Some announcements, in airports and on cruise ships, signal a serious emergency. Others simply inform staff that a queasy passenger has thrown up on the top deck. Here we reveal the meaning behind the codes.
On a cruise ship
The announcement “Operation Bright Star” signals a medical emergency (“Code Blue” is an alternative); “Operation Rising Star” means a passenger has passed away.
Of less concern would be a warning about a “PVI”, which stands for “public vomiting incident”, or “30-30”, which is used by some cruise lines to ask for staff to assist with cleaning up a mess (others use “Purell, Purell, Purell”).
You might also hear one of these other coded announcements on your next cruise or ferry trip (but hopefully not). They will vary according to your operator.
Code Red: Outbreak of norovirus or other illness. It means the ship must undergo deep cleaning and sick passengers should stay in their rooms. Code Green and Code Yellow indicate less severe problems.
Mr Skylight; Alpha, Alpha, Alpha; Code Blue; or Star Code, Star Code, Star Code: Medical emergency
Mr Mob or Oscar, Oscar, Oscar: Man overboard
Charlie, Charlie, Charlie: Security threat
Echo, Echo, Echo: Possible collision with another ship, a signal that the ship is starting to drift, or in other cases a warning of high winds.
Red Parties, Red Parties, Red Parties; Alpha Team, Alpha Team, Alpha Team or Priority 1: Possible fire on board
Bravo, Bravo, Bravo: Fire or other serious incident.
Delta: Damage to the ship.
Zulu, Zulu, Zulu: A fight has broken out.
Papa: Pollution or oil spill.
Sierra: Call for a stretcher.
Priority 2: Leak.
Kilo: All staff to report to emergency posts.
A fire or emergency may simply be indicated by a ringing of the general alarm bell. Seven or more short blasts of the ship’s whistle, followed by one long blast, means passengers should assemble at their muster stations.
At the airport
“Code Bravo” is the code for a general security alert at an airport. Security officials will typically yell it at travellers, and may order them to “freeze!”, to deliberately scare them and make it easier to pinpoint the source of the threat. More often than not, it will probably be a drill.
“Code Adam” may be used to alert staff of a missing child.
As for delays, the International Air Transport Association has dozens of codes that explain the exact nature of the problem. “DG”, for example, might indicate damage to the aircraft during ground operations (such as during refueling or the unloading of luggage), “FS” could refer to a shortage of flight crew, “PO” might indicate that the flight has been overbooked, and “WI” that deicing is required.
In the cabin
On a lighter note, a few years ago flight attendant Charlotte Southcott revealed to Telegraph Travel some of the curious lingo used by cabin crew at 35,000ft.
Arm and crosscheck: Prior to departure, the plane exits are put into emergency mode. If an “armed” door is opened, the emergency slide will inflate. The cabin crew will “crosscheck” to ensure that the opposite doors have been armed. Upon arrival, you're likely to hear “doors to manual”.
Debrief: Every little detail of every flight is recorded on the “debrief” – including medical situations, disruptive passengers or a catering problem.
Hat bin: Another term for the overhead bins (“Why are these called hatbins? Surely they’re not used for hats? Well, in the 1960s, when flying was extremely glamorous, they actually were.”)
Hot bit: The heated part of an in-flight meal.
Gash bag: The rubbish bag. (“Another military term, apparently if you were the gash man in the navy you got all the rubbish jobs”).
Landing lips: “That last slick of lippie we apply to look fresh as a daisy before we land.”
Plonkey kits: A bag of essentials carried by flight attendants. (“Apparently this originates from ships’ galleys. Ours tend to contain ice tongs, oven gloves, small clippers, a sewing kit and a clothes brush”.)
Starburst: “You’ll see this happen when a service is started in the middle of the cabin and the trolleys work out towards the galleys.”
In the cockpit
We’ve all heard of “Mayday”, which means an aircraft or ship is facing imminent danger. Fewer will know about “pan-pan” (from the French panne, meaning a breakdown), which refers to a slightly less grave danger.
7500 is a transponder code which means an aircraft has been, or is threatened with, hijacking.
7700 is a more general emergency code; 7600 indicates a radio failure.
As for general pilot jargon, Patrick Smith, pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential, a book on air travel, reveals all:
All-call: “A request that each flight attendant report via intercom from his or her station – a sort of flight attendant conference call.”
Last-minute paperwork: “The flight is ready for pushback – then comes the wait for ‘last-minute paperwork’. Usually it’s something to do with the weight-and-balance record, a revision to the flight plan, or waiting for the maintenance guys to deal with a write-up and get the logbook in order.”
Flight level: “A fancy way of telling you how many thousands of feet you are above sea level. Just add a couple of zeroes. Flight level three-three zero is 33,000 feet.”
Ground stop: “This is when departures to one or more destinations are curtailed by air traffic control, usually due to a traffic backlog.”
EFC time: “The expected further clearance time, sometimes called a release time, is the point at which a crew expects to be set free from a holding pattern.”
Deadhead: “A deadheading pilot or flight attendant is one repositioning as part of an on-duty assignment. This is not the same as commuting to work or engaging in personal travel.”
Gatehouse: “An idiosyncratic way of saying the gate area or boarding lounge.”
Ramp: The aircraft parking zones.
Alley: A taxiway.
Apron: “Any expanse of tarmac that is not a runway or taxiway – areas where planes park or are otherwise serviced.”
At this time: “Example: ‘At this time, we ask that you please put away all electronic devices’. Meaning: now, or presently. This is air travel’s signature euphemism.”
On the Underground
The best known code is “Inspector Sands”, or simply “Mr Sands”, which refers to a potential emergency such as a fire or bomb scare. It is used on the Tube, as well as the wider UK rail network and at theatres (“Sands” because buckets of sand would be used to put out the fire).
The numbered codes are nothing to be alarmed about, and simply refer to cleaning jobs.
Code 1: Blood
Code 2: Urine or worse
Code 3: Vomit
Code 4: Spillage
Code 5: Broken Glass
Code 6: Litter
Code 7: Anything that doesn’t fit into these categories