Some travel jargon explained; codeshare, seat pitch, private transfers...
Is this the preamble to a pleasant flight, or a codeshare slot-delayed drudge with trim problems? Photo Richard Green
The travel industry is particularly prone to using jargon. Some of it is innocent enough, but some is downright misleading. It pays to be aware of some of the key phrases: it could make the difference between holiday heaven and holiday hell. Here's a look at some of travel’s most commonly used — and commonly misunderstood — jargon terms.
Codesharing is a marketing ruse where two airlines agree to sell seats on each other's planes. It's all well and good, but does mean that you may book with one airline and end up flying with another. Your frequent flyer points will still add up as though you were flying on the airlines who's flight number is on your booking, and you will be told the operating carrier at the booking stage, but all the same it is very possible to overlook.
Randomly looking at the Heathrow airport departures screens this morning for example, and I can see that Aer Lingus flight EI8328 left for Dublin half an hour late from Terminal Five, as did Japan Air Lines flight JL823, American Airlines flight AA6391, and Qatar Airways flight QR5884. These are all the same flight; it was actually a British Airways plane and crew and its BA flight number was BA828.
This might seem fair enough, as long as you know what is going on, and are happy to fly with BA even though you booked with Qatar Airways.
But then again, you might not be — and for good reason: there are some strange bedfellows out there. You could, for instance, shell out for a flight on Air France from Paris to Moscow, only to find yourself actually flying with Aeroflot, or book from Heathrow to Atlanta with Virgin Atlantic only to find yourself on the far inferior Delta Air Lines.
In the bizarre language of the travel industry, a direct flight from A to B might stop for an hour in city C, then D and (if you’re really unlucky) E. This is because, in travelspeak, direct is completely different from nonstop: the former simply means you’re on the same plane from start to finish, no matter how many times it stops on the way; the latter means you genuinely go direct from departure to destination, with no messing around with extra landings and take-offs in-between.
This is the distance from one point on an aircraft seat to exactly the same point on the seat in front. It doesn’t take a physics professor to work out that this isn’t the amount of room that’s available to the passenger: after all, the seat itself takes up a fair amount of space. Thus the seat pitch on an airline in economy may be 34", but since the seat is 3" thick, you’ll only have 31" to squeeze into.
Nevertheless, the airlines use this as the standard measurement, rather than giving us the more useful passenger- space figure — the distance from the front of the base of one seat to the back of the base of the seat in front.
A gratuity implies a spontaneous expression of gratitude for a service, right? Well not if you plan to go on a cruise. In the arcane system of shipboard tipping, leaving that bit (or lot) extra is sometimes all but compulsory.
Carnival, for instance has a list of “recommended” gratuities, including £3.50 per day to restaurant staff, £2.25 per day to maids and 15% on your bar bill. Tips to the maître d’ and head waiter are, apparently, 'at your discretion'.
Some cruise ships will actually expect you to prepay gratuities (hardly a reward for good service, then); others will automatically charge them to your account. Of course, you can object, and refuse to pay the tips: but apart from being rough on the staff — who, on some ships, rely on tips for the bulk of their income — you’ll find yourself being frowned upon so hard it hurts.
Some cruise operators do charge an all-in price, pay staff a fair wage, and make it clear that tipping is welcome but not expected. If only they all did.
Unusually, here’s a much- misunderstood term that can actually work to your advantage. It simply means that, and usually for no extra cost, you fly into one city and fly back from another. So instead of flying to Los Angeles, and driving the super-scenic 620 kilometres of the Pacific Highway up to San Francisco, and then backtracking to LA for your flight home, you can do the drive one way, drop the car off and fly home direct from San Francisco.
Other good open-jaw options include Johannesburg/Cape Town; Auckland/Christchurch; Kuala Lumpur/Bangkok, and Buenos Aires/Montevideo.
If you think that a private transfer from the airport to your hotel means you’ll be whisked away in a chauffeured limousine — just the two of you, bottle of champagne in the glove box — think again. 'Private' in tour-operator parlance can refer to any means of transport where you don’t have to scrum down with the locals: in the worst case, that could mean boarding a crowded coach doing a loop of several hotels, and scrumming down with fellow holidaymakers instead.
I was on a 'private' transfer booked as part of a holiday to Saipan and found myself on a 50-seater coach. The flustered tour rep asked a young bloke sitting at the front if he could help her out and count the number of passengers - to make sure he had got everyone presumably. "We are looking for 37," she said. So this fellow diligently counted us while walking to the back of the bus. Once there, he turned to the front and bellowed, "Yep, that’s it — 36 and a bald guy." Not exactly private.
REGIONAL ADD-ONS/ REGIONAL DEPARTURES
These terms crop up in holiday brochures all the time; they sound similar, but there’s an important difference. For an add-on flight, you pay an extra amount to fly from a regional airport to another airport (in UK terms that's often Heathrow) to connect with a long-haul departure. For example, with a flight from Heathrow to Mauritius, you may be able to pay about £60 extra for a return flight from Manchester to Heathrow: better than driving it, and your bags will be checked through to Mauritius, but still a fuss.
Regional departures are a better option if there are other airports with nonstop flights to your destination: this is when you can fly from your local airport direct to your destination without having to wander around Heathrow en route. There may be a supplement above the basic cost, but it’s usually small — £10 to £50 return.
This sounds like the ultimate in nonsense jargon, up there with leaves on the line: “Sorry for the four-hour delay,” announces the aircraft’s captain, “but we’ve missed our slot.”
It didn't go down well as an explanation for a long delay when I said it Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, formerly a UK children's TV presenter on a programme called 'Play School'. I was working at Gatwick, she was flying off on holiday, and told me to 'F**k off!'
What passengers (especially those who turn up late at the gate) often don’t realise is that an aircraft needs to book a slot for its entire journey. That means it needs a slot on the runway to take off; a slot through every segment of air space en route, a safe distance from other aircraft; and finally a slot on the runway to land and one at the arrival terminal.
All these fit together if the aircraft takes off at the allotted time. But if that bloke in the Hawaiian shirt spends too long in duty free and the plane misses its slot, you could be waiting several hours till the jigsaw fits together and air-traffic control gives the green light. All the more reason to get that preflight drink in early.
It's unlikely that you'll hear this in the normal course of a flight, but the people dispatching the plane keep trim in mind when deciding where to load the bags and cargo. If you get the right trim then the plane will fly along happily without the need for the pilot to apply any outside forces to make it stay that way. It's like an overall balance for the plane.
Different planes - especially smaller ones - have different trim requirements. So for example when I worked at East Midlands in the 80s, I knew that the Fokker F-27 was front heavy, the Shorts 360 rear heavy, and the Vickers Viscount already pretty much in balance.
I say I knew this, but I found out the hard way. I checked in a Fokker F-27 British Midland Airways flight from East Midlands to Amsterdam and for neatness - I think - I decided to fill the seats roughly from the front backwards. I then boarded the passengers (it was a small airport) and got a huge bollocking from the dispatcher. Even putting all the bags in the rear luggage hold wouldn't be enough to get the aircraft in trim apparently, so I had to make a cringe-worthy announcement and apology asking all passengers to please move backwards four rows. Oops!