Skip to content

The language you need to know if you want to impress airline employees

Jan. 10, 2020
4 min read
The language you need to know if you want to impress airline employees
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor's Note

This post was originally published on Sept. 8, 2019.

Have you ever called an airline — or any company, really — in need of customer service only to flounder a bit when asked to spell out your record locator, booking code or name? "No, B, not T ... B as in boy, not toy ...."

Well, not anymore.

New to TPG? See our Beginner’s Guide.

The next time you call an airline for any reason at all, you're going to want to have these words memorized, especially when they ask for your record locator (airline speak for confirmation code). It's called the phonetic alphabet (sometimes, the pilot's alphabet) and a version of this particular alphabet has been in use since the International Air Transport Association (IATA) proposed it in the 1950s for civil aviation use. Though tweaks were made — the code word for the letter N was particularly contentious — the alphabet was eventually adopted by NATO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Each letter of the alphabet has a code word that is unlikely to be mispronounced and should be understood by virtually any English speaker. All pilots around the world are required to know both English and the phonetic alphabet, and you'll most likely hear it if you listen in to a conversation between a pilot and Air Traffic Control (ATC).

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

It goes a little something like this:

  • A is for Alpha
  • B is for Bravo
  • C is for Charlie
  • D is for Delta
  • E is for Echo
  • F is for Foxtrot
  • G is for Golf
  • H is for Hotel
  • I is for India
  • J is for Juliet
  • K is for Kilo
  • L is for Lima
  • M is for Mike
  • N is for November
  • O is for Oscar
  • P is for Papa
  • Q is for Quebec
  • R is for Romeo
  • S is for Sierra
  • T is for Tango
  • U is for Uniform
  • V is for Victor
  • W is for Whiskey
  • X is for X-Ray
  • Y is for Yankee
  • Z is for Zulu

Yes, that's where Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot comes from. Tina Fey would be proud. I mean, it's pretty hard to misinterpret "foxtrot," don't you think?

For example, if your record locator is "ABCDEF," you would say, "alpha, bravo, Charlie, delta, echo and foxtrot." If your record locator is "SBRZH," you would tell the agent on the phone it's "sierra, bravo, Romeo, Zulu and hotel."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Get it?

Yes, you might get some weird looks from people on the street next time you use it, but at least you'll know you're one step closer to being the savviest traveler you know. Plus, airline employees are guaranteed to appreciate the gesture — or, at least, the clarity.

If you're frequently crossing time zones, you can also start using the universal "Zulu time" to avoid any pesky mishaps when discussing the hour of the day. Oh, and if you have the number nine in your record locator, that's "niner" to you now.

Can't get enough of these alphabet hacks? Check our ultimate travel glossary next. You'll be using phrases like "fifth-freedom flight" and "hidden-city ticket" — the latter of which can help you get where you're going on a cheaper, but longer, itinerary — before you can say wheels up.

Featured image by Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees