Posts Tagged ‘inflight english’

Advice for flight attendants about improving your English from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael Egerton

In this article I’m going to explain …

How to perform well in airline group discussion exercises

Many airlines have a group discussion exercise as part of their recruitment process for hiring fight attendants.  The airline recruitment staff will be looking for candidates to demonstrate specific qualities – particularly English throughout the group assessment.  Group discussion activities are a good indicator of a candidate’s confidence motivation and enthusiasm.

If you are attending a group discussion exercise you (and other candidates) will usually be required to discuss a contentious issue and come to some agreement within a time limit.  During the assessment you will be given a scenario – like the one in this article and will be expected to find the best solution.  Of course, it might be that other candidates will fight to get their views across.  Many candidates will talk over other people but this is not the best way to demonstrate that you have the right language skills for a job as a flight attendant.

The conclusions you come to don’t have to be the right ones, but they are looking to see you come up with a logical solution and that you can communicate your views sensitively, effectively and politely.


First read the following article and answer the comprehension questions that follow.

Transsexuals are now welcome to apply to airlines for jobs as flight attendants in Thailand.

A new Thai airline called PC Air has started recruiting transsexuals to be flight attendants for the sake of offering equal opportunities to them.

Three transsexuals have already been hired in Bangkok by PC Air.  One of them, 23 year old Thanyarat Jiraphatpakorn, was the winner of a beauty contest Miss Tiffany in 2007. The successful candidate said, “at first I thought they would just take applications but not actually recruit us, as happened at other places before.”

Another transsexual applicant, Panthakan Sri-ngern, 24, said she once applied for a hostess position at another airline but wasn’t chosen. She said a friend who worked there later told her she was rejected because she was transsexual. She felt devastated by the discrimination.

Panthakan, who has a hospitality and tourism degree from Kasetsart University, said this time she hoped to succeed and was glad Thai society was now giving more opportunities to transsexuals.

Peter Chan, a senior PC Air executive later revealed that PC Air saw the potential of transsexuals to work as flight attendants.  “I think these people can have many careers, not just in the entertainment business, and many of them have a dream to be an air hostess. I just made their dream come true,” said Chan.

But it’s not mandatory that applicants go through surgery to be considered for a job, said Chan. What’s important is they have the necessary language skills and can provide good service. Nontransexuals were also hired.

The new batch of three transsexual recruits, who were hired together with 17 women and 10 men, will undergo training together with female flight attendants.  They will also sport a “third sex” gold-coloured name tag on their uniforms to inform passengers and immigration officials about their gender.

Ang Ladlad, a group that pushes for equal rights for transsexuals welcomed the news.  The group reported that there are now more than 500 transsexuals in the Philippines and many of them are having a hard time looking for decent jobs due to discrimination.

Thai airline companies, see nothing wrong in having transsexuals work as flight attendants.  However, Philippine Airlines said they have not yet received any application from a transsexual for a flight attendant job. Should there be one, it is possible, they say, for the airline to change its policy about gender, which right now only recognizes male and female.

Cebu Pacific, on the other hand, is interested in the new hiring policy of PC Air. “This is an interesting development and we will be watching closely,” said Candice Iyog, vice president for marketing of Cebu Pacific.

Ang Ladlad is hoping that, as in Thailand, the public will warmly accept having transsexual flight attendants in the Philippines.

Comprehension questions

  1. How many transsexuals were hired by PC Air?
  2. Why did Panthakan Sri-ngern feel devastated?
  3. What did Peter Chan say was important to become a flight attendant?
  4. Was it necessary for candidates to have gender re-assignment surgery before applying?
  5. What do the transsexuals need to wear on their fight attendant uniform?
  6. Why do they need to wear it?

Group discussion activity

The best way to prepare for a group discussion activity is by attending a live class with Aviation English Asia, but there are ways that you can practice this kind of activity online – and get feedback.  For example, you can prepare for a flight attendant group discussion exercise by answering the following scenario question as a comment below.


You are a senior manager for PC Airlines.  Some of your recently recruited transsexual staff feel that they are being discriminated against by having to wear a “third sex” gold coloured name tag.

Discuss this issue with your group members and decide whether the airline should continue this policy.

What do you need to do to score well in airline group discussion exercises?

First of all – try the activity above.  Post your thoughts as a comment and we will highlight some key areas that airline recruiters are looking for. But an even better way to really improve your English is to take the English for Airline Interviews course to learn 7 key areas that you need to score well in, how to perform well and impress the recruiters. You can learn English from very experienced English teachers, pilots and flight attendants who specialise in teaching English to airline staff.  It’s a fantastic way to learn English and you will learn a lot from teachers who really know the airline industry.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs. If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article. We value all of your feedback.

Advice about improving your English for flight attendants from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael James Egerton

Strong English communication skills are important for flight attendants, regardless of their native language and the stage of their career. Unfortunately many airlines offer very little ongoing English training for their staff.  Greater proficiency in English, together with cultural sensitivity can help prevent difficult (and potentially dangerous) situations.  In this article we are going to look at some of the language that can be used when dealing with drunk and abusive passengers.

Drunk and aggressive passengers?

Reading comprehension

Hysteria erupted when a drunk Canadian, heading home after visiting Cuba, threatened to shoot flight attendants with a handgun after they stopped serving him drinks.

Police said the man started causing trouble about midway between Varadero, Cuba and Windsor.  A flight attendant told the inebriated passenger he wasn’t allowed to have any more booze.

“He was cut off from further alcohol consumption as a result of his behaviour, which essentially catapulted him in terms of his aggression.

The police sergeant said the man became “unruly” and made derogatory sexual comments to flight attendants. He then made a threat to one of the stewardesses with respect to shooting them with a 9 mm handgun.

The pilot, co-pilot and in-flight services manager were informed of the situation.  The pilot radioed ahead for police aid. When the plane landed at 6:50 p.m., officers were waiting for him.

The 58-year-old man is now facing a charge of uttering death threats.

Comprehension questions

  • Where was the problematic passenger from?
  • Where had he been?
  • What caused his behaviour?
  • What did he say to cabin crew?
  • What happened when the plane landed?


Find synonyms for the following words in the article above:

alcoholic drinks  / offensive   /   assistance   /   violence   /   intoxicated   /   disorderly   /   chaos

You should be able to guess their meaning from context, but if not you can also find the answers on the Facebook Page Discussion Forum.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs. If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article. We value all of your feedback.

Advice about improving your Aviation English and passing an ICAO English test from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael Egerton

Using English grammatical structures accurately is an important skill needed by pilots and controllers in their ICAO English test but also for other airline employees in their everyday duties, particularly if you need to say something in a subtle way or obscure information.  When learning English you should also learn the function of a structure rather than just memorising the structure itself.  When you know what a structure is for, and why it is used your Aviation English will improve rapidly.

In this article we are going to look at passive and active voice, and why they are used in English.  We will then look at an example of how they can be used in an aviation context, followed by some Aviation English exercises.

Aviation English Exercise

Reading comprehension

Six passengers on-board a flight from Turkey to Russia on 24th September were made to stand because there were not enough seats.  The adult travellers stood for the entire five-hour flight, except for when the plane hit turbulence, during which time the passengers were forced to sit in the aisle without seatbelts.

The passengers were subjected to ‘standing room only’ after the Tatarstan Airlines flight from Antalya to Ekaterinburg was replaced by another aircraft with fewer seats just before take-off. The standing passengers were without oxygen masks or life vests on the overcrowded jet.

One passenger told the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper “The adults had no choice but to fly standing for five hours.  When the plane flew through turbulence, they went from standing to sitting in the aisle where they had no safety belts.”

The cabin crew told passengers to put children on their lap – but the children were too big.  The angry passengers have each demanded $4,900 in compensation but were only offered $212 by the tour company which had booked many passengers on the flight.

A spokesperson from the tour company defended the airline, saying the passengers could have waited for a later flight.  “People had a choice to fly on that plane standing up, or wait seven hours for another plane,” said Evgenia Fedorova “All the tourists decided to fly back despite uncomfortable conditions.”

The incident has not been denied by the airline and aviation regulators are said to be probing the incident.

Comprehension questions

Before answering the questions, read the article again and identify which sentences use passive voice and which sentences use active voice.

  • Why was passive/active voice used?
  • Why do you think the airline made the decision to make passengers stand?
  • Was it a good decision?
  • What were the dangers of having passengers standing during a flight?
  • Would you have liked to have been one of the cabin crew working on that flight?
  • If you were a member of the airline how would you explain to a passenger that they had to stand?


The structure of passive voice is:

Subject + finite form of to be + Past Participle

Passive voice is used for the following purposes:

  1. To emphasise an object, eg six passengers were made to stand
  2. To de-emphasise the subject/agent, eg the airline told passengers to sit in the aisle (not good for the airline)
  3. If you don’t know who is responsible for an action

When rewriting active sentences in passive voice:

  • the object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence
  • the finite form of the verb is changed (to be + past participle)
  • the subject of the active sentence becomes the object of the passive sentence (or is omitted)

Aviation English Exercise

How do you say the following sentences in passive voice?

  1. Cabin crew made passengers stand because there were not enough seats.
  2. Cabin crew forced passengers to sit in the aisle without seatbelts.
  3. Another aircraft with fewer seats replaced the Tatarstan Airlines flight from Antalya to Ekaterinburg.
  4. One passenger told the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper …
  5. The cabin crew told passengers to put children on their lap.
  6. The passengers have each demanded $4900 in compensation.
  7. The airline has not denied the incident.
  8. Aviation regulators are probing the incident.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs. If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article. We value all of your feedback.

Customer service for prospective cabin crew

Reading is of course one of the best passive methods of improving your English. We’re always pleased to see English language books suitable for non-native speakers, particularly when they are directly relevant to airline careers. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cathay Pacific’s Inflight Services Training & Development had published a book about principles of good service.

Service in the Sky is a nicely presented 267 page paperback, bilingual in English and Chinese, with English on the left and Chinese translation on the right hand page. The language is simple and appropriate for most English learners in Hong Kong.

What’s the book about? CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Of the 267 pages, 233 of them are about customer service, with the remainder being brief insights into Cathay’s training courses and the experiences of trainees. This is a good balance, as Hong Kong desperately needs better standards of service a lot more than it needs a gauge of interview questions for prospective flight attendants to memorise for their upcoming interview.  If you are looking for interview questions you won’t find them in this book but you might develop some insight into the kind of attitude that flight attendants should have.

Through reading the book you will become aware of how important cultural and linguistic awareness is for cabin crew, and see examples of how flight attendants have either got it right, or got it wrong. There are 24 such stories and they are very easy to read and digest. Interestingly CX is rarely mentioned by name, but the stories are accompanied by pictures that make the book seem a little too like a corporate brochure at times.

The sections on training and recruitment are not particularly developed, (and don’t really need to be). One major omission in my opinion is the lack of focus on cabin crew’s role in safety/security. This might be a reflection of cultural differences between US/European and Asian carriers – since 9/11 flight attendants in the United States have had a far more assertive role when it comes to onboard security. In this book the focus is firmly on service.  Perhaps “Safety in the Skies” wil be  the follow up title.

The best way to get hired as a flight attendant

Can reading this book help you get a job as a flight attendant?  Well, it’s a lot more valuable than those tacky “flight attendant interview preparation” courses you might have seen.  My advice is that if you want to get a job as a flight attendant you should improve your service skills and improve your English.  The HR department will want to hear about how you have provided good service and solved unexpected difficulties in the past.  If you think your English level is good enough you might be surprised when you are told that it isn’t up to scratch.  The truth is that a lot of flight attendants have only very basic English when they are hired and they are supposed to improve their English during their career.  If you are not sure about your oral English level take an assessment test with us first and find out what you need to improve.

Further reading for cabin crew careers

If you have good English comprehension skills you should also consider reading the excellent Singapore Airlines “Flying High in a Competitive Industry”, Joseph Michelli’s “The Starbucks Experience” and Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot”. These books will also give you a strong awareness of customer service in an aviation environment, plus the latter teaches a few technical things about flying too.

Cathay also acknowledges the work of customer service guru Ron Kaufman, who has certainly had a great influence on how Aviation English Asia Ltd deliver service to clients. Kaufman’s book “UP Your Service!” is again highly recommended. You can find both of these titles in our online bookshop.

Improve your English and your soft skills

Of course, if you are a prospective flight attendant or a flight attendant wanting to improve your English and soft skills for the kind of situations described in “Service In the Sky” you can take the In-flight English or Social English courses developed by Aviation English Asia. These will give you thorough practice of essential language skills, making you more effective in your job and in your social life. To find out more please visit :

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit  We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs.  If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article.  We value all of your feedback.

Advice for improving your English and passing an airline’s English test from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael Egerton

Prepare for an airline interview or prepare for your career?

Whether you are applying for a job as a pilot, member of ground staff or a member of cabin crew one of the assessments in which you are required to perform well in is the airline’s English assessment test.  For prospective airline pilots this is likely to be one of various types of ICAO English test taken at a particular stage of the selection process.  For cabin crew and ground staff the airline is likely to have it’s own in-house English assessment, which could be either a specific test which you need to pass in order to proceed which your application, or alternatively your English language proficiency could be assessed during your HR interviews.

In this article I’m going to point out three common mistakes made by many prospective pilots and flight attendants when faced with an airline English proficiency test, and show you how you can avoid making that mistake.  But first of all let’s look at why airlines have English tests in the first place.

Learn English as it is used in an aviation context

Learn English as it is used in an aviation context

Why do airlines have English proficiency tests as part of their selection process?

Airline careers are highly desirable for many young people. Airlines are large organisations that offer great benefits like housing allowance, health insurance and frequent travel to their employees.  Some airlines are national flag carriers so it’s not surprising that airline jobs attract thousands of candidates each year.

In each recruitment drive, the airline has to select the most appropriate candidates for employment, as they will make a significant investment in that candidate’s training and development.  Airline English tests are a valid and very appropriate means to filter out unsuitable (or not yet suitable) candidates.  English is a world language, and a high standard of English will also highlight a candidate’s manners and social behaviour, ie is this candidate a person who is polite enough to deal with our customers, is this a person who we would like to sit next to on the flight deck.  In addition to the aptitude and ability to perform the basic duties of the position, the airline will want to ensure that you have:

  • sufficient language proficiency to meet the requirements of the job.
  • sufficient potential to successfully be trained for the things that you don’t yet know how to do.

So, in plain English, the airline wants to know that you can speak English well enough to do the job properly, and you can understand enough English to be able to learn how to do the things that you can’t.

Depending upon your experience and the position you are applying for the airline will probably not expect you to know everything about handling a big jet, or the procedures needed to carry out an evacuation but they do expect you to have a reasonable level of English.  Airlines are after all, judged on the conduct and performance of their front-line employees.

If you have failed an airline’s English test it’s probably because you haven’t prepared sufficiently for the test, or you have prepared for the test in the wrong way.

The biggest mistakes made by candidates in preparing for airline English tests

Mistake number one – focusing only on the test

It’s a common mistake, and an understandable one.  You have an English test coming up as part of your interview and you might want to get some practice by having a mock test, perhaps by asking a friend to ask you the questions that they were asked last time.  Perhaps if you could remember the answers it will be easier…

If (like us) you live in Hong Kong you will have been bombarded by advertisements for “star tutors” that offer courses focused on passing English tests, eg IELTS, HKCEE etc.  You might be able to pass a written exam by following their methods but if you think that you can pass an airline English test, which will almost certainly be oral you are wildly mistaken.

Speaking English doesn’t work like that.  It takes time to develop a full command of the language, and consistent practice in developing the strength needed to pronounce certain words.  Listening to and understanding different accents is a skill that takes time to develop.  Furthermore, the assessor’s aren’t that stupid – it’s easy to see if someone is trying to remember an answer.  When assessing language it’s not just a matter of what information you give, but how you give it.

Of course, it’s natural to want to practice things like mock interviews with friends or perhaps a tutor, but to be honest it’s not enough.  What you need is a thorough and wide range of proficiency in English and particularly English as it is used within an aviation context – and that is our goal.

Mistake number two – doing the wrong type of course

ICAO recommend that pilots and controllers take aviation-specific English courses.  Some people try to cut corners and settle for a general English course.  The result is often that they get bored or find that it doesn’t suit their needs.  This is also often the case with people who tried studying at large franchised language centres, particularly those that have “secret study methods”.  These courses are designed to appeal to as many people as possible, with the lowest skill level of teacher possible (the “secret” is that they withhold any actual teaching, you have to figure it out for yourself) so don’t be surprised that learners who settle for this type of course make very slow progress.  That type of language school doesn’t have the capability or resources to give aviation students the kind of language training they need.

When you learn English it is important that you focus on practicing the right skills, and as most language schools try to cater to as many people as possible it’s often difficult to practice the skills that you really need. For a pilot, ATC or member of cabin crew the most important skills are speaking and listening.  Many people unfortunately focus only on academic performance in English and neglect to build their English comprehension skills.  Aviation English Asia courses give you sufficient practice of the skills that you need, as recommended in ICAO Document 9835.

Mistake number three – not starting a course early enough

If we could give one piece of advice to potential airline employees it would be to take a placement test to assess your current level of English and then see how much you need to improve.  We can then give you an estimation of how long you should expect before you reach that level, and how often you should practice.  These tests are done independently by a third party so you can be sure that you won’t be buying courses that you don’t need.  The placement tests offered by Aviation English Asia are consistent with the results of assessors within major airlines.

Trust me – I’ve trained a lot of prospective and current airline employees. I strongly recommend that you take a placement test and expect to practice English consistently for at least 3 months per level.

The BEST WAY to prepare for an airline English test

In this article you have learned that you should avoid crash courses, avoid only focusing on the test, and avoid unsuitable courses and tutors.  Now I will show you what you should do to pass an airline’s English assessment.

Learn and practice English as it is used in the context of aviation, over a 12 week period (at least)

Aviation English Asia courses feature all of the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, comprehension and fluency practice of general English courses, with the added advantage of being directly related to your career.  You will be more motivated and enjoy learning English more when you have a clear objective.  If you think you know everything about aviation and are familiar with aviation terminology, you should still learn how to express it clearly in English – so Aviation English Asia courses are equally suitable for experienced commercial pilots.  It’s exactly the same for cabin crew, whether your are a prospective employee or experienced crew members – practice English as it relates to your everyday life.

One of the biggest advantages of an Aviation English course is that you will develop a wide vocabulary and become confident in dealing with unexpected situations.  You will still get thorough practice of all the language skills needed to pass an airline’s English test, and personal focus on the skills that you most need to develop.  Of course, you can supplement this with additional General English if you want extra practice but it is no substitute for a core Aviation English course.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit  We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs.  If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article.  We value all of your feedback.

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

A look at grammar and beyond to help flight attendants communicate with English-speaking passengers.

Written by Michael McBride

In this article, focussed on cabin crew English, we will examine language for making suggestions and advice to passengers on board.  A flight attendant will be expected to have information about the origin and destination and to give information clearly and thoughtfully.  We will look at grammar, examples, vocabulary and you will be able to practise with a visual scenario and a quiz at the end.

Giving advice – grammar for cabin crew

It is important to keep advice simple and clear.  Modal verbs will be particularly useful.

  • You should/must/have to + base of verb
  • You should visit the Tower of London.

However, be careful with the meaning.  To offer a general suggestion use “should”, to be more emphatic (stronger emphasis) use “must” or “have to”.   This is if you have a strong knowledge and experience of the place in question.  Usually “must” and “have to” are used to talk about an obligation or necessity.  “Must” and “have to” are slightly different – must is used to talk about an obligation where you have authority, whereas “have to” is use to talk about an obligation where the authority is coming from an external source, eg

  • I must go home now I’m tired (it’s the speaker’s decision)
  • I have to be at work at 8am (the obligation is from the employer)

You can use these phrases to exaggerate (make bigger) the importance of something, eg

  • You must visit Harrod’s department store.  It’s an essential destination for every visitor to London.

You can also use regular verbs to offer information.

  • I recommend/suggest verb-ing
  • I suggest visiting the Empire State Building.”

These verb constructions possibly give more authority and formality, particularly with business passengers.  Suggest and recommend are again slightly different – recommend is only used when you have had personal experience of something.

Remember you will probably be busy and have other important tasks, so keep it simple and clear.  To offer more information use the linker because plus it is + adjective/phrases.

  • ….because it is beautiful and well known.

If you do have time, you could ask short closed questions to show interest with the passenger and to make them feel more comfortable.

  • “Have you been before?” /  “Is this your first time in x ?”

Other communication techniques

Giving advice to passengers after they have asked you a question requires a friendly, approachable attitude.  Even if you are busy you need to show you are happy to speak to the passenger with good body language and posturing.

  • If you have nothing in your hand keep hands open and if the passenger is seated try and make full eye contact.  You may consider changing your posture, eg bending downwards so they are not looking directly up at you.
  • Gesturing involves your hands while you speak.  When giving information it shows more confidence if you keep hands apart and move them from time to time.
  • When asking the passenger a question to show interest remember to use rising intonation towards the end of the question.  “Do you go there often?”

Vocabulary for cabin crew – how to remember and what to remember

When learning any new vocabulary you need to learn in groups or categories, for example:

  • Parts of the aircraft
  • Food and drink
  • Safety procedures
  • Tourist information

Also you should be realistic, for every lesson or day of study, only expect to learn and remember 5 -10 new words.  You must decide what is the most important for your job.

The topic of this article is about giving information to passengers, and in particular this includes tourist attractions, so that is one vocabulary group.   Now consider word families:

  • a tourist / tourism / tour
  • a sightseer / sightseeing / sightsee
  • explore / exploration / explorer (e.g. Christopher Columbus)

Which part of speech are  the above words, eg verbs, nouns or adjectives?  When you learn new vocabulary it is helpful to write (n), (adj) or (adv) after each word to help you remember how they should be used.  In time you will be able to recognise patterns between words.  Also study the English words for the major tourist attractions in the country/city you are flying to.  If you fly to Europe, for example, equip yourself with a little bit of knowledge of the top 10 tourist attractions, for example: –

The Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Louvre (Paris)

Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square (London)

English for cabin crew – practice activity

Picture scenario

Now look at the picture below, imagine the passenger is asking the flight attendant for information about what to do in London.

  1. What questions do you think the passenger will ask?
  2. Work out the answers to the questions as a cabin crew member.  (Remember, grammar, intonation and body language)
  3. What do you think will happen next?
In-flight English for cabin crew

How would you answer her questions in English?

Now study the picture and describe everything you see including: –

(a) What are the names of the objects?

(b) What expressions (use adjectives) can you see on their faces?

(c) What body language and gestures are being used?

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s cabin crew courses please visit  We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs.  If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

A look at different passenger profiles and language functions to resolve problems on-board.

Written by Michael McBride

In this article,  we will focus on problematic situations that can occur during flight.  This could involve dealing with intoxicated passengers or uncooperative people in the air.  We will look at different questions to consider when faced with a difficult situation, suitable grammar forms and you will also have the chance to practise using visual examples.

Passengers – a diverse mixture

As a member of cabin crew on a commercial airline you will come across a large mix of people from all backgrounds and cultures.  Although there are many stereotypes in society, it may be useful to be aware of them for quick and efficient handling of passengers.

  • A stereotype is a cultural and social expectation that may not be wholly true and accurate but exists in society and we cannot avoid them.

Would you provide the same service to an elderly man the same way you would treat a 20 year old man heading on holiday?  What language and service would you provide someone with full religious garb, or a pregnant woman finding it difficult to enjoy the flight?  Or simply, how would you treat an angry passenger compared to a co-operative and peaceful passenger?

Of course your airline will tell you to treat everyone with the same high-class service, but you must have some awareness of different people so the language you use can be adapted for each situation.  The wrong form of service language could make a situation worse.  Let’s now consider this with grammar and context.

Passengers - a diverse mixture


Describing appearance and emotions – grammar and context

It is useful to ask yourself questions when you have to deal with a problem passenger and keep in mind these questions need to be answered within a few seconds: –

  • Who are they?
  • Why do you think they are complaining or not co-operating?
  • How will you resolve the situation?
  • What language will you use?

With your trainer at Aviation English Asia you will work on adapting language to specific contexts and types of passenger, but now let’s focus on grammar and vocabulary in a more general approach for difficult passengers.

After considering the problem at hand e.g. a passenger is complaining about their meal, and evaluating the situation consider your language.  It is advisable to not use overly direct and plain language.  Using formal verbs like “reject” and “decline” could create more tension and escalate the problem.   Use of apologetic language may soften the situation, look at the following and consider which is more effective?

  • “I’m sorry, sir, but your card hasn’t been accepted.”
  • “Sir, your card has been declined.”

The first example may use more words but projects politeness and calm.  Notice also the use of contractions is vital, for instance, “hasn’t” as opposed to “has not.”  Contractions are made for spoken English but long forms are also used, but they show more emphasis and authority, which is not effective when trying to calm down a passenger.

Politeness and consideration should always be used.  This can also be reinforced by modal verbs that are not strong but still project advice, suggestion and recommendation.  For example: –

  • Sir, you may like to try this meal instead.
  • Madam, would you like to try this option?
  • You could try this meal instead, sir.

Escalated problems, in other words situations you probably cannot handle on your own need to be directed to your senior colleague.  With this it will also bring a new set of language tools if your senior only speaks in English.

Basic description language includes: –

  • Use of adjectives and nouns e.g. angry passenger
  • Keep it simple and use the present simple or progressive tenses e.g. he is not moving from his seat.
  • Using stronger tone and stress will show your English speaking supervisor the situation is more important compared to if you use a lighter tone.  Think of the importance of the problem.

Practice – context and language.

Situation 1

In-flight English for cabin crew


  1. Context.  What type of passengers?
  2. Predict.  What could be potential problems?
  3. Communicate.  What language will you use?

This picture shows a group of young travellers, maybe college students heading for Spring Break.  There is a possibility they may be noisy and even over-bearing towards other passengers.

Situation 2

Credit: Sky News

  1. Context.  What type of passengers?
  2. Predict.  What could be potential problems?
  3. Communicate.  What language will you use?

Looking at the body language and gesturing of the male passenger there could be a problem with his meal.  Did he order it?  Is there a problem with what is on the plate?  Also consider his age and background.

Situation 3

Credit: unknown

1      Context.  What type of passengers?

2      Predict.  What could be potential problems?

3      Communicate.  What language will you use?

A number of situations could be predicated here, from complaining to even an argument between passengers.  How would you handle the situation, would you need more help from a supervisor?


Think of some more situations and consider what you would say.


  • Be aware of your passengers and who they are
  • Ask yourself a series of questions to evaluate the situation
  • What could happen next, will you need a supervisor?  How would you speak to the supervisor, how would you describe the passenger?

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s cabin crew courses please visit

English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

A look at grammar and beyond to help communicate with the English-speaking passenger

Written by Michael McBride

In this article, specifically for cabin crew, you will learn different ways to communicate offers of service to passengers (food/drinks etc), dealing with formality/informality and different verb uses.  Also, you will be able to practice using video/image excerpts and advice for your future cabin crew English training.

Grammar focus – form and register

Although regarded by some people as a difficult area, grammar forms the building blocks of any language and once you have got a range of good grammatical phrases/expressions you can be confident in your job.  Hopefully what you learn in this article will be developed with further training, as learning English is an on going process.  Now looking at the words above in the subtitle…

Form relates to how something is constructed, for example we form regular past tense verbs using verb + ed, or modal verbs using modal (can/could etc) + verb infinitive.  Obviously connected with this should be meaning, otherwise why bother saying it?

Register refers to how formal or informal something is.  This can be expressed using different forms, and context (where something is said) plays a major part of this.  It can include the usual polite exchanges, such as please and thank you, but even this has different registers: “thanks” vs. “thank you very much.”  You can also change register with verbs, which is the main focus of this section.

Grammar and offering service on-board

As a member of cabin crew, you have to make passengers feel comfortable and provide a service, from offering drinks and food to helping them with their bags or opening an overhead compartment.  These expressions might include: –

  • Can I help you with your bags?
  • Do you want me to do that for you?
  • Can I get you a drink?  Here you go, thanks.

The above offers of service are clear and direct English, but to add a higher register and feeling of added politeness you could change the above with the following.

Could (modal) + verb infinitive

Would + Like instead of Do You

Thank You

Sir/Madam (especially in business class and on flagship airlines e.g. Cathay Pacific.)

How would you change those offers of service?


You should have something similar to this: –

  • Could I help/assist you with your bags, sir/madam?
  • Would you like me to help you with that?
  • Could I offer you a drink, sir/madam?  Here you go/are, thank you.


Modal verbs (can, could, would, should etc) will be very useful for your cabin language repertoire and they are easy to use because the form is always modal + verb infinitive.  You can change them to suit context and register and the degree of something, for example, “should” is a stronger suggestive modal than “could”.

Also notice that the verb infinitive can also be made more formal and courteous, for example, get -> offer.  It would be useful to have a range of both register forms depending on your airline’s needs.  Your instructor at Aviation English Asia will help you develop and understand these verb forms further.

Put it into practice

Visual exercise

Now you have the opportunity to role-play cabin crew scenarios using a range of media.  With the picture below answer the following questions: –

  1. What is happening?
  2. What part of the flight could it be?
  3. What do you think the cabin attendant is saying?
  4. What do you think the passenger is saying before and afterwards?
  5. Who else could be involved in the communication?


Do the same checklist of questions for the following scenarios: –

  • A passenger is having difficulty storing their bag in the overhead compartment
  • In the first class cabin, the passenger is trying to open up their flatbed.
  • A child passenger has just vomited in their seat

Video exercise

The following video link should act as a further role-play situation.  Pretend you are the cabin attendant and passenger, write down a list of questions and answers you expect.  What polite register language would you use?  You could also predict unusual actions for example, the passenger drops the glass of juice, what ‘offer of service’ language could you use?

Serving drinks
Credit – “primaseason”

Advice for training and practice

For further training you need to first evaluate your English skills.  However, if you can understand a lot of this article you are probably an intermediate user so “In-Flight English” with Aviation English Asia is a good choice for you.  The course allows you to improve your English while at the same time exploring and debating incidents that can affect cabin crew members.  You will go beyond grammar forms by putting language into context and practicing the English skills needed to become a cabin attendant.  There are also options for you to gain certification for your language ability from Cambridge ESOL, which will help you gain new positions or enhance your current position.

What to do next

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English learning tips from Aviation English Asia

In this article I’m going to give some proven advice on language learning, and I’ll even give you my Top Five Tips for Developing Good English Learning Habits, so you can be successful in an airline career.

If you are reading this article, chances are that you are preparing to either take or re-take an ICAO English test.  If you are not taking this test (it’s for pilots and air traffic controllers) then you will still find this advice very useful, no matter what your intended career.  If you follow my advice, you can save a lot of time and money in learning English.

Let me start this article by telling you a few things about me, that maybe you don’t know.  The first time I learned a foreign language was in high school, back in the UK – I was supposed to learn French.  I was actually quite good at French because I was good at mimicking (copying) sounds.   My teacher didn’t see it that way though, in fact my teacher never saw or heard me speak French at all.  There were too many other students (about 30 in a class) and they were all of mixed levels.  The teacher never gave us any opportunity to practice speaking in French to each other, we just watched her write on the board and occasionally copied her in choral repetition (repeating words as a group).  I only learned French for two years, and I was glad to drop the subject.  I didn’t particularly hate learning French, but I just didn’t feel motivated to learn it, or didn’t feel any great need to learn it.

I didn’t learn another foreign language again for a long time.  I chose to learn Mandarin in evening classes at my university.   I learned Mandarin for 2 hours per week, for 8 months.  There were about 15 people in the class and they all became great friends.  Naturally a few people dropped out, because they were busy with their careers but most of us managed to stick together as a group and help each other.  Of course, this was in London so there wasn’t much opportunity to practice speaking in Mandarin day to day.

In each class we were told to memorise a list of words both in pin yin (romanised) and as hanzi (Chinese characters).  Within weeks we were told to not use the romanised characters, just remember the Chinese characters.  In each lesson we would often have to memorise 20 or more hanzi and be able to read and pronounce them correctly.  Very few of us managed to do this and we forgot a lot of them, probably because they were words that we would never use (eg. planned socialist economy).  It was painful having to look up the Chinese characters in a dictionary so I could pronounce them correctly.

When I moved to Hong Kong I started learning Cantonese instead. By this time I had a lot of experience in language teaching so I could recognise the techniques that the teacher was using. My Cantonese teacher spoke to me in 100% Cantonese (or not at all) so I used the target language all of the time. I learned vocabulary from pictures not a dictionary – only later did I learn to write the word in chinese characters or pin yum. I studied Cantonese with my teacher 6 hours a day, five days a week, for 6 weeks – then I went out and practised some more.

Which language do you think that I can speak better?

My Cantonese is much better than my Mandarin, and my French is now non-existent. So what is the difference that made the difference?

The main difference is not the length of time studying, or the environment I studied in, but the teaching method. In language teaching there are two distinct families:
1. Grammar Translation
2. Communicative Method

In school, most people learn through Grammar Translation. It does have some advantages, but it’s a very slow method. Schools often use this style of teaching when they are teaching a “foreign” language or when there are a lot of students in a very large class. Grammar Translation teaches you to remember many different grammar rules, and learn vocabulary by memorisation. In these classes the success of the method is judged by how you perform in the exam. This often means that learners can read and write – but not speak and hear very well. Just like my French class, it’s not fun.

In Communicative Method the emphasis is on meaning rather than the more traditional approach that emphasizes structural/grammatical competence. The learner gets to practice using the language in a way that is meaningful to them. So how can knowing this help you pass the ICAO English test?

The most important reason is that it can help you realise that not everything your high school teacher told you was correct. There are better ways of learning, and a good teacher will help you discover them. Your teacher in high school might have told you to memorise vocabulary lists, read newspapers and complete gap-fill exercises but that isn’t exactly best teaching practice in the 21st century. I don’t mean that your previous teachers were necessarily bad teachers, but they might have been forced to use a teaching method that was the only method they had particularly big classes.

So what I’m trying to say, is that I understand what it is like to learn a foreign language, and that my teachers weren’t always right either. If you have ever found it difficult to make progress in English, or achieve that breakthrough I have some great advice for you.

So here are my Top Five Tips for Developing Good English Learning Habits

1. Use the target language – that means just use English, not your native language. Avoid translation unless you really need help. Some words might not have an equivalent “concept” in your native language so in this situation translation would be pointless. When you use the target language you are training your brain to make connections that will help you remember words more easily.
2. COW – Concept, Oral Form, Written Form – when you learn new vocabulary try to understand the meaning (the way the word is being used in a real situation) before learning the pronunciation or the written form. If you know what a word means, then the pronunciation will be much easier. The last thing you should be concerned about is the written form. Don’t worry about spelling until you have mastered the pronunciation of the oral form of the word.
3. Don’t focus on grammar too much – a good communicative teacher will present grammar structures in context so you can learn them naturally. The most important thing is that you can communicate. You can work on your accuracy later.
4. Have clear goals – know what your current level is and how long it will take you to reach your target level of English proficiency. This will help you be realistic about what you can achieve – a complete ICAO level in 3 weeks isn’t going to be possible so don’t rush through your English course. Take regular English Assessment Tests to find out if you are on track to reach your goal.
5. Make learning English a regular habit. Don’t just practice English with your teacher, make sure you practice English with other students, and at every opportunity you can. If practicing English is a regular part of your life your brain it will become easier and more enjoyable.

I’d also like to share with you one more great piece of advice about developing a good attitude towards learning. This one is really important.

You should practice English because you enjoy communicating with other English speakers, not just because you need it for your job. If you only learn English so you can pass the ICAO English test, or pass an airline’s interview procedure you are giving yourself a lot of additional pressure. Be nice to yourself, and enjoy learning English. Improving your English is an investment that will always pay off, no matter what your career.

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English for airline careers.

As part of our mission to help people who want to become airline employees we have scheduled the In-flight English and Practical In-flight Service courses to be delivered in major cities across Asia throughout the summer.  Please see our main website for exact dates.

These courses are taught entirely in English by an experienced member of cabin-crew with input from a qualified Native English Teacher.   The course complements the 30 hour In-flight English course, which is also being offered as a corporate solution for airlines.

Learn English and see the world from a new perspective.