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Air Travel Vocabulary

Traveling by plane can be stressful. It can be even more stressful when someone has to communicate in their second or third language. Below are some common terms English language learners should know before flying.


A company that provides travel by air is called an airline.
The airport is small and only offers flights from three different airlines.

boarding pass
A boarding pass is another word for an airline ticket. It is what passengers must show before boarding a plane.
We should print our boarding passes before we get to the airport. This will save us some time.

to book a flight
To book a flight means to reserve your seat on a flight.
It’s always cheaper if you book a flight in advance. Booking a flight at the last minute can be expensive.

non-stop flight
A non-stop flight flies to its final destination without stopping.
Our company rarely books us non-stop flights. They are more expensive, and we are trying to cut costs.

direct flight
A direct flight stops before arriving at its final destination, but passengers do not have to change planes.
We had a direct flight. We stopped briefly in Denver, but we didn’t have to get off the plane.

connecting flight
A connecting flight stops and passengers must change planes.
I decided to take a connecting flight. It was a lot cheaper.

The term layover refers to the stop at an airport in order for passengers to change planes.
We had a six-hour layover in Tokyo. It was terrible.

first-class ticket
First class tickets are the most expensive tickets that airlines offer. First class seats are in the front of the plane and are much bigger than the other seats on the plane. Airlines usually offer premium meals to passengers with first class tickets.
I bought a first class ticket once. It was great. The flight attendants served me wine during the flight, and the food was fantastic.

business class ticket
Business class tickets are cheaper than first class tickets but more expensive than economy class tickets. Business class tickets have certain benefits that economy class tickets do not, such as larger seats.
What meal options are there for passengers with business class tickets?

economy class ticket/coach ticket
Economy class tickets are the cheapest tickets that airlines offer. Economy class seats are the smallest seats on the plane.
I always buy economy class tickets on short flights and business class tickets on long flights. I don’t like sitting in a small seat for long hours.

A suitcase is a bag with a handle used for holding clothes or other possessions.
My suitcase was too heavy, so I had to pay an extra fee.

All the suitcases and bags that a traveler has with them on a trip is called luggage.
Has an airline ever lost your luggage? It’s happened to me and it was very frustrating.

checked luggage/checked bags
Checked luggage is the luggage a passenger gives to the airline before getting on the plane. These bags are placed in the cargo section of the plane and do not travel in the same section of the plane as the passengers.
This airline allows each passenger two free checked bags. If a passenger has three checked bags, there is an additional charge.

carry on bags/carry on luggage
Carry on luggage is the luggage passengers take on the plane with them.
My carry on bag is pretty small. I think I’ll be able to fit it under the seat.

airport tax
An airport tax is a tax paid by passengers for using an airport.
We need to pay the airport tax before we go to the check-in counter.

check-in counter
The check-in counter is where passengers go to get their boarding passes and check their bags.
Why is there such a long line? They should have more people working at the check-in counter.

Security is where passengers have their possessions checked before they get on their flight.
We have to take our shoes off when we go through security.

An arrival is a flight arriving at the airport.
There were a lot of arrivals at the same time. As a result, we had to wait a long time to get our luggage.

A departure is a flight leaving the airport.
It took a long time to go through security because there were a lot of departures scheduled at the same time.

arrival and departure screen
The arrival and departure screen is a screen which shows the status of flights. It lists flights as on-time, delayed, or cancelled. (The arrival and departure screen is commonly called “the screen.”)
I think our flight might be delayed. Let’s take a look at the screen and see what our flight’s status is.

If a flight leaves at its scheduled time, the flight is on time.
I really hope our flight is on time. The conference is tomorrow, and I want to get to the hotel early so I can get a good night’s sleep.

If a flight leaves after its scheduled time, the flight is delayed.
How long is our flight delayed? Does the screen say when the new departure time is?

If a flight doesn’t leave the airport at all, the flight is cancelled.
They cancelled our flight because of mechanical problems. We have to talk to the airline and find another flight to Paris.

The gate is where passengers show their boarding passes and get on the plane.
Our flight leaves from gate H6. I’ll meet you there.

to board
To board a plane means to get on a plane.
We board at 9:25, so I don’t think we have time to get something to eat

aisle seat
Aisle seats are the seats next to the aisle on the plane. The aisle of the plane is the place between the rows of seats where people walk.
I prefer aisle seats because it is easier to get up and use the restroom when you have an aisle seat.

window seat
A window seat is the seat next to the window.
I prefer a window seat because I like to look out the window at the scenery.

middle seat
A middle seat is the seat between the aisle seat and the window seat.
I booked my flight late and I had to take a middle seat.

flight attendant
Flight attendants are airline employees who help the passengers on a flight.
The flight attendant is going to tell us about the safety features on this plane.

The person who flies the plane is called the pilot.
The pilot announced that we need to keep our seat belts fastened.

to take off
When the plane leaves the ground, it takes off.
We’re going to take off in a few minutes. You need to turn off your electronic devices.

take off
Take off refers to the moment when a plane leaves the ground.
I don’t mind flying, but I always get a little nervous during take off.

Turbulence is strong wind that causes an airplane to move and shake.
We had to keep our seat belts fastened during most of the flight because there was a lot of turbulence.

to land
When a plane arrives at a destination, it lands. To land means to touch the ground.
Our plane landed about 45 minutes late.

The place at an airport where non-residents must pass is called Immigration.
I almost missed my connecting flight because there was a long line at Immigration.

immigration officer
An immigration officer is a government official who is responsible for enforcing a country’s immigration law. Immigration officers make sure that the people entering a country are entering legally.
Many immigration officers speak two or three languages. It is important for them to be able to communicate well with travelers.

baggage claim
The baggage claim is where passengers go to collect their checked luggage.
After we go through customs, we will go to the baggage claim to get our luggage.

Customs is the place at an airport where government officials check the products that are entering the country.
I have never had my bags checked at Customs.

customs officer
A customs officer is a government official who is responsible for checking the products entering the country.
Could you please open your suitcase for the customs officer?

to declare an item
To declare an item means to report the item to customs.
We bought a lot of things when we were on vacation. We declared everything so we wouldn’t get in trouble.

duty-free store
Passengers can purchase products at duty-free stores without paying certain national and local taxes. Many airports offer duty-free shopping.
Many travelers take advantage of the duty-free store at the airport and purchase items that normally have high taxes.

jet lag
Jet lag is tiredness travelers experience when they travel from one time zone to another.
I always get jet lag when I fly to Hong Kong. The time difference is 12 hours.