18 JAN 2018:Last week saw one of the more unusual airline incidents in a long time. As the operating carrier’s initial press statement explained,  “the Boeing 737-800 aircraft of Pegasus Airlines Flight PC 8622 Ankara-Trabzon scheduled at 18:25 UTC had a Runway Excursion Incident during landing at Trabzon Airport.” It then ended on a happier note saying, “All 162 passengers, two pilots and four cabin crew disembarked safely from the aircraft with no loss of life or injury to anyone on-board.” Looking at the, “You gotta be kidding me” pictures, it was truly miraculous that nobody was hurt!

But seriously guys, come on: “A Runway Excursion”? The late, great, George Carlin would have had a field day with that one!

The dictionary defines ‘excursion’ as, “a short journey or trip, especially one engaged in as a leisure activity.” Now, while the best word for what happened to Flight 8662 may not be appropriate for a mixed audience, “excursion” is an extremely bizarre descriptor for, “plunging over the edge of a steep muddy cliff in an jet aircraft that ends up dangling just meters away from the Black Sea.”

If however you look into the airline-speak definition of “runway excursion”, it shows as, "An incident involving a single aircraft, where it makes an inappropriate exit from the runway usually because of pilot error, poor weather, or a fault with the aircraft.” So no arguments there – a runway exit of plunging down a cliff is assuredly about as ‘inappropriate’ as it gets!

In case you’re wondering, had the aircraft overshot the end of the runway instead of veering off the side, it would have been categorized as an "overrun" which is defined as, “a type of excursion where the aircraft is unable to stop before the end of the runway.” Call it what you will, neither one is an excursion to be recommended.

But the airline industry has always had an intriguingly odd relationship with the every-day English language. The ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ (KISS) strategy never quite made it to aviation verbiage and one has to wonder if IATA or some such august body mandated that the simplest of announcements must be extended and/or mangled to the maximum.

Take for instance the standard departure gate announcements one hears on just about every trip:

“There will be a 45-minute departure delay due to a last minute equipment change.” When the majority of the audience is already nervous about getting on an airplane, such ill-conceived PA’s needlessly add an extra layer of angst as in,  “OMG. What piece of equipment are they changing? There must be something wrong with the engines?” Would it really be too difficult to simply say, “We have a delay due to a last minute change of aircraft …”?

Or, there’s the overly verbose departure spiel of, “Announcing the departure of AnyAir Flight 123 with service to Medicine Hat.” What’s the “with service to” bit all about?  They mean “… Flight123 to Medicine Hat” - so say it!

Another airline favourite that confuses the hell out of fliers is, “direct service” versus “non-stop service.” This is the aviation equivalent to the hotel industry’s ‘adjoining rooms’ versus ‘adjacent rooms’ conundrum. Just as adjacent rooms may or may not be adjoining, so too while a non-stop flight is inarguably direct, what’s referred to as a “direct flight” is usually not “non-stop”.  We all know this of course but pity the poor punter who’s trapped in the jargon crossfire.

Once on board, the doubletalk – in terms of double the length - continues: “We’re just finishing up some last minute paperwork and will be underway shortly.” That’s code for we have any number of things delaying the departure and “shortly” can be anything from five to 50 minutes.

One of these delay-provoking issues may later be announced as, “There’s a ground stop on our destination” which means that ATC is spacing out the sequencing of flights into the destination – usually because of a traffic backlog: But of course this all means nothing to the average passenger.

And when pilots try too hard to explain things they frequently only make matters worse. I recently heard a, “This is your captain speaking…” PA that went as follows (I wrote it down), “The tower has just given us a ten-five-oh EFC time so with luck we should be wheels-up by the top of the hour.” That translates to, “Air traffic control has given us an ‘Expect Further Clearance’ time of 10:50 and we should be off the ground by 11:00.” The woman sitting next to me shook her head in bewilderment and exclaimed, “What the hell language was he speaking? The only part I understood was ‘with luck’ and I didn’t like that at all!”

Frequent fliers get so inured to hearing this alien language that they don’t even notice redundant phrases like, “At this time we would ask that you …” where a simple ‘”please” would suffice. Or “We do appreciate you choosing Airline X today” as opposed to a normal-speak, “Thank you for flying with us today.” Then of course there are the classics like, “a full upright and locked position” which means “locked” and “tampering with, disabling or destroying” which means, well, “tampering with.”

So, on behalf of your Connecticut-based columnist please permit me to say that I do know you have a choice of columns to read and accordingly I do appreciate your selection of Tait on Travel today. I would like to wish you happy reading all the way to your final destination, wherever that might be. But please - just try an avoid taking any ad hoc ‘excursions’.

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David Tait

David Tait's insight and irrepressible humour give us an insider's take on the airlines and the industry in general. He doesn't pull his punches, and readers find his columns thoughtful, informative, amusing and infuriating – regardless, David's views on our industry are always original. 

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