Airport & Flying Terms

Terminology Used in Airports

Have you ever found yourself sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the airport, or buckling up in the airplane itself, only to realize that everyone is speaking in some sort of code and you didn’t get the memo? Airport jargon can be extremely confusing, but if you learn a few of the basic meanings beforehand, then the airport shouldn’t be too much of a foreign experience.

Air travel terms can be broken up into two separate categories: on the ground, and in the air. Let’s start with lingo that you will hear while your feet are still on the ground.


Direct Flight

When seeing the term "direct flight" on your ticket, you probably think that will mean that your flight will take you directly to your destination without stopping, right? Wrong. Direct flight simply means that the flight number will not change, but in many cases your flight will indeed stop. You may even need to change planes completely.

Nonstop Flight

This is the flight that you were looking for above. This flight will take you exactly where you want to go, without stopping or causing you to change planes and lose your comfortable position.


You have probably heard someone’s name being called over the intercom, requesting that if they are in the gatehouse that they go to a specific point for whatever reason. The gatehouse is just another way of saying the boarding area where you are waiting for your plane to arrive.

In Range

If you hear them announcing that your flight is now "in range" that means that the plane is in the process of landing, but hasn’t touched ground yet. This announcement is to give you a heads up to get ready to board the plane, though how long it will take for the plane to actually land and be ready for passengers is never an exact science.


The ATC is also known as the Air Traffic Control. They are in control of pretty much every aspect that goes into a plane’s flight.


A knot is one nautical mile per hour (approx: 1.151 MPH).


Area of Weather

If you hear the pilot announce that you are coming to an area of weather and that he has turned the fasten seatbelt sign on, this just means that there is a thunderstorm or heavy rain ahead. He will usually turn the plane to avoid it.


When you hear the pilot or crew talking about the approach, it means that the plane is beginning its descent for landing.


Deplane is just a fancy way of saying, get off of the plane and don’t forget your belongings.


The space over the land or sea area occupied by a certain state or country. A country's airspace is considered part of that country's territory and therefore subject to its authority.


A broad, open area in the airport for the passage or assembly of people.


Removing ice, snow, or frost, usually from aircraft and airfield pavements during snowy weather. This ensures safety and efficiency of operations.


In air travel, a gate is the entrance to a movable passage much like a tunnel or a bridge leading to the aircraft. This allows passengers to board the plane, and later get off at their destination.

Ground Stop

A ground stop is a procedure in which all aircraft are not permitted to take off or land at a particular airport. This usually takes place during severe storms, heavy air traffic, or sometimes, nearby terrorist attacks. This is a security measure put in effect to avoid accidents. In the event of a ground stop, outbound flights are delayed; incoming flights either circle around or are diverted to other cities. Passengers will be asked to wait in their aircraft (or at the airport) until circumstances improve.



A jetway is a specially designed movable walkway, much like a bridge or a corridor leading into an aircraft. This allows passengers to board or disembark a plane.


An airport kiosk is an interactive, computerized device where people can get information or services. These are usually located throughout an airport terminal for easy access. A kiosk may be consulted about flight status, flight schedules or other inquiries. Some kiosks may be set up with a keyboard and mouse, while others may provide a user-friendly touch screen. Not all kiosks are computerized. Some are simply free-standing booths or tables manned by salespeople, where passengers can buy magazines, snacks or souvenirs.

People Mover / Moving Walkway

A people mover, moving walkway (British term) or moving sidewalk (American term) is an automated mechanism that carries people across a distance of several meters. It's often utilized in airports and looks like a flat, horizontal escalator. Moving walkways are often very helpful for passengers carrying lots of luggage.


Pushback is the procedure for pushing an aircraft backward and away from an airport gate, normally using vehicles called pushback tractors.


Typically, a ramp is an inclined plane that allows transit between two areas that have different levels. In an airport, this word refers to a staircase with wheels, which is used to load or unload an airplane. The word is also used in sea travel, referring to an inclined walkway installed between the vessel and the port.



The scheduled time for take-off and arrival by an aircraft.


The surfacing material used for airport runways, usually consisting of compressed stone or iron slag coated with tar. The term is short for "tarmacadam".

"Tarmacadam" is an improvement on a road-making method called macadamisation, developed by in Scottish road engineer, John Loudon McAdam in the 1800s. Macadamisation basically involves layers of stone coated with a binder or cement; Tarmacadam uses a specialized tar for a flatter surface.


In an airport, the word "tower" usually refers to the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT). This is a ground-based center that provides direction for aircraft, whether on the runway or in the air. From the towers, Air traffic controllers give instructions to pilots in the aircraft; these directions are for facilitating the flow of traffic, assisting pilots with relevant information, and for preventing accidents.