Slam-clicker? Deadhead? Why won’t my flight attendant say it’s OK to use the bathroom?

The terms and phrases flight attendants use with each other or in response to passengers can be quite confusing at first. Here’s a breakdown of six common ones to get you in the know for your next flight:

1. “I have to work, but it’s only a deadhead.”

Deadheading refers to the situation in which a crewmember boards the plane and sits as a regular passenger for the flight but is still technically on duty and needs to be prepared to work said flight if need be. Translation: we get paid to chill or sleep! This happens when the airline needs to move a crew to another city to work the rest of their trip or finish it by returning to their base. Crewmembers can deadhead on their own airline or on other carriers.

2. “She/he is a slam-clicker.”

This term refers to the slam of the door and click of the lock as a flight attendant enters their hotel room for a layover. Many flight attendants cherish this alone time and will often choose not to venture out with the crew or explore the city, instead opting to chill in the privacy of their hotel room. Of course, not everyone’s a slam-clicker on every single trip; a mix of both adventurous layovers and self-pampering, quiet ones is healthy for the flight attendant and their wallet.

3. “What do the loads look like?”

Most commercial flight attendants are awarded with flight benefits and buddy passes they can share with some of their loved ones. But don’t get ahead of yourself with the “marry me fly free” nonsense. “Marry me fly standby” is the real story. If you’ve ever flown standby, you know it can get interesting very fast. Those flights are free, but they’re on a space available basis. If there are empty seats that weren’t purchased by actual customers, you get to go! If not, it’s more waiting in the airport for you (time for a food court crawl!). This process is called non-reving (non-revenue traveling). When flight attendants and those on our benefits engage in this game, we’re constantly checking the flight loads online or with apps. Sometimes the flight is full or oversold by several seats, but sometimes we luck out with a beautifully empty flight that’s easy to hop on! The benefit isn’t always as easy to use as people might think — especially with concrete travel plans or non-flexible schedules — but it’s still pretty darn neat.

4. “This is a full flight.”

Have you ever wondered why, when a passenger asks about moving seats during boarding, your flight attendant almost always indicates that your flight is full? Boarding has slowed down and you can clearly see many open seats! The answer: we don’t want boarding to become a free-for-all. As soon as we tell you it isn’t a full flight, what are you, the passenger, going to do? Sit wherever the heck you want. Then, because of Murphy’s law, whoever actually has that seat will see you sitting there and settle in somewhere else. Then the process repeats itself and results in utter chaos when only middle seats are left and someone’s throwing a tantrum because they specifically booked a window seat. Also — even if the flight is nearly empty, the aircraft requires a certain weight and balance for takeoff that your assigned seats are purposely achieving. Wait until the seat belt sign goes off and move to an open seat if you wish. At that point, no one’s going to stop you.

5. “The seatbelt sign is on.”

You asked if it was OK to go to use the lavatory, so why does your flight attendant respond with this? Because that’s all we can really say! When the seatbelt sign is on, it’s technically unsafe for you to be up and walking around. At that time, we can’t give you permission to go to the bathroom. Just think to yourself — would I get up and move around on a roller coaster? This is surprisingly similar to our situation! But in the same vein, we can’t prevent you from using the bathroom if it’s an emergency. We can’t say yes and we can’t say no, so “the seat belt sign is on” it is.

6. “Do you want to take the cart out?”

Most airlines require their flight attendants to take the beverage/snack/meal carts out during service. But occasionally (especially on budget airlines because most items are for purchase), flight attendants will prefer to take orders and run back to the galley to retrieve the items. Some see it as easier this way; others like having the cart there to quickly grab items while the other flight attendant rings up the order. But in the event of potential turbulence, taking the cart out might not even be a safe option.

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