Why do airline employees speak that way?
May 14, 2005 9:14 PM   Subscribe

Why do airline flight attendants and gate agents speak in the same oddly stilted manner, regardless of (U.S.) location or employer?

"We are beginning the boarding process." "We do ask that you have your IDs ready." "We will be coming through the cabin shortly." "The Captain has turned off the seatbelt sign."

Are they taught this odd emphasis habit in Airline School? If so, why?
posted by bac to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It happens when you say the same thing over and over and over and over, and you're not really paying attention to what you're saying anymore.
posted by agropyron at 9:30 PM on May 14, 2005

Because they're trained to deliver their lines in a certain way.
posted by bshort at 9:32 PM on May 14, 2005

It's generic pretentious-obesequious-server-speak; you can hear it from waiters in hoity-toity restaurants, concierges in expensive hotels, and the counter-people at Tiffany's.
posted by nicwolff at 9:34 PM on May 14, 2005

If you use a contraction at the beginning of a sentence, you're more likely to slur or mumble your way through the rest of the script. So the emphasis on the verb serves as a reminder to enunciate everything that follows.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:46 PM on May 14, 2005

Because a someone who learned english as a non-first language would appreciate the slower speech and lack of weird contractions, I would think... :-)

Remember, outside the USA a lot of the flight attendants barely know English themselves. Sadly, this has extended to some Canadian flights I've experienced. :-S
posted by shepd at 9:47 PM on May 14, 2005

Flight attendants are not your average customer service representative. They are also trained to follow a host of regulations including extensive FAA regulations concerning passengers, airline guidelines regarding passenger boarding, safety procedures and so on. The easiest way to do this effectively is to make it highly ritualized.

Also, many of the older airlines function somewhat as an institution. Recall that airline travel started as a very formal affair and has only reached its current level of informality only recently. So, some of the larger airlines are just inheriting formalities that were in place much earlier. My friend who was until recently a flight attendant at United tells me that many of the procedures she learned was by mimicking the older attendants since as a young recruit she didn't want to buck the system. Later, its just became ingrained in her as the result of habit and rote repetition, as some commenters imply above.

Younger airlines don't necessarily carry this *ahem* baggage and so you are more likely to find that they can lighten up. In fact, the upstart SouthWest airlines is well-known for the humor and informality of both the pilots and flight attendants.
posted by Ariosto at 9:53 PM on May 14, 2005

They emphasize the word that, if mispronounced or misunderstood, would change the meaning of the sentence. It ensures that everyone understands, and also the emphasis catches your attention. In short, it's for clarity.
posted by cali at 10:57 PM on May 14, 2005

I've actually seen this taken to extremes. The last time I flew Philippine Airlines (top notch, btw) their safety video had Pinoy actors and actresses overdubbed by American voice actors.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:33 PM on May 14, 2005

i don't think they (all?) do. i've just got off an aa flight (and logged on to check my email) on which the anouncements were "normal" (and even the spanish, to my ears, was very good, which surprised me because normally if the english is fluent then the spanish is really bad).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:30 AM on May 15, 2005

Andrew Cooke: AA's speciality in international is South America, so they've got quite a few FAs and GAs who are quiet fluent in Spanish -- and I met one who was fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese.

Another thing: At least on AA (the airline I fly), the announcements are scripted, and most flight attendants are reading from the script. Why?

Airlines must comply with certain safety regulations, but are allowed to come up with their own procedures in doing so. Once they do, the FAA checks them, if all's okay, they approve them. At this point, the airline's own procedures are now, for all intents and purposes, federal regulations. Not following them can get you cited and fined.

So, many airlines insist that the FAs follow the script. This procedure has moved out company wide, even into areas that aren't under flight procedure rules, like gate announcements.

AA is consistent enough that the few times they've screwed up, it stood out.
posted by eriko at 7:58 AM on May 15, 2005

And then there's WestJet, where they regularly tell jokes... or encourage the passengers to share jokes. Odd, but fun.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:49 AM on May 15, 2005

I would guess it's an attempt at clarity of enunciation so that people who don't speak English well have a better chance of picking it up. Also to deal with the PA system's failings.

Personally I just wish the buggers would learnt that "We shall be taking off momentarily" is a misuse of the word "momentarily", dammit. In spite of what that language-denaturing monstrosity Websters might say.
posted by Decani at 3:09 PM on May 15, 2005

Decani, if it eases your pain, you can consider the time spent in the air as the moment. It might not be brief, but from my expereience, it sure is indefinite (even if they like to pretend they'll end up landing correctly to the minute).
posted by shepd at 3:29 PM on May 15, 2005

Don't just leave us hanging, Decani ;). If not how the "language-denaturing" Websters describes it, what is "momentarily" supposed to mean instead? (And, I ask that without sarcasm, in case that's ambiguous.)
posted by Handcoding at 11:18 PM on May 15, 2005

"Momentarily" originally meant FOR a moment, not IN a moment. The word that means IN a moment is "presently."


"When I explained to the flight attendant that she should have used the word 'presently' she was momentarily stunned."


"We will be landing presently."

Whether the change in the meaning of "momentarily" is a natural evolution of the language or the triumph of the ignorant is an exercise I leave to the reader.
posted by Virtual at 4:38 AM on May 16, 2005

Something else to keep in mind is that people who are not accomplished public speakers very frequently do talk in a bizarre sing-song voice when they have to recite something.

Listen to a TV commercial for a local business where the owner narrates or speaks on camera. Or listen to a valedictorian speech. You'll often hear a highly unnatural stylized rhythm.

etc. ad nauseam.
posted by Virtual at 4:47 AM on May 16, 2005

What Virtual said. That is how to use 'momentarily' and how not to use it.

"We will be taking off in a moment, shortly, presently, soon. Apologies for my previous incorrect announcement. I was momentarily confused."
posted by Decani at 7:14 AM on May 16, 2005

Apologies for my previous incorrect announcement.

As long as we're being pedantic, that's not a complete sentence.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:59 AM on May 16, 2005

DevilsAdvocate: as long as we're being pedantic, it was an attempt to maintain precisely the stilted manner of announcer-speak that is under discussion in this thread. I would have hoped that the quotation marks might have been a clue there. See how that works?

Also, the use of sentence fragments may be frowned upon by the highly-respected authority of Microsoft Word grammar checker but those of us who actually write things other than company reports and throwaway MeFi posts generally understand that they are perfectly valid when attempting to project the effect of hesitant, broken, uncertain, anxious, grumpy or stilted speech.
posted by Decani at 6:44 PM on May 16, 2005

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