Verbal Communication Between Flight Crew and Cabin Crew

Flight Crew

In aviation, communication is a complex system consisting of verbal, non-verbal, written, spoken, and electronic communication. The results of many studies and accident investigations show that a lack of communication skills among individuals - such as Cockpit Crew and Cabin Crew- involved in aircraft operations contributes to the bulk of accidents and incidents in aviation. Conclusions pointed out that aviation activities require highly skilled people in communication with a solid technical profile.

In this article, I will give you an idea about verbal communication which is highly used during flight, verbal communication is used by cabin crews to greet passengers, between Cockpit Crew and Cabin Crew, Cockpit Crew communicates with ATC, and between Cabin Crew and Ground Handling Staff, etc.

The quality of verbal communication has a direct effect on the safety and efficiency of flight operations.

What Is a Verbal Communication?

It is a type of oral communication, in which the message is conveyed through spoken words. The sender uses words for his feelings, thoughts, ideas, and opinions and then expresses them in the form of letters, discussions, presentations, and conversations.

 The Verbal Communication Process

Verbal communication between the cockpit crew and cabin crew can be face-to-face (e.g. captain to cabin crew), and remote (e.g. Inter-phone, P.A. announcement). Verbal communication can be enhanced by supporting non-verbal communication such as body language, and deliberate signals (hands, lights, signs).

To understand how effective verbal communication should be done between the cockpit crew and cabin crew. Let us understand the different elements of verbal communication as a communication process.

Note :
I am using the term " Purser ": it means a Cabin Crew appointed by the airline to act as Chief/Lead Cabin Crew of the Cabin Crew and to take orders directly from the Pilot-in-Command.

1-    Sender [The Captain]

The very foundation of the verbal communication process is laid by the person who transmits or sends the message.

For Example:
The Captain is, therefore, the initiator of the message that needs to be transmitted to the Purser. After having generated the information regarding any emergency [ emergency landing is required]. The Captain encodes the message in such a manner that can be well-understood by the Purser [ through safety training, safety policy].

In this context, the Captain must:
- know what he wants to communicate (i.e. know what response he wants from the intended Purser).
-   Be clear (use his manner of speech objectively and subjectively to make it so).
-  Test understanding (either by direct observable feedback or through questioning).

2-    Message [Conveying Message an Emergency]

The message is referred to as the information conveyed by words in speech depending upon the situation and the nature and importance of the information desired to be sent. The message is the heart of communication. In this case, the Captain wants to convey to the Purser about any emergency.

For example:
If the emergency required landing, the message will be [An in-flight emergency arising, the emergency landing will be required ]

3-    Encoding
Encoding is putting the targeted message into an appropriate medium which may be verbal depending upon the situation, time, space, and nature of the message to be sent.

If this is the message, as I said before [An in-flight emergency arising, an emergency landing will be required]. Do you think the captain will say this using P.A while all passengers are hearing, of course, no, the message will be encoded.  
The Captain puts the message into a series of words which will be communicated to the Purser [Purser to the cockpit, Purser to the cockpit ], these words are previously agreed in aviation safety policy and have been trained in formal safety training.

During aircraft operations, sometimes, encoding is an important step in the verbal communication process as wrong and inappropriate encoding may defeat the true intent of the communication process.

4-    Channel [P.A  announcement]
Channel(s) refers to the way or mode the message flows or is transmitted. The message is transmitted over a channel that links the Captain with the Purser. The message is oral and it may be transmitted through a P.A announcement.

Since each channel has its advantages and disadvantages, the choice of proper selection of the channel is paramount for effective verbal communication.

5-    Receiver [Flight Purser]

Purser is the person who the message is meant for. He must be a good listener. Any negligence on the part of the Purser may make the verbal communication ineffective.
The Purser needs to comprehend the message sent in the best possible manner such that the true intent of the verbal communication is attained.

The extent to which the Purser decodes the message depends on the following :
-  His/her knowledge of the subject matter of the message.
-  His experience.
-  His training.
-   Trust.
-  Pre-flight briefing with the Captain.
The Purser is a significant factor in the verbal communication process as the Captain is. It is the other end of the process. The Purser should be in a fit condition to receive the message, that is, he/she should have a channel of communication active and should not be preoccupied with other thoughts that might cause him/her to pay insufficient attention to the message. In this case, the purser will understand that he must go immediately to the cockpit to receive further safety instructions from the captain [face to face].

6-    Decoding
Decoding refers to interpreting or converting the sent message into intelligible language. It simply means comprehending the message Purser after receiving the message interprets it and tries to understand it in the best possible manner.
 In case of the Captain massage was encoded [Purser to the cockpit, Purser to the cockpit ], Purser will decode it as the following:

If an in-flight emergency has arisen, I must go immediately to the cockpit to receive the (NITES ) briefing by the captain [face to face], and after that give an emergency briefing to all cabin crew to prepare for an emergency landing. In this way, a passenger will not get scared and Cabin Crew will prepare them for evacuation

Note :
 Some airlines use NITES briefing for an inflight emergency, the captain brief the purser of the flight on the following points :
N - Nature of the emergency - the problem with the aircraft.
I - Intention - Weather forced landing or Ditching.
T- Time - How much time remains airborne?
E - Escape routes - Any known factors affecting the exits.
S - Signal - The signal the captain will give for Brace.

In this context, the Purser must:
 “Actively” listen,
 Test meaning, and
 Demonstrate their understanding.
7-    Feedback
Feedback is the ultimate aspect of the communication process. It refers to the response of the Purser to the message sent to him/her by the Captain. Feedback is necessary to ensure that the message has been effectively encoded, sent, decoded, and comprehended.

In this case, the Captain will ask the purser to repeat back the full instructions [NITES] which are already given.

It is the final step of the communication process and establishes that the Purser has received the message in its letter and spirit. In other words, the Purser has correctly interpreted the message as it was intended by the Captain. It is instrumental to make communication effective and purposeful.


Verbal communication becomes ambiguous and confusing with the inappropriate use of non-verbal communication. Several recent aviation accidents have been attributed to breaching this verbal protocol

For this reason, airlines should provide Cabin Crew with aircraft technical training, this training will give them more confidence in communicating safety-critical information to the cockpit. 

CRM training encompasses a wide range of knowledge, skills, and attitudes including communications, situational awareness, problem-solving, decision-making, and teamwork; together with all the Cabin Crew sub-disciplines which each of these areas entails. furthermore, joint Cockpit and Cabin Crew training is strongly recommended for airlines to improve the two Crew's coordination and communication.

Hope you liked this article, share the good.

Maged Saeed AL-Hadabi

I’m Instructor / Maged Saeed Al-Hadabi. ​ Air Cargo / IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations / Safety Management System Senior Instructor, Auditor [ Yemen Airways] . Approved IATA DGR/ SMS Instructor by Yemen Civil Aviation Authority.

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