Every line of work has its jargon, its insider talk and funny little mumblings understood only by members of the ilk that created them. I've been a part of three of the foremost such sorts: the arcane and highly profane military; the profoundly esoteric oil business; and now the most exclusive of them all—the airline industry. More specifically, the airline pilot business. Why exclusive? Because nobody else is allowed in the “office.”
So, as I was making my commute home yesterday sitting on the jumpseat of another airline's packed Boeing 717, I chuckled while listening to the banter between the pilots. I impulsively decided to pretend to myself that I was an outsider watching and listening to these two men spouting jargon and quips that never leave the cockpit environs—not because they're arcanely profane or profoundly esoteric, but simply because no one outside the profession is allowed to sit there and watch and listen. What struck me was the way we refer to our competitors. The predominate topic that morning was Southwest Airlines.
The two pilots were cautiously excited because Southwest had just announced it was purchasing their company. Now, surely they would get a hefty raise to match the Southwest pilots' monthly haul to the bank—the biggest in the industry—plus a vast improvement in their slave labor contract. Between radio calls and comments about their future in the Southwest deal, one of them would mumble “staple.” The other would say, “click.” Cynical chuckles would follow.
I pondered a long time about the two words but resisted asking, and I finally figured it out. But I prefer to let some of my readers explain it in their comments.
When I heard them refer to Southwest as “Southblessed” I knew exactly what they meant. For years now, since Southwest's rise to preferential treatment in the news media, the rest of us have perceived (wrongly, I'm sure) that Southwest also gets sweet deals from Air Traffic Control. Common examples:
Ground Control tells you, “Hold for Southwest.” You look and see that he's taxing toward you a quarter mile away yet. You could easily go in front.
Approach Control extends your downwind leg 10 miles to get Southwest, coming in on a straight-in, in front of you.
Center vectors you off course so that a Southwest jet can cross unimpeded in front of you. When you think about how you are twice the size of the Southwest jet salt seeps into the wound.
And then there's that legendary (and probably fictional) radio call from the Tower that everyone loves to quote: “Aircraft declaring an emergency, standby. Southwest, go ahead with your request.”
Southwest is beyond argument a great airline, but the rest of us often get a bum rap because the traveling public's expectations of Southwest are low, and thus easily met. Good for them. They know how to do business. Southblessed, they are with a good management team and a good employee culture. But I hope the AirTran guys don't get stapled.
Speaking of amusing airline nicknames often heard in the cockpit, here are a few more:
Jet Blue- Jet Who
US Air- Useless Air
Value Jet- Valium Jet
Air France- Air Fright
BA- Bloody Awful
Virgin America- Vermin America
Western Pacific- Western Pathetic
American- Sky Nazis
American Eagle- Hitler Youth Corps
United has suffered only a mild insult with the timeless tag, Untided.
No one, to my knowledge, has came up with a nifty nickname for Delta or Continental. Who wants to get one started?
Finally, the trash-hauling corps hasn't escaped descriptive scorn:
UPS- UPS Me Off
Emery Air- Emergency Air
Fed Ex- Fed Axe (Will someone else explain that one? I don't have the stomach for it.)
At least we don't have to extend for Southblessed
out here in the Pacific―yet.
When I returned to earth just at darkness I would shut down the engine and sit for a few minutes without moving. I would pull off my helmet and rub the places where my goggles had pressed too hard....I sat waiting for my spirit to rejoin me on earth, because it always seemed I had left it on some cloud and I would listen to the tinking metal of the engine as it cooled and wondered at my extraordinary good fortune.
―Ernest Gann, upon aliting from an aerobatic flight in his biplane