• For usual communications between pilots and ATC, a specific phraseology is followed.
  • In case of an an unexpected event (e.g. a sick passenger), flight attendants and pilots can communicate through intercom.
  • Pilots (particularly the captain) can speak to all people in the cabin (including flight attendants) through the public address system.


  • Do the communications made between the cockpit and the cabin (thanks to the public address system) follow a specific phraseology to deliver information to flight attendants?
  • Are there some messages following a specific phraseology that trigger a reaction among the flight attendants (e.g. preparation for flying across turbulence), but passenger may think the message is address to them?

I think of the coordination of the preparation of the cabin for the different flight phases (taxiing, taking off,...) or indication of the strength of turbulence (implicating the flight attendant may not begin to move carts along the cabin).

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It it worth pointing out that radio phraseology needs to be standardized because each pilot talks to many different ATC facilities and each ATC controller talks to pilots from many different carriers. So everyone needs to speak the same language, unless some participants in the system learn several different languages. On the other hand, local communication between pilots and cabin crew can be left to internal company procedures without the same kind of problems. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2015 at 23:22

2 Answers 2


Again, since there has been a sparsity of answers, I'll try to add to Simon's excellent answer and give a bit of a different perspective. My answer is dated in that it comes from flying 747-100 and -200 aircraft in the 1990s at the last airline I worked for. Given what I am sure is a wide variability of cockpit crew & cabin crew communication practices around the world, it may still be relevant. Remember, though, this is pre 9/11.

The cabin crew typically would arrive at the airplane before the cockpit crew. The first interaction other than a quick hello as we came onto the airplane was usually the upper deck flight attendant coming into the cockpit within a few minutes of the cockpit crew (captain, first officer, flight engineer) getting settled. Company policy was that the upper deck flight attendant was to check with the cockpit at least every 20 minutes to see if they wanted anything. It's the captain's airplane, though, and she/he could set the tone. I always declined anything until we had reached cruise. Additionally, I would tell the flight attendant that checking every 45 minutes to an hour would be sufficient but that if they just wanted to come up to chat at any time that would be fine. We were usually flying 8 to 12 hour legs. I would also tell them that I preferred to be called Terry rather than Captain, though more often than not they still called me captain.

Company policy was that the purser (chief flight attendant if you like) was to personally come to the cockpit to inform the captain that "all doors are closed, all passengers seated." That was my cue to call for the before-start checklist. Likely the purser had already been to the cockpit earlier to let me know how the loading was going, who was in back, and any problems. I in turn would give the purser the expected flight conditions, estimated time en route and such. I wasn't big on the captain making announcements to the cabin. My policy was to give the info to the purser and let them handle cabin announcements as much as possible.

The next company-required communication was hitting the button that sounds the beep throughout the cabin when we climbed through 10,000 feet, and I'd turn off the seat belt sign then as well. If there were no weather/turbulence problems en route, the next usual communication was a call to the purser shortly before the start of descent. However, typically the purser would have come to the cockpit every couple of hours during the flight to chat.

Descending through 10,000 feet I'd hit the cabin tone button twice and turn the seat belt sign on.

Last cabin communication was hitting the cabin tone button and turning off the seat belt sign after the parking brake was set.

Hajj flights were a special case. The purser was always one of our people, but the flight attendants were supplied by the national airline we were doing the flights for under contract. The requirements included that the captain be notified if anyone became seriously ill. All Hajj flights were required to have at least one doctor onboard, who would be a Hajji as well. The purser would come into the cockpit to tell the captain, and the captain would ask if the doctor wanted to land for a medical emergency (they never did). The captain was also to be notified if someone died. This was not unusual on Hajj flights, and we carried body bags for that contingency. A death was not a cause for landing short of the destination.

There is an area that starts before descent that has religious significance to Muslims because of the proximity to Mecca. It was marked on the IFR en route maps. We were supposed to announce entering that area. I always did that personally because I had learned how to properly pronounce it's name (well, as close as I could). The irony of the situation was that here was a 747 from a Jewish-owned airline, captained by an atheist, telling a plane load of Muslims they were approaching Mecca, Islam's holiest city.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi @Terry. Why were deaths common on Hajj flights? $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2015 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkyMark The typical Hajj passenger for the Indonesians and the Indians, which were the two nationalities I flew the Hajj for, are old and poor. They and their families save to try to get them to Mecca towards the end of their life. The great majority of them have never been in an airplane in their entire lives, so it's a stressful situation for them. There is also the belief, or at least so we were told, that if a Hajji dies making the Hajj, it's a ticket straight to heaven. Also, these were people who hadn't had good medical care through their lives. Lots of toothless people. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Mar 20, 2015 at 7:27
  • $\begingroup$ I surmised as much, but thanks for the answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2015 at 7:44

Been waiting for an answer but none coming so - guesswork and experience, since no citations or direct knowledge.

It's a mixture of both. Often, cockpit to cabin communication is one to one. Rather than use the cabin address, the crew will call a specific station for example, the rear galley. So if the captain wants a coffee, they will not use the cabin address, nor is there any need for a formalised language.

Please may I have a cup of coffee?

Other comms may be most effective using cabin address but still not needing a formalised language, for example.

Cabin crew, please take your seats.

This call would only happen after the passengers are belted in, since you are already in turbulence and the cabin crew don't need a formal instruction to buckle up. In my experience, the initial call to warn of turbulence ahead is made one to one to a specific station, usually the purser or senior cabin crew member. That person will then instruct the rest of the crew. The fact that the crew has been asked to sit, means that the carts will be stowed and the cabin prepared. It's just a part of their routine. In the case of unexpected heavy or severe turbulence, the crew probably do not need a call, since they know about it at the same moment the cockpit crew know but, a specific instruction might be given to indicate urgency.

Cabin crew, please take your seats immediately.

Some comms are most effective with an address and a formal command, for example.

Cabin crew, doors to automatic and cross-check.

This is a safety critical procedure and is therefore specifically addressed ("cabin crew") and a precise instruction ("doors to automatic", "cross check"). It was doors to automatic, not manual, and check the opposite door to make sure the person responsible for that door has done it, and done it correctly. Note that this particular command is normally given by the purser or senior member, and not from the flight deck.

There is also a call to "all stations" which will call all the station phones and whichever crew member picks up will deal with the comms.

As far as I know, the precise wording of instructions is not regulated but is part of company SOPs and check lists.

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, edited. SLF, self loading freight = passengers. 1-2-1, one to one. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Jan 14, 2015 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer. For the definition of crosscheck, please see this. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Jan 15, 2015 at 17:18

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