Flight Attendant Faux Pas

Every time I fly, I hear flight attendants using words in ways that no doubt cause my freshman English teacher Mrs. Prosser to turn over in her grave.

Flight attendants regularly - and apparently unknowingly - use the wrong words during their cabin announcements. As homage to my diminutive, gray-haired grammarian, I intend to help them fix their foibles.

Flight attendant faux pas often begin even before take-off when they announce, “we will have an extremely full flight.” The term “full” is an absolute; either a container has additional capacity or it does not. If every seat will be occupied, the plane is simply “full.” (One might also accept “completely full” for its additional emphasis, but “extremely” is just plain wrong.) While a flight may be “oversold” because the airline sold more tickets than there are seats, I have yet to be on a flight where a passenger occupies one of the overhead luggage bins or where more than one person is stuffed into a seat (though I’ve occasionally felt like it).

Flight attendants often announce that the plane will be taking off or landing “momentarily.” “Momentarily” means “for a moment,” implying that the plane is either going to take off, then land in short order or perhaps that the pilot intends to practice touch-and-go landings. The term for which they’re grasping is “in a moment.”

Flight attendants do offer food and beverage "service," but they are not "servicing" their passengers; they are "serving" them. To "serve" means to do something for someone, while to "service" means to do something to something (or, horrifyingly, someone). Think "having the car serviced."

Toward the end of the flight (not "towards"), I’ve heard them announce that the captain has turned on the seat belt sign and that passengers much remain in their seats “for the duration of the flight.” The word “duration” means “the length of.” At that point, since the majority of the flight has already passed, they mean - and should say - the “remainder” of the flight.

There are exceptions, of course. During one of the few flights I've taken  on Virgin America, our flight attendant used the correct terms instead of "momentarily" and "duration." When I asked him about the choice of words, he told me that the script he was supposed to use had those words but they "didn't seem right to him," so he unilaterally chose to change them. Good for him!

Which leads me to my concluding comment aimed at other F/As: If these terms are in your scripted cabin announcements and those are written by your airline, I respectfully suggest you consult your resident grammar guru and correct this butchery of the English language. If, on the other hand, the language was scripted by some bureaucrat and mandated by the FAA, then you have my understanding as well as my complete sympathy.

Even Mrs. Prosser understood, “You can’t fight city hall.”

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