Mystery Solved: WTH Are Those Dinging Sounds You Hear on a Plane?

Mystery Solved: WTH Are Those Dinging Sounds You Hear on a Plane?

The secret language of flight crew.

By Karen Gardiner

You're probably familiar with that single ding sound heard at the beginning of a flight. It sounds after some anticipation, after all, meaning you are at last free to move around, stretch your legs or use the bathroom. But unless you are a very nervous flyer tuned in to every small sound the plane makes, you might not have noticed that a similar-souding ding often occurs throughout the flight — and not only in relation to the status of your seat belt.

Huffington Post recently revealed that those dings, which you will probably now never be able to unhear, are all part of a carrier's secret code for its cabin crew. But, don't panic if you think they are withholding critical flight information from their passengers. Rather, it's often just basic stuff: more snacks, put away the carts, et cetera.

Huffington Post uses Qantas — which last year published an explainer to the sounds you hear on their airplanes — as an example.

On a Qantas flight, a single chime indicates a "passenger asking for service in their seat (i.e. pressing their call bell) A panel will light up in the galley and second light will appear over the passenger’s seat."

A chime that sounds a high then low tone indicated the "ringtone of a crew phone from one galley or section to another (They’re probably asking if there’s more snacks for another part of the cabin)."

A triple low-tone chime means: "Priority message from the captain or other crew members which could be letting them know there may be turbulence ahead, so they should start putting away the meal carts and be ready in case the fasten seat belt sign comes on."

Other airlines were less willing to reveal their secret code to Huffington Post, although United did specify that "a ding-dong sound means pilots and flight attendants are calling each other on the in-flight call system."

To the airlines' credit, they have been quite proactive in putting passengers' minds at ease in recent years. Just last summer the British airline Monarch published its own, very detailed, guide to the noises commonly heard aboard a plane, explaining such nerve-wracking sounds as "clunks," "thumps," "sawing," and "barking dogs" (that one's the power transfer unit, by the way).

In case your interest is fully piqued, Smithsonian has a helpful guide to even more — complete with sound files. Funnily enough, according to The Telegraph, one of the few sounds you should worry about is the sound of nothing: "Complete silence — suggesting all/both the engines have failed — would probably concern most" they write, before adding some reassurance.

"But even then, all is not lost — if the engines can’t be restarted, planes can actually glide for a remarkable distance."

How... comforting.

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