, “before we board, we will preboard”. Confusing? You bet.

Once airborne, we are told that “we will be serving complimentary beverages”. Upon being asked for our preference, we are told that all the decent stuff is not free at all. Most of it is available at exorbitant prices. What, therefore, does “complimentary” mean if not free?

Toward the conclusion of out flight, we are told, “The captain advises that we will arrive at approximately 11:59”. What is approximate about that?

Or take another bizarre announcement. Upon arrival at our destination, and the passengers are ready to leave (called “deplaning” in airline English) the stewardess intones, “Will those requiring wheelchair assistance, remain in their seats”. Now where, I ask, are theses people to go? If these unfortunates require assistance, isn’t it natural that they would remain in their seats?

I think that you will agree with me that the airlines put some cruel twists on our Mother Tongue. But, before we get too upset, we might remember the immortal words of Yogi Berra who said, “The only way to fly is by air”!

By Jim Beales

Contributing columnist

Jim Beales lives in Scotland County.

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