Every industry has its own jargon, a special language or secret handshake shared between those “in the know.”
It’s a useful shortcut found everywhere, from the protective forces of military and police to the restaurant industry, the skies and beyond. The secret handshake may be verbal or silent but generally once you’ve been made privy to it?
You are in the “Circle of Trust.” Which is what this article is all about.
Psst. If you haven’t yet read the prior blog on traveling first class, you might want to do that here.
What I’m about to share will most likely undo the vast majority of blunders you’re apt to make if you don’t, but I offer no guarantees.
The Secret Language of Flight
To clarify, I’m not talking about the military phonetic alphabet used among government forces and flight personnel to reference letters easily mistaken when said over communication channels.
This is the universal Alpha Tango Charlie (ATC) chatter on radio frequencies where words are used instead of letters to avoid confusion, such as:
Bravo, Delta, Papa, Tango instead of B, D, P, T.
This doesn’t generally help you or us in any way in the cabin of a commercial plane.
The only benefit to your flight attendants is the ability to sling this lingo when referencing questionable passengers instead of well-known acronyms that just might get us into trouble, such as:
“She’s total Papa Whiskey Tango.”
“I know, right? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!”
So forget the jargon. What you want to know is the secret handshake.
The Secret Handshake of Flying First Class
When you know the secret handshake, you don’t even have to talk to all the flight attendants and the word will get passed along. They’ll know who you are and where you’re sitting.
This is similar to the restaurant industry. Secret handshakes are so effective that on the busiest of nights, a chef knows if another chef is eating in his or her restaurant.
The visiting chef will bring something to the restaurant and send it back to the working chef. Without ever talking, the visitor will receive little extras with their meal, some insane side dishes or desserts not even listed on the menu.
This is most often how flight crews communicate.
We do tend to identify ourselves when we step onboard an airplane because the working crew
a) knows anyway given the airline code assigned to our name and b) In the event of an emergency or medical situation we are trained to assist.
We also honor the secret handshake which identifies us almost as quickly as our badges. This often (not always) nets us special exceptions along the lines of movies, drinks and food. Sometimes even a first class seat.
But, my friend, this is where the similarities between you and I end.
I am held to a much higher standard of onboard etiquette than you.
In other words, the secret handshake for you merits even greater exception than it does for me.
So I’m going to let you in on this little secret because flight crews everywhere will absolutely love me for it.
And you know what? Chefs work hard, too, so I will share their secret first.
It’s really so simple.
A sort of controlled chaos unfolds behind those swinging doors which hides the kitchen from our wandering eye. It’s hot, it’s hectic and all of a sudden what to the eye should appear but a 6-pack of ice-cold beer.
Good beer, ice-cold. Not Olde English 800 3-buck chuck plucked off a hobo, savvy?
That is the secret handshake between chefs.
Now it stands to reason flight crews cannot drink alcohol during their shifts like a chef can and apparently does.
Instead you come waltzing through that boarding door styling with your travel clothes and Italian shoes (Psst. Secret #4: How to Travel First Class) and present the flight attendants with the secret handshake:
Cookies, chocolate, candy, coffee cards. My friends, it doesn’t have to start with the letter “C” (that was just convenient) but cakes and creme-filled doughnuts and eclairs won’t be turned away either. So long as it’s unopened.
We’d love to accept Mom’s homemade cookies but in the event Mom is a terrorist, well, you understand.
Of course we’ll happily accept healthy food but it’s hard to find non-processed, unopened goods that keep for days on end. We understand.
Most flight crews are hostage to the aluminum tube anywhere from 10 to 16 hours a day depending on flight operations.
Maybe we have time between flights to run off and grab a coffee and a bite to eat but chances are greater we don’t.
Maybe we get a little break between beverage services to eat some stale peanuts or dig through the pathetic remains of yesterday’s salad but it’s more likely someone will shove trash at us between bites.
Yes, it’s the glamorous life.
When someone strolls on well-dressed in Italian shoes bearing a secret handshake for the flight crew?
Gratitude will shower upon you like spring rain in Seattle. Every time.
There are always exceptions. Someone having a bad day, a breakup, a breakout or a break down but believe me when I say: They are the exceptions.
And it’s usually only one person on a 4 to 13-person crew.
Believe me, the rest of the crew will be stoked.
Where is that guardian angel? They want to know.
You bring us treats and we bring you treats.
That is the secret handshake of flight crews, the instant karma of the airplane.
Pretty simple Laws of the Universe-type stuff.
And we promise to share with the pilots.
It’s sweet that you think of our men and women seated up front and we’ll be sure to tell ’em.
However, when it comes to serving drinks, movie players and potential passage to the first class lavatory, my friend you would be greasing the wrong palm.
While the Captain has final authority over everything on the airplane, who do you think has authority in the cabin when they’re locked safely away?
That’s right, the senior flight attendant.
You, my fabulous first class traveler, have secured our gratitude with the secret handshake and thus, the pilots.
If we’re happy? They’re happy.
Who do you think feeds them and let’s them out to use the bathroom?
Like I said, they might be in the driver’s seat but they know who’s running the show.
And now, so do you.